We were going to do things differently.
Millennial small-business owners had dreams of changing the world through the way we conducted business. We were going to treat our employees like experts instead of dollar signs and build companies that helped make our communities better. We were going to be the first wave of change in business that would sweep Wall Street and say that making a profit doesn’t have to come at the expense of our planet, our customers and our team. And the crazy thing is, we did it.
Millennials are often blamed for ruining entire industries, criticized for not settling down soon enough, and treated as underdogs, yet in spite of odds that often seem overwhelmingly stacked against us we are positively reimagining the future of work one business at a time. Being a millennial to others was a punchline. But despite being rocked by 9/11, the Great Recession and skyrocketing student loan debt, we spent years saving and planning until we could finally open businesses that would impact our communities and the world at large in meaningful ways. In a sea of millions afraid to follow their dreams, we have risked everything for ours by pouring every fiber of our beings into our passion projects.
Nationwide, more than half of Americans either work for or own a small business. Small businesses are responsible for creating two out of every three new jobs in America. And research has shown that millennial small-business owners are more optimistic, more likely to offer benefits to their employees, and more focused on innovation than their older counterparts. Despite often being underestimated and overlooked, we became the most diverse and profitable group of small-business owners in American history. Millennial entrepreneurs are 77% more likely to be African American than baby boomer small-business owners, more than twice as likely to be Hispanic, and 12% more likely to be women.
Now, the economic fallout of a global pandemic is threatening to decimate our dreams. Many millennials who spent years saving and planning opened their businesses just weeks or even days before the worst economic storm of our lifetimes changed the world. Others awoke to find that the businesses they had built up over the years had been nearly destroyed overnight. As fears about how to keep our businesses afloat and our employees on payroll keep us up at night, it’s hard not to feel crushed under the weight of it all—not only because of the current pandemic but because of a system that has felt stacked against us for as long as we can remember.
So, from one millennial small-business owner to another, let me remind you: This is not your fault. There was no playbook for this. We were all caught off guard when the world turned upside down. We didn’t create the pandemic and we aren’t responsible for the actions taken by our government in response to it. Every CEO, every small-business owner and every country was completely unprepared for this. No one can predict when the world will be healthy again.
Once this is over, we may not be the size we once were. We may not have the revenue we once had. We may even have to go out of business. If the time comes when you are forced to close shop, remember that it’s not your fault. You can only do so much, control so much and fix so much. As small-business owners, we’re used to being the hardest workers in a room and giving our all to our companies. We’ve spent our lives working hard so we don’t have to leave anything to chance, and yet pure chance is what we are all dealing with right now.
I don’t have the answers; all I can do is to encourage you to remember that none of this is your fault. Don’t lose your hope. Don’t lose yourself. You are part of an army of millennial business owners who unleashed a wave of compassionate leadership and helped other people achieve their dreams. This isn’t the end of the road for you. You’re just getting started. You’re a champion. And most of all, you’re not alone.
Millennial small-business owners are facing a difficult future. But our story isn’t over. We’ve been written off countless times before, and we’ve always survived. We will survive this, too. Bit by bit, millennial small-business owners have built a better and more equitable world. And no matter what the future holds, we will continue to find new ways to keep building.