Building in Public 7: Being a 22 Year Old Founder
The other day when catching up with some Melbourne start up people irl (shock horror after 2 years of Zooms) I was asked; “You are 22, how did you start Steppen?” “How are you finding start up life?” “What do you get up to outside of Steppen?” (implied question being — do you have a life outside of Steppen? answer being yeah sometimes…)
To my fellow 20 something year olds reading this and thinking — I want to be a startup founder (or in start ups) but I have no idea what to do or where to start, this article is for you! For anyone curious about what my experiences has been so far as a young 20 year old founder — well this article is also for you!
This piece will be written in a question answer format — taking some of the questions I have been asked throughout my journey and then well answering them. Let’s begin…
How did you get here? Like how did you end up being a founder?
I started Steppen when I was 21.Yeah I had done some cool stuff for my age (stalk my LinkedIn if you care to see) but I had not actually done anything that remotely qualified me to start Steppen.
So then what made me start Steppen? Why did I think I’d be able to run a company changing the face of fitness?
It started with me being frustrated by how shit the experience of going to the gym was. I really thought it there had to be a better way but when I looked around the alternatives just did not work for me. I could not afford to pay $60 a session for a PT… paywalled fitness apps I deleted off my phone straight away and IG/TT yeah they had content but completing them on those platforms was a nightmare & tracking them — not possible. So fed up I thought ‘Fuck this. Let’s just build something.’ (For a little more on why we exist you can check out here)
Why did I think I could pull off this enormous feat? I just wanted the problem solved for me — no one else was going to solve my problem so I decided to take things into my own hands. The fact I was only 21 at the time was irrelevant to me — I thought I’d figure things out as I moved forward (which has been the case…)
Once I committed to solving how bad the existing fitness experience was it just snowballed from there — more and more of time began to be dedicated to Steppen. Suddenly I was finding an agency to build an MVP, brought on two awesome co-founders, raised some pre-seed money, launched Steppen and just like that it is now over a year…
So far, I have found the fact I am 22 mostly irrelevant —age is not really a thing — the key thing is to learn really quickly how to solve the problem right in front of you.
Biggest Learnings So Far Being A Founder?
First lesson — Just start. You will figure it out along the way. You are never ready. You are never at your current version of yourself the right person to start this company. That’s fine — because you don’t need to be- you need to have the ability (and belief) that you can become the person you need to be (really quickly) to help make your company a success. Realising this early in my journey gave me the confidence to found Steppen and gives me the confidence to solve whatever current problem in front of me.
Second lesson — you need to walk a fine line of:
- Unshakable confidence: I am amazing!! Of course I can make this a thing (if you don’t to some extent believe this — you won’t start or do anything risky like a startup). You need to truly believe you have an incredible vision and clear path to success.
- Humility and eagerness to learn: yeah you are amazing — but you also definitely don’t know everything. You are also probably wrong about most things.
At certain times you will need to be more unshakable confidence — other times more humble. The two are on opposite sides of the spectrum — get used to one of the many paradoxes of start ups.
Third lesson — be focused. Try to do less and do it really well. You don’t have the time and energy for everything.
Fourth lesson — Nothing is above your pay grade and nothing is below it. You need to do whatever you can to keep the company going and become successful.
Fifth lesson- people are everything. Hire and surround yourself with people who challenge you and who are smarter than you. You are only one person — you alone cannot build an entire empire.
Have you ever experienced anyone automatically judge you because you are so young?
Honestly no. I have only had one person assume things about me (and be condescending) because of my age.
Besides this one instant the entire startup community has been aboslutely amazing. I am so grateful for every single person who has met with me, provided advice, feedback and thoughts. I really would not be where I am right not if not for people being so generous with their time. Knowing the impact these conversations please if there is something you think I could be helpful with — reach out!
Have there been moments have you been like god I am really out of my depth here?
Yes, most days.
So far in my startup journey I have had MANY moments that I have thought ‘what am I doing — I am completely out of my depth here. I am only 22 I have no life experience — how am I meant to do this.’ Only to then be like — ‘welllll…. I got this far so we are going to make this work’ (often does the trick).
So far in my startup journey I have had A LOT of moments that I have thought — ‘what was I doing x day/weeks/months ago, dude you were an idiot then ‘ — realising wait, that means I have grown. This sentiment is nicely summarised by this tweet by Em Casey.
Do you think you have faced any unique challenges because of your age?
I suspect all founders face challenges with maturity and a steep learning curve. But because of my age & lack of prior experience both have probably been a bit more of a thing for me at times.
- Maturity: more an age thing. Some days I need to act like I am 40 — I’ve had to fire people, negotiate salaries, been rejected by potential employees & investors, hold team members accountable, set & communicate company direction. These are not things that your average 22 year old does. At times I have felt a little (read REALLY) out of my depth — but you make it work because you have to. I am not perfect and there has been times I have acted closer to 22 than 40.
- Really steep learning curve: more an experience thing. I had no startup experience at all before this — product, UI/UX, hiring, data analytics, story telling, management are all new skills to me. I need to be awesome at a lot of these things really quickly — the learning curve has been very steep (lucky as we say at Steppen — learning is our super power)
How are you finding start up life?
Yeah, love it! Naturally there are ups and downs but I would not want to be doing anything else. This is my life’s work. I am (as you’d hope I would be) EXTREMELY passionate about making fitness a better experience.
I love building something from nothing. I love the fact that each week it’s super different. I love how much and how quickly I need to learn new things. I love iterating the Steppen story and being challenged. I love building the product and everything I have learnt around UI/UX. I love seeing people join the Steppen team and thrive. I love hearing from users we are providing value. I love the INCREDIBLE people I get to meet (confession — have definitely had a few conversations where I was low key fan-girling…)
Even the stuff that is be annoying and shitting — because let’s face it every job is going to have good and bads — are always great. Because well they are problems I chose to be solving & always leads to a good learning of sorts.
This question is usually followed up by — ‘Is it hard being in a different life stage in some ways to your friends?’ With my close friends — no this has not proven to be a real problem. I see my close friends frequently and love spending time with them. It’s nice that they are not across the specifics of work — nice escape when needed.
The fact that LinkedIn is my favourite social media site (guilty) and I am 22 does hint that I don’t not really caring about ‘normal’ 22 year old stuff. I have always been a bit like this — I don’t care for FOMO. I don’t mind having to work late, on weekends or tossing & turning at night thinking about work. This is what I want to do.
At times, it of course, can be hard when stressful or even great things are happening at work and you know they just won’t get it. But again — this is what I have chosen to do, it’s part of the job//lifestyle. You need to recognise that and be fine with it.
What are you most excited to learn over the next 6 months?
Currently Steppen is transitioning from 3 co-founders to 6 full timers & us 3 as co-founders. This is a big change. For me the next 6 months will be about learning to be an amazing manager and CEO. I am looking forward to building my own unique management style and setting the company culture. As the team grows where I can provide maximum value is going to shift from being super detail orientated (& in the weeds) to big picture focused. These are new skills for me. It’s an exciting change.
A good follow up question I get here — is how do you balance managing people older than you and your own age? My response working on it.
Working with people who I am the same age is interesting — but in no ways a unique challenge to me... With my personal management style I want to actually know my employees and their life. However ultimately I am here to build a successful business not to make friends (though I do love my team mates)— so being a manager always needs to come first. Meanwhile with people older then me I have found it’s all about being aware of what you don’t know, being open to improvements and being clear what you need from them. The right people are not going to care about how old you are.
Well, that’s all from me for now — Being a founder is an amazing, crazy experience. You just need to start, believe in yourself & company vision and be wiling to learn (very fast). I will be back with another piece in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime please feel free to reach out if you have any questions (my LinkedIn & Twitter). Hope you enjoyed,
— Cara ❤️