The Mentality Of The Young Entrepreneur

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My name is Ken Sundheim. I am a 29 year old business owner of an executive search firm by the name of KAS Placement based out of New York City at Herald Square. I started KAS shortly after I graduated from Fordham University, after resigning from a corporate sales job after three months of being at the company.

Throughout my writing on Entrepreneur’s Journey, I plan to document how I opened a million dollar business with no experience, no contacts and even more odds against my favor.

I want to discuss what I have learned being a 29 year old entrepreneur and what is necessary for the aspiring business owner to become familiarized with. I want to touch on my successes and my mistakes and show the reader what they can learn from both.

I am convinced that entrepreneurship and intelligence only have a slight correlation. Anybody can be an entrepreneur, however not everybody is willing to put themselves out there and truly follow their dreams, their heart and use their God-given skills to take what they deserve.

I am living proof that anybody can be their own boss. Hopefully, my stories, my knowledge and my ongoing experiences can help at least one individual.

How I Started As An Entrepreneur

I didn’t grow up and sit through my college classes thinking that if I didn’t open a business, I’d be cheating myself. Instead, my exceptional lack of corporate political prowess at a young age taught me that it’s either entrepreneurship or thirty years of a miserable boss and even more miserable pension.

Living in New York City and being unemployed in a great economy at age 25 prompted to me to visit the entrepreneurship section at Barnes and Noble shortly after leaving and, by fate or stroke of something close, I happened to pick up a thirty-page book on staffing, went home and started KAS.

The corporate headquarters started out being a studio apartment on the Upper West Side. At first, I did what a 25, 26 and 27 year old would do with a dramatically increased salary. Then, around 28, I began to get serious about growing my firm – albeit from a one bedroom apartment at the time.

Now at the age of 29, I own a revenue generating company in New York City, I pay a couple of Manhattan rents, have five full-time, very talented employees whom I care about on payroll, and my firm is currently catching the turning economy, which means more growth, training, management, and whatever may come as well.

I live a life that is hard to obtain and that I am grateful to have.

The Price Of Success

If you think successful entrepreneurship does not come with a price tag, think again. Then think another time after that. At an early age, I feel hardened. I joke a lot with my friends, but when it comes to business, I feel that I don’t smile as much as I would if I were an employee.

Being successful is arduous. Being successful is stressful. If you want to be successful at a young age, don’t just read the below, but come to terms with it: this is the mentality that a young entrepreneur needs.

If You’re A Rattlesnake, Nobody Pokes You With A Stick

It was about a year and a half ago. I had three employees working from my apartment on the Upper East Side. It was a little embarrassing because I run a staffing firm and we would occasionally have candidates come to the “office.”

That is, until somebody claiming they were competition sent me a nasty email regarding not having an office. With 48 hours, I signed a two-year, $70,000 lease. I could not sleep. I worked and learned out of anger, out of spite for two days straight.

I consider myself a rattlesnake. If you try to whack me with a stick, I bite like a s.o.b. If I want something, I work so hard for it that being on the other team means that you’re going to put in 18-hour days.

If it sounds harsh, that’s because it is. I can’t apologize for my style, but the other firms in my space now know better. Nobody is dumb enough to get bitten twice.

It’s The Work That Doesn’t Directly Pay, That Pays

As a young entrepreneur, nobody is going to hand you a thing. Clients are going to be skeptical of you. The other teams have leverage simply by telling the client who shops around, “We’ve been in business for 15 years.” That means that I was 14 years old when they started. Get used it.

So, how do you combat this sentence? It’s simple. Be more knowledgeable and gain better credentials.

I started reading a lot of books about every aspect of business, persuasion, job seeking and whatever else the iPad would download. The reason why many younger entrepreneurs seem to avoid this is that it’s not listed on the job description.

It is this exact work that helped me to learn how to get media exposure, which mitigates the aforementioned skepticism of potential clients.

My writing has been syndicated in WSJ.com, NYTimes.com, Forbes.com, USAToday.com, About.com, HuffPo, AOL.com, Yahoo! Buzz and Yahoo! Finance and just about every other publication.

Now, the “We’ve been in business for 15 years,” looks pretty bad when you’ve accomplished 20 times more in a quarter of the time.

Once You’re Able To Recruit Them, Treat Your Employees Like Family

Any entrepreneur, or for that matter, large corporate entity, lives by effective, loyal employees and dies by turnovers. Unhappy employees are easy to get because they are cheap and they screw up a business.

Happy employees are so hard to find and procure because they are a serious expense, but they make a business.

I had to recruit employees from an apartment. This was not easy. The first few took a chance on me and for that, I owe them everything.

Management for many entrepreneurs is tough. For me, at first it was damn near impossible. I had a lot of growing up to do.  Management takes patience, it takes learning, it takes caring and it takes energy.

Jack Welch put it best when he said that before you are a leader, you spend time growing yourself; then when you become one, you spend that time growing others.

As a young entrepreneur, know that your employees are the future of the company. Care about them. They are the ones standing next to you in the trenches and the moment you forget that, you’re in for a very gloomy day.

Ethics: Have Them And Stand For Something

At the age of 29, you don’t get to own your own business by not making mistakes. I have been called everything in the book except unethical. At the end of the day, you have your word and that is all you have.

I have had clients, vendors and others that I’ve come across display despicable ethics, and dealing with them is tough, but you don’t back down. When someone acts in an unethical manner, tries not to pay you (and they will), you call them on it and fight to get whatever they owe you.

I recently had to collect over $12,000 from clients overseas that were not paying. Yes. It’s a pain, but as a young entrepreneur you learn that not everybody acts with the utmost integrity. It’s a part of life and it’s a part of business.

Say what you want, but you can’t call me “unethical.”

Ken Sundheim

About Ken Sundheim

At age 25, Ken Sundheim started KAS Placement Recruitment and Staffing from a studio apartment in New York. With no industry experience nor contacts, Ken learned the staffing business out of a book. KAS Placement now has two offices and is currently nominated as America's Most Promising Companies in 2012 by Forbes Magazine. Ken has previously contributed to NYTimes.com, WSJ.com, USAToday.com, Forbes and many more. You can read more at kensundheim.com.

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25 Comments

  • Love the section about the work that happens behind the seems. It’s this work which builds your business.

  • Sam

    Great post, Ken. I love the rattlesnake part, and I truly believe that just as you’ve shown, you can be ethical and still fight like a snake to get what’s right. Great job.

  • Hi Ken-
    straight up advice. I relate to the rattlesnake & have had “sticks + stones” thrown at me, like You, this has made me stronger…I used these to build.

  • Thanks for reading and the kind words – very much appreciated !

  • “Once You’re Able To Recruit Them, Treat Your Employees Like Family” I think that is the most important phrase because if an employer does that then his employees will work as they would work for their own business and this is something that no bonus can reach,
    Especially if you are a young entrepreneur then this is the path you should follow if you want your business be successful on the long run

  • [...] from: The Mentality Of The Young Entrepreneur – Entrepreneurs-Journey … Comments [...]

  • Way to go, Ken!

    Keep up the good work and don’t forget to smile!

    Peter

  • I’m happy to read this great post, Thank for sharing your idea, it has motivated many! including me!

  • that is a cool story. I think entreneurship is a skill that we should have since a young age. Young entrepreneurs are the future of this world. :)

  • Very inspiring story, thanks for sharing

  • Ann

    Gen Y chop and change

  • I’ve been writing recently about the importance of staying connected to the energy of one’s heart in all matters, including business. Your success story provides such great validation for this. Your heart centered approach is apparent in the way you treat your employees as well as in your commitment to pursuing your dreams in an ethical manner, regardless of the criticism that is thrown your way.

    I believe that the largest obstacle many entrepreneurs face is the one that stands between them and the energy of their hearts. So many of us look outside of ourselves for inspiration on how to achieve success. Your story shows that true inspiration is found within. The only inspiration worth listening to, and worth guarding with the ferocity you demonstrate, is the inspiration that comes from the heart.

    Thanks for such a great post. I look forward to hearing more.

  • Ken,
    Your article was very inspiring to me. Sounds like you dealt with all of the pit-falls of being a young entrepreneur.

    I am happy to hear that you are a ethical businessman that treats his employees like family. That attitude is completely missing with big corporations.

  • What a great accomplishment you have already had at the age of 29. I love how candid you are and honest. It can be really hard to get on top but it seems like you had the gumption and scrappyness to really get down to it. While I don’t think I would ever be able to open and run a business from a 30 page staffing book, That is quite a thing to do. I am looking forward to reading more from you and I have already asked a young friend of mine to read this and look into you as I think you could really benefit him. He is a young christian with a really good head on his shoulders, and he will be a force in the world. Good luck and again i look forward to reading more from you.

  • Hi College Books,

    Thanks for reading – business is not as difficult as people make it out to be. Of course you could open your own business.

    It’s hard work than intelligence and natural ability – just put your head down and you’ll do great!

  • This is the example of hard work and sense of purpose.

  • I am very inspired with your post Ken. I am just a year short from finishing my degree in college and I am hoping to be an entrepreneur and be successful just like you.

  • very nice,.. inspiring man, but you didn’t mention anything about partnership etc..
    but loved your article though.

  • ‘Yes, indeed I do think that it’s the work
    that doesn’t directly pay, that pays.’

    I am just reading a Book by Entrepreneur Russell Simmons (BTW you already can find a (partial) Book Review from it on my Blog(s)) he also emphases that you have to focus on – the Process – and not on Results. The funny thing is that I once worked in a Sales job for a Company and actually had been on their ‘Wall of Fame’ multiple times, only when telling somebody from the management that I wasn’t focussing on results it made his jaw drop :)

    Currently my Home Business has a lot of ‘room for improvements’ and in Forums I answer peoples (beginners) questions, because that’s something that I enjoy doing, something that certainly doesn’t directly pay. I do however see that I frequently see visitors comming to my blog even from posts I posted 3 years ago!

    All the Best,
    To your Happy – Home Business – Inspiration,
    HP

    • There is a famous quote from Einstein which I have adapted to business:

      Business is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration

      All the reading helped you to focus and direct your energy in the right places, thus helping you succeed. But ask any entrepreneur, op included but they put in a lot of effort before the found their ‘lucky’ break.

      From a fellow guest writer on this blog – respect to your business success

  • Hi ken. wow, you are a risk taker. I like how you “opened a million dollar business with no experience, no contacts and even more odds against my favor”. Being yourself as a risk taker makes you achieve what you want without thinking of what will happen. I like how you act and do the business. Keep it up.

    • Hi George,

      Thank you for the kind words and thank you for reading.

      Sincerely,

      K

  • FGC

    This is rather inspirational. You took the first step that many people don’t even do and that’s take action. It always makes me sick to see people ask about how to make money. You can give them a blueprint on the EXACT things to do and they still won’t implement it.

  • My biggest difficulty as an entrepreneur was that I hired people who were inspired to ben entrepreneurs themselves. Though I got the best work from them, I had to accept that they will soon move on. What’s your advice to deal with this situation?

  • Helen

    Thanks Ken. I am working on my dream. It is not easy to walk away from stable $$$ but so worth it.

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