Who Do Young Entrepreneurs Look Up To? Elon Musk

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in middle school, Kenan Saleh watched the movie Social Networks, A dramatic account of the early days of Facebook. He decided right then and there that he would one day start his own company. “It was the first movie I saw that showed you can be young and still be the most successful person in the room,” he says. “I definitely emulated Mark Zuckerberg in some ways.”

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In true Zuckerbergian fashion, Saleh started a company out of his dorm room at the University of Pennsylvania. Running to the finals, he raised $500,000 and then Company to Lyft. sold to In 2019, the year he graduated. Along the way, Saleh realized he needed a new role model. He no longer wanted to be like Zuckerberg, who by then had been embroiled in a series of scandals. Many people liked Steve Jobs, but Jobs was dead, and reading his biography was as fascinating as “reading a history book”. Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Bill Gates were still alive, but their contributions to Silicon Valley already felt like ancient history. Saleh wanted a hero who is now creating history.

Young people like to idolize their predecessors. Jobs was Silicon Valley’s idol of choice for decades, but to the next generation of startup founders, his legacy seems as old as Web 1.0. Talented boys like Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel, who became billionaires at the age of 25, were not by his side. So are tech oligarchs like Jeff Bezos. “We don’t look down on these idiots,” says Mark Bagdjian, 22, the founder of the dating startup. “Just because you’re a billionaire doesn’t mean you’re positively influencing change.”


Instead, both Baghdjian and Saleh now worship Elon Musk, whom they see as a billionaire on a moral mission. Saleh, who began watching Musk’s videos while in college, says, “He has shown that you can do what’s best for the world and reap the benefits at the same time.”

Nerdshala asked more than a dozen young startup founders between the ages of 15 and 30 what inspires them. More than half raised Musk. Others noted techno-optimists such as Sam Altman and Patrick Collison, who believe technology can solve the world’s biggest problems, or entrepreneur-philanthropists with lesser-known startups. Neither of them had read books about the history of Apple, Google, or Amazon; He said he was more inspired by forward-looking companies trying to solve the world’s biggest problems.

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Olav Sorenson, who has taught entrepreneurship at UCLA and Yale, says his students admire people who have been “successful without being sold”. Some cite Honest Tea founder Seth Goldman—who now chairs Beyond Meat’s board—as a source of inspiration because “he focused his energies on investing in and supporting businesses with an ethical mission.” is,” Sorenson says.

“This generation is looking at all the issues and trying to say, ‘How can we be part of the solution to the problems that the older generation created for us? says Lori Rosenkoff, vice dean of entrepreneurship at the university. of the Wharton School of Business in Pennsylvania. Rosenkoff says that over the years, she has seen a change in the way students talk about entrepreneurship – not just as a career option to banking or consulting, but starting ventures with “a much more social perspective.” as a way of doing it.

For many young entrepreneurs, Musk is a prime example of this mindset. “Elon Musk is literally raising the tab for mistakes other generations have made,” says Baghdjian, who reads Ashley Vance Musk’s biography in high school and has considered him a hero ever since. Baghdjian says that while companies like Amazon and Apple have made big innovations, Musk’s work with electric vehicles and solar power was far more important.

Others were inspired by the trope of young startup founder who struggles on the way to success. One mentioned Musk sleeping on the floor at Tesla headquarters, which he said showed patience. Some even mentioned the story of Airbnb founder Brian Chesky, who maxed out his credit card during the startup’s early days and subsisted on ramen noodles.

“There’s not a lot of glamor when you’re starting out and working on a sneaky startup when she’s pursuing high school online,” says 15-year-old Pranjali Awasthi. Awasthi described Musk and Altman as his heroes. But she wished for even more role models who looked like her, a young woman of color. She says she was inspired to start her own startup in high school after reading about Laura Deming, who started working on her own venture fund when she was 16.

The historical lack of diversity among high-profile entrepreneurs has left some young people without founding idols. Josh Yang, who is 27 and in his second year at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, says, “The founders people previously worshiped were straight, white people.” According to one, women make up about 10 percent of tech CEOs 2021 report From the non-profit AnitaB.org, and still are surprisingly something Black and Latinx CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. Yang, who identifies as an oddly Asian figure, doesn’t hold much stock in tech world celebrities. “I’m making my own way,” he says.

So does 18-year-old Andrew Sun, who recently launched a microfinance startup. He credits a high school teacher with getting into entrepreneurship, rather than a celebrity CEO like Musk. “I really have no desire to be a celebrity,” he says. “I want to be an entrepreneur who makes a tremendously positive impact on our world.”

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