We recently had the chance to talk to Stacey Ferreira, the author of 2 Billion Under 20, a 2015 Thiel Fellow, and the founder of Forrge. She has excellent advice to offer to young women interested in becoming entrepreneurs stemming from first-hand experience building two businesses.
Tell us about yourself!
I grew up in Arizona. At 18, I moved out of the house to Los Angeles and started my first business with my brother, Scott and our friend, Shiv Prakash. When I was 20, we sold the business to Reputation.com, where I worked as a product marketing manager. Last year, I went to NYU and while I was there, St. Martin’s Press published my first book, 2 Billion Under 20: How Millennials Are Breaking Down Age Barriers and Changing the World. This year, with the Fellowship, I stopped college to build Forrge, an on-demand hourly workforce for retail.
What’s your favorite part of being an entrepreneur?
Learning by doing. There is no textbook that tells you the steps to follow. Every day is an experiment and our success as a company depends on our ability to learn as fast as possible and map those learnings with market opportunities, market timing and our gut.
Who or what inspired you to become an entrepreneur? Who is your role model?
Video games are what inspired me to get involved in technology. I eventually fell in love with the concept that anyone could essentially build a fictional world that others could live in. In middle school, my brother and I decided we wanted to build our own game, so we started learning to code. Once I graduated high school, my brother and I realized we didn’t quite have the skill or manpower needed to build a game, but wanted to build something regardless. We asked our parents if we could start a company with our programming skills, rather than get an internship and it all snowballed from there.
My biggest role models are, first and foremost, my parents. I’m fortunate to have parents who recognize that an education is the most valuable investment parents can make in their child’s life, and that “education” doesn’t always mean a four year degree. Over the past 23 years of my life, I’ve seen them work endlessly to try to provide every opportunity for my brother and me to learn. From a young age, they began teaching me the importance of hard-work and balance by living it in practice. This leading by example is how I strive to live my life today.
Tell us about a challenge you’ve faced with your business, and how you’ve overcome it.
Challenges come in all shapes and sizes when you’re starting a business. But once you get to a certain point, most of your challenges revolve around people (or lack-thereof). Running your own company involves getting feedback from potential customers about your idea and prototype, fielding questions from parents and friends who wonder why you’re not working a “normal job,” selling your idea and vision to your team members to keep people motivated and selling your idea and vision to your investors so you can help your team members be the kind of parents I had when I was growing up.
And when you’re running a company, the biggest person you have to deal with is yourself and your own mindset. Right now, I’m in the middle of fundraising and hiring, so it means taking a lot of meetings to try to identify the right people who understand the vision to partner with or bring onto the team. My general philosophy on meetings is that most of the time they deter people from being productive, so I try not to schedule any meetings that don’t absolutely need to happen. So the biggest challenge I’m facing personally in work is recognizing that these meetings are vital to the success of the business because funding and hiring are two of the most important items at this stage in the business.
What advice would you give to young women interested in going into technology or entrepreneurship?
There is never a “right time,” so just start reading blogs, talking to people and start learning and building. Today, more than ever, there are endless resources, so just start somewhere and start today.
Anything else you’d like to add?
When you’re starting a business, your support system and the people you surround yourself with are some of the most important factors in success. I’d encourage all young entrepreneurs to seek out organizations like the Thiel Fellowship Summits and to reach out to role models on social media (I met Richard Branson, who invested in my first company, through Twitter). Today, more than ever, it’s easy to get yourself in a room with people you look up to — and sometimes those people can make all the difference.
Stacey Ferreira is the author of 2 Billion Under 20 and the founder of Forrge. Ferreira is a 2015 Thiel Fellow.