Millennials are generalized with great fervor on a daily basis: entitled, lazy, over-educated, over-stimulated, disappointing, poor, bored – well, I’m bored of hearing it. Last week the New York Post reported that a 16-year-old kid from Harlem, NY, started the world’s first sneaker pawn shop with an estimated 15k of merchandise. His business model was simple: he saw a need and met it, like so many other young entrepreneurs.
With all business there’s a great deal of chance, but sometimes you hit it big like Shane C. Welch. Co-founder of Six Point Brewery, Welch began his business at age 25. In the midst of 20-something grand expectations for life and disillusionment at working for a company he couldn’t believe in, Welch and his business partner started their own. His success has given him more than defiance to naysayers of previous generations, it’s given him tried and true perspective. “It’s a bunch of shit. Prior generations have always called the subsequent generation entitled and lazy. Think about that. Isn’t part of the ‘American Dream’ to have your children better off than you were?” Welch tells me. “If that is true, it is at odds with resenting them for the opportunities they’ve been presented. Shouldn’t the culpability be on the parents who enabled them with their vision of a greater life?” With half of the recent college grad population being underemployed or out of a job, the traditional idea of a career doesn’t exist for most college graduates anymore and maybe we’re finally pulling back and realizing that may not be the worst thing in the world. We get to rewrite the way life is supposed to be and that’s freedom that many young entrepreneurs have been able to utilize. Whether it’s starting a sneaker pawn shop, designing and marketing a line of shopping totes, or starting a brewery, each endeavor is aiming for independence and running their business better than the other, sometimes more established, guy.
Last week I was sitting on a Metro North train, headed for a weekend of camping. My friend Jimmy had brought along a four-pack of Resin crafted by Six Point Brewery, to ease us out of the work week. You don’t chug this beer, because at 9.1 percent ABV (average beer is about five percent) it’ll put you on your ass if you’re not careful. I’m a Sweet Action kind of girl, a pale caramel-colored ale, but as we rode through eastern Connecticut, we discussed flavors and balance as if we knew anything more than what we liked. The fact that we, two not so very fancy people, were discussing beer and its intricacies over just getting tipsy, it led me to wonder about the beer magicians over at Six Point. If I was thinking about the ingredients this much, how about the brewers?
The hands behind Six Point, Shane C. Welch and Andrew Bronstein, brewed their first batch back in 2004 in Red Hook, a neighborhood in Brooklyn known for abandoned factories and, more recently, Ikea. From an outsider perspective this was a huge gamble because Brooklyn Brewery held the local market and New York City had gone through over a dozen breweries since the 80s. So what made them do it? I spoke with Welch about his growing business and his inspirations.
“I was bored by academia, but the intersection of physical sciences and the creative humanities was where it was at for me. I draw inspiration from John Lennon, Barbara Kruger, Mohandas Gandhi, Jim Henson, The Trappist Monks, The Mountain Brothers, etc.” Welch was an excellent student at the University of Wisconsin and was an avid homebrewer as well. After graduating, he and Bronstein saw an opportunity to microbrew New York’s only locally produced beer – in 2011 Brooklyn Brewery only brewed 20 percent of their product in New York City. Quality control was also what set them apart from big name competition. “We don’t use fruit, extract, or spices in any of our beer. It’s barley, hops, water, and yeast. Our water supply is 100 percent New York City tap water,” Bronstein told The New York Sun. As you may have seen this past April, many beer companies are willing to taint their ingredients with high fructose corn syrup, and “beer flavoring” – yum?
The stereotype that to be successful one must cut down others isn’t a part of Welch’s business model. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit – I used to cut grass, shovel snow, and deliver newspapers as a kid for pocket change,” explains Welch, “What I learned is that if you treat people with dignity and respect, they’ll create a gigantic safety net for you and make sure your business will always survive – even when you do metaphorically stupid things like jump out a window because you think you can fly. It’s a tremendous sense of buoyancy!”
Some entrepreneurs have tried multiple routes, and just refuse to quit. Janean Mann is one of those types who knows working for herself is worth the trials. Soon to be 35, Mann is the designer of Junes. She makes “simple but purposeful market bags for your groceries using practical and beautiful fabrics,“ based out of El Paso, Texas. This isn’t her first attempt at running her own business, “I’ve fake-started a couple of businesses from as little as buying a domain, to designing a logo, to coming up with a menu for a home baking business,” says Mann. “I once was trying to build a recipe search engine but I took too long and someone else launched a very successful version of my idea. My most significant business was Hashpix, which sold limited edition curated Instagram photos. We got momentum but we let it crash and burn. Very good lesson learned there.”
Mann and Welch aren’t alone. According to a Deloitte study on the role business plays in society, 70 percent of millennials wish to own their own business. There are definitely perks to being your own boss Mann says. “I get to travel pretty regularly, which allows me to spend time in places I would otherwise only go to once a year and other places I wouldn’t go to at all, for the sake of saving my precious vacation time.” This flexibility has brought Mann from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast and back down to her native Texas. Without question, Mann fessed up to the most obvious benefit, “I can work at the best times of the day for me, and not be constricted to a set of office hours.”
On the other end of the generational spectrum, Chase Reed, a 16-year-old from New York, has garnered quite a bit of positive press for Sneaker Pawn, the first sneaker pawn shop. Reed began his business with 45 of his own high-end sneakers. For many people, mint condition sneakers are something to invest in, but like all investments, there worth is only theoretical until you can sell. Reed, along with his father, saw a business opportunity. The store functions on a basic idea of taking high-end or limited edition stock. Reed’s father says once the shoes are appraised, “We’ll give the kid, say, $100 for the sneakers. If he wants them back, he’ll pay the $100, plus $20 for storing the sneakers.”
If another customer makes an offer on the shoes, the pawner has first rights of refusal if they can match the offer. If the pawner is out sold, they receive 80 percent of the profits and the store acquires the rest. To put this in terms of dollars, the New York Post reported that a pair of Yeezys, Kanye West’s signature kicks, which originally retailed for $263 are being bid on for upwards of $15,000 on eBay.
Reed is a sophomore at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, NY. Besides running the store with his father and another sneaker-enthusiast, Reed custom paints sneakers as well. He’s harnessed his energy for art and sneaker collecting into a startup fund for his life – entitlement be damned. “I don’t look at it like a business. It’s what I do. It’s what I breathe,” Reed told the paper. “It’s an idea that’s right in front of your face. It’s just about bringing the idea to life.”
A universal truth for all three, regardless of the current state of their businesses, is that they believe in what they’re doing. None of the three said the motivating factor was to be rich and when I asked Welch what personal and professional success looked like, he kept it simple saying, “Professional – having 100 percent trust, awe, and respect from every one of your customers. Personal? Having 100 percent trust, awe, and respect from your partner.”
Treading your own course doesn’t have to mean failure or riches, there’s so much marrow in between the two. “I have met people that have taken what they were given and done great things with it and others, who are treading water,” says Mann, “I think to blanket the millennial generation as lazy is absolutely untrue. A bit more narcissistic? Perhaps. Optimistic, confident and what I call, ‘doers?’ Definitely.”