What Does It Mean to be a First-Generation Entrepreneur?

From the time I was little, I knew I was meant to be an entrepreneur. 

I loved creating things. While growing up, I sold lemonade, homemade birthday and holiday cards, and a lot more.

I loved to lead. I started a scary story club when I was 10, a cappella groups in high school and college, and organized gatherings that brought people together.

I valued freedom. I wasn’t made to work for others, in one place or a typical 9 – 5 schedule. I would rather have worked 12 hours a day on my own terms than 8 hours a day for someone else.

Plus, I just felt like entrepreneurship was for me. I knew in my bones that I was destined to have a business.

Nevertheless, starting a company felt terrifying. Why? I was a first-generation entrepreneur, and I had no idea where to start.

What is a first generation entrepreneur?

A first generation entrepreneur did not grow up in a family of entrepreneurs. Most commonly, their close friends, mentors or role models are not business owners. They do not interact with anyone regularly for whom successful entrepreneurship is the norm. They may have interacted with aspiring entrepreneurs who never dedicated themselves to a business idea or who did not succeed and went back to a day job.

What are the unique challenges of a first-generation entrepreneur?

  1. Entrepreneurship is not normalized: They didn’t grow up hearing their parents talk business around the dinner table. In fact, business ownership may be feared or has a stigma. The people who surround first-generation entrepreneurs often have negative stereotypes about entrepreneurship… and this is what the would-be entrepreneur hears about day in and day out. Because of this, it’s hard for the first-generation entrepreneur to know the difference between interpretation and fact. Is starting a business truly inherently risky? Or are there tried-and-tested ways to mitigate risk? Can a businesses only be a side hustle or hobby for people like them? Or can anyone who is courageous and hardworking follow steps and best practices that will dramatically increase the chance of success?
  2. They can’t just go to business school: It would be great if an MBA prepared you to be a successful entrepreneur… but it doesn’t. In fact, it might just leave you with debt that makes it even scarier or impractical to start a company. I’ve heard so many entrepreneurs battle with the question of whether or not they should get an MBA, and this is an experience I know well. In my desperation to avoid starting a company, I applied for business school. Ultimately, I received a full ride… and turned it down. I wanted to start my business NOW and I realized pursuing my MBA would require me to learn a lot of things that didn’t directly apply to my company. In short, more school would have made me feel safe, but was ultimately just a clever form of procrastination. Six years into being an entrepreneur, I see ways that an MBA could have benefitted me, but I still believe I made the right choice not to pursue this path.
  3. Mentors are not built in: A big reason I didn’t start my business earlier (in fact, it took me 10 years) is because I didn’t know who to turn to for support. When I met entrepreneurs, they were willing to answer a few questions, but not to discuss business with me every week. I couldn’t call those entrepreneurs when I was scared and have them say “I really understand” and look at my numbers, marketing strategy, etc… Instead, I had to find my own mentors and hire them so I could get the amount of support I truly needed. This leads to my next point:
  4. Their first years in business are not just about starting a company: The first-generation entrepreneur often balances their launch with assuaging the fears of or educating their families and friends. What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? And is it really a good idea to invest in your dream or in yourself? Many people are confronted by the idea of investing in themselves via a massage once a month or buying organic food. It makes sense, then, that the idea of a first-generation entrepreneur hiring a life or business coach (or both, as I did in my first year) could seem crazy. And yet… many first-generation entrepreneurs need this level of support.
  5. The learning curve is steep: Because they weren’t exposed to entrepreneurship early on, first-generation entrepreneurs often have to learn their lessons by trying new things, making mistakes and then re-adjusting or pivoting. This process may be terrifying, since — per point no. 1 — it’s not normalized. In many cases, the learning process is so far outside their comfort zone that they ultimately give up.

What can the aspiring first-generation entrepreneur do to support themselves?

  1. Stop asking for advice before you start: While having some conversations can be supportive, having conversation after conversation as a way to avoid failure or stall your learning curve is not helpful. Commit to the learning curve and ask for advice after you’ve really started to apply yourself to the entrepreneurship process. It will make your conversations much richer and you will earn the respect of the entrepreneurs you encounter.
  2. If you feel fear, get support: It took me 10 years to start my business because I was scared. I wish I’d met a life or business coach earlier who understood the value of mindset and could support me with fear-related self-sabotages. Plus: Accountability. Anyone who is stalled by fear needs someone who knows how to lovingly hold them accountable and challenge them around facing the underlying fears or limiting beliefs that keep people stuck.
  3. Find a community: You may find solace is being around other entrepreneurs. My own community, The Thriving Creator, is one amazing place to get connected to fellow business owners.
  4. Do something, anything: Again, any action you take will lead to lessons learned. As long as you’re paying attention and cataloguing those lessons, you will gain invaluable wisdom and experience. The action you take will also better prepare you to apply to business incubators, if that’s a type of support you choose to seek later on. I did this for my company Dance Adventures and it was a total blast!

Are you a first-generation entrepreneur? What’s your business? Share below!

Embrace the Adventure,


P.S. I will be riffing about first-generation entrepreneurship more soon. Stay tuned on the blog!

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