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5 Lessons From Successful Millennial Entrepreneurs

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MILLENNIAL ENTREPRENEUR
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From left to right: eBay Canada Managing Director Andrea Stairs and the 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards winners Yossef Vidal, Nadia Shuaib and Adrien Lavoie meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa. Photo credit: Adam Scotti

In addition to the latest jeans style, food craze and music genre, the Millennial generation is setting another trend these days -- entrepreneurialism.

A BNP Paribas global study finds that Millennials are starting more businesses, with higher headcount and targeting higher profits than Baby Boomers . In Canada, the allure of being your own boss is also strong with young adults: A study by Intuit shows that one quarter of Millennial-age entrepreneurs have never held a full-time job prior to starting out on their own -- nearly three times more than entrepreneurs ages 35-54. Further, this younger age group is twice as likely as non-Millennials to start their own business in the next year. Clearly, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Canadian Millennials.

As managing director of eBay Canada, I certainly see this trend in our seller community. Case in point - all three winners of this year's eBay Entrepreneur of the Year Awards are Millennials building million-dollar retail businesses. Our overall Entrepreneur of the Year winner, 30-year-old Yossef Vidal, has established a $10 million-dollar business selling fashion and consumer electronic accessories. Twenty-four-year-old Adrien Lavoie found success with his sneaker business by selling internationally. And 30-year-old Nadia Shuaib leverages multiple sales channels to accelerate her consumer electronics company.

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At the eBay Entrepreneur of the Year Awards ceremony in Ottawa (from left to right): Entrepreneur of the Year award winners, Shoshana and Yossef Vidal; Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, Gudie Hutchings; eBay Canada Managing Director, Andrea Stairs; Micro-Multinational of the Year award winner, Adrien Lavoie; Omni-Channel Entrepreneur award winner, Nadia Shuaib and Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, the Honourable Navdeep Bains. Photo credit: Dave Chan

Each of these "millennipreneurs" tell a story of the drive, creativity and resilience of this generation. Here are five key learnings from these award-winning entrepreneurs:

1. Start small and get creative with financing.

All three entrepreneurs prove that starting a business doesn't always require bank loans or seed investors - small businesses can get creative with their financing. When Yossef Vidal decided to move back to Canada to start his own business, he convinced his employer at the time (an online electronics business) to pay him in inventory for his final months of work. While he was still a student, Adrien Lavoie created an office and warehouse space in his parents' basement. And Nadia Shuaib, a new Canadian citizen at the time, started her business with just a few items and slowly scaled her breadth and depth of inventory as her sales permitted.

Taking advantage of online marketplaces was also a way all three winners were able to cost-effectively create an online presence and reach consumers across the country and around the globe.

2. Incorporate what makes you happy.

To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to live, eat and breathe your business. All three award winners are 100 per cent dedicated to their business success because it works within their lifestyles. Nadia's passion for travel is built into her business, which sees her regularly fly to Asia to visit suppliers and source inventory. Yossef's business partner is his wife, Shoshana; as colleagues, they spend more time together and have more control over their home schedule. Meanwhile, Adrien is a big fan of sneaker culture and loves playing a part in that niche, enthusiast market.

3. Have a relentless focus on the customer.

While their entrepreneurial journeys differ, Nadia, Adrien and Yossef are united in one key business focus: delighting their customers. Even as she scales her business, Nadia continues to send handwritten thank-you notes for every order - she's beginning to write some in French, too! Adrien searches high and low for unique shoes, constantly delighting his customers with the thrill of the find. He recently sold a rare pair of Adidas shoes for $1,000 to a happy collector! And Yossef is all about passing the savings onto his customer. He puts a tremendous amount of effort into sourcing products readily available in the U.S. to sell to Canadians at the lowest possible price.

4. Don't be afraid to pivot.

Starting your own business is not an easy path to success. These three entrepreneurs have experienced challenges along the way, but they've never been afraid to pivot when things didn't go as planned. Yossef started his business by selling cell phones, but when the sales didn't materialize, he changed his retail focus to fashion accessories. Once his business was well-established, he reinvigorated his efforts in the consumer tech market with a new strategy.

Adrien initially focused on a broad range of sports merchandise, but soon learned that shoes were the sweet spot for his business and decided to narrow his inventory focus. To separate himself from competitors, he specialized in sourcing rare fan-favourites, interesting end-of-line items and styles less readily available in Canada.

Taking some lessons learned from last year, Nadia has reworked her entire holiday sales strategy to extend her peak retail season. This has involved sourcing inventory that is more evergreen versus holiday-specific, adding more shipping options for customers and shifting her sales calendar so she can capitalize on additional retail moments like Cyber Week.

5. Recognize and celebrate successes of all sizes.

Being your own boss can be a tough slog, and lonely at times. As such, it's important to celebrate successes big and small. Victories help to cement engagement and track progress against longer-term goals. Nadia, Yossef and Adrien know that small things like customers' thank-you notes and positive feedback are important wins.

In addition to motivation, all three entrepreneurs recognize that the little successes can be valuable indicators of what's working for their business, what to lean into or what to adjust. And, all three appreciate the need to celebrate their progress from time to time: Whether it's Yossef taking his wife and business partner out for a nice dinner, Nadia tacking on a few vacation days to a business trip, or Adrien keeping a pair of coveted sneakers for himself, they all find ways to reward themselves for a job well done.

And, speaking of celebrating success, I'm so proud to have hosted these three award recipients, along with previous winners as well as Members of Parliament and staff, at an event this week in Ottawa. One of the best parts of my job at eBay is getting to meet smart, driven entrepreneurs who have used our marketplace to build thriving businesses. It was an honour to recognize and celebrate the achievements of these three Entrepreneur of the Year award winners. Congratulations Yossef, Nadia and Adrien!

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