The Loose Reins on U.S. Teenagers Can Produce Trouble or Entrepreneurs

Today’s New York Times (Thursday) has a piece by economist Tyler Cowen titled, The Loose Reins on U.S. Teenagers Can Produce Trouble or Entrepreneurs.

Cowen discusses some of the cultural influences responsible for America’s unusually high rate of youth entrepreneurship. I am quoted and My Start-Up Life is referenced. Excerpt:

America’s culture of marketing provided inspiration. Ben Casnocha surveyed his future customers and asked them what services they needed and how much they were willing to pay. He also had to persuade people to do business with a teenager. He had no formal education in marketing but, as a suburban American youth, he was exposed to intense commercial marketing every day. He decided to become an entrepreneur at the age of 12, he says, after being struck by the Apple “Think Different” ad. Critics contend that corporate selling and advertising are dumbing down America’s young. But marketing often motivates or instructs young people. In addition, it can teach them how to think about marketing messages more critically.

The fact that American schooling is less disciplined than that in other countries gives young creators the time and the energy to accomplish something outside their formal education. Despite his intellectual talents, Ben, in his book, admits that he received indifferent grades and had little emotional attachment to most of his formal schooling. Whenever he could, he used sick days to set up meetings for his business.

The longstanding criticism of the American school system is that even in the better schools, too many students just “get by” rather than engage in a rigorous curriculum. This academic leniency is bad for many average or subpar students, but it also allows some students to flourish. Relatively loose family structures have similar effects; American children are especially likely to be working on their own projects, rather than being directed by parents and elders.

5 comments on “The Loose Reins on U.S. Teenagers Can Produce Trouble or Entrepreneurs
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  • AWESOME article!

    It’s great when authors and their books are featured in the larger context of a rising economical or social phenomenon (not just a book review).


  • I think it may also have to do with the fact that a healthy percentage of entrepreneurs are in the tech biz. This area is perfect for young people for two reasons:
    1) Anonymity. If you have a professionally designed website, grammatically correct copy, and competitive services, your customers won’t even wonder how old the business owner is. It’s not like walking into a brick-and-mortar and seeing a fourteen-year-old behind the counter.
    2) Pigeon-holing. Even if your customers know you’re a fourteen-year-old, will they care? Young people “know all about that Internet stuff.” They may not trust you to write up the terms of their second mortgages, but they don’t mind if you write and maintain their web software.

    For these two reasons, the market is ripe for young entrepreneurs.

  • Three cheers for the young entrepreneurs! Wish I’d been one when I was younger, but that was during the time when we were brainwashed into thinking that a job was the only way to make a living.

  • One thing the author has sidestepped is the relational context. In that sense, I wouldn’t dare broadbrush the proclivity of the youth for *learning-on-the-run* as against *LEARNing-to-run* (a business).

    Ben as an entrpreneur has been a success because the business that he chose to run (while being so young) perhaps needed more of his inherent networking skills and open source knowledge than theoretical scholarship over subjects imparted in a classroom (reason why many MBAs screw up). The gaps that he may have had to fill, I guess must have been plugged by the masters in his network. [ He lives in California and all that it would take him to bump into a master or a VC is a casual walk down Menlo Park / Sand Hill Road – or to draw from his now famous gang of pingpong buffs he played with quite often].

    I think it’s got to do more with individual DNA and the circle (s)he chooses to be in – a discipline in which Ben had been a Class Act. Period.

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