Some of the most compelling success stories on sites like Forbes are those about the young entrepreneur who is newly rich. Who doesn’t love reading about those who have managed to create success out of what seems like thin air a la Mark Zuckerberg? One thing that films like The Social Network (and subsequent entrepreneurial myths) forget is that so many never make it off the ground. Startups are much more likely to fail within a year of launching than making a decent income—let alone reach multimillion and billion dollar heights.
Eric Martell of EatStreet, a Wisconsin-based food ordering company that is now the largest independent business of its kind in the United States, spoke to Forbes recently about his experiences with the startup game at a young 20 years old. According to a study by UC Berkeley, the mythic likes of Zuckerberg and Jobs are in fact more myth than fact; they are anomalies.
Normally, the founder of a fairly-backed startup is about 38 years old, has a master’s degree and 16 years of experience. This average profile is a far cry from the public image we have of the “tech founder” and young entrepreneur in general.
EatSreet learned this firsthand, with no experience to show venture capitalists—and nothing to leverage beyond the product itself. They managed to raise $13 million and had to canvas restaurants in person before they could raise a single dollar. (To give some sense of how that fares next to similar companies: Instacart raised $220 million and Postmates raised $138 million.)
“We had to convince restaurants to take a chance on us,” Martell told Forbes. He and cofounder Matt Howard had to put in the time, and it didn’t always go so well. This wasn’t because the product was lacking, but rather because of their age. “Matt looked young for a 20 year old, and he heard more than once that the restaurant ‘just didn’t feel comfortable doing business with a kid.’”
In addition to convincing restaurants to come aboard, they had to score a processing contract with credit processors, because they offered online payments. “We applied for six processors before getting approved,” he said.
His advice for success? “Focus on the aspects of your business you have control over, and grow like crazy. We didn’t raise a dollar until we had over $1 million in food sales, and that first million was the product of thousands of hours of promotion and hard work,” he said. “It’s much easier to convince someone to believe in your vision if you have a track record of growth and hard work to back it up.”