On Thursday, June 5, MaRS Future Leaders had the pleasure of hosting Jerry Zhang, young entrepreneur and president of DECA Ontario, for a special Future Leaders Youth Meet-up. Jerry took the time during the keynote and networking session to offer his wisdom on overcoming the obstacles that teen entrepreneurs face—especially in an adult-dominated environment. In this blog post, Jerry shares some of the insights that he passed on at the event.  

1. Ask questions for optimal learning

You have two ears and one mouth. Listen (at least) twice as much as you talk. As an entrepreneur, you have the good fortune of needing to be good at or at least knowledgeable about basically everything.

You can learn something from every successful person, no matter what their discipline. The system for asking questions for optimal learning is simple. First, when you meet someone, pick out what they are uniquely capable of talking about. Then find where their unique capabilities and your personal interests intersect. 

2. Ask impressive questions

Because I am 17 years old, I am not always taken seriously the second I step into a room. As a young person, it is imperative to be able to earn respect without having a position of initial dominance. I find that the best way to earn respect as a young person is actually from a position of utter submissiveness.

The main purpose of every question you ask should be to learn. As a young entrepreneur, questions are your power card. Ask questions that use industry jargon that people don’t expect you to know. Recently, I asked a marketing executive about the vertical integration of his mobile couponing strategy with vendors. 

It is also important to ask questions that someone is not usually asked. Everyone has been asked about their biggest failures or best advice they have been given. Try to ask people questions about technical parts of their job that they are passionate about, but don’t usually get a chance to talk about. 

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for it, whether you think you deserve it or not

Think about something that is slightly ridiculous that you want and that somebody else can give you. Have you ever considered asking for it? Things that seem astronomically ridiculous to ask for are, more often than you think, not really that astronomically ridiculous.

Ever wanted to get into a $1,000 conference that you couldn’t pay for? Why not ask? I’ve gotten free passes into several $1,000 conferences simply by pitching myself to the organizers as an overzealous teenager who wants to learn more but doesn’t have much money.

4. Be in the wrong place at the wrong time

Certain people always seem to be in the right place at the right time. However, to be in the right place at the right time, you often have to set out to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I have always valued my learning the most when I am surrounded by people who are better than me. These are people who are smarter, more experienced and wiser than I am. In these situations, I’m in the wrong place (I’m not “supposed” to be there) at the wrong time (I’m generally way too young for this).

It is, however, in these wrong-place-wrong-time situations that you learn the most and get the luckiest. Always be out of place—and fall in love with the thrill of being there. 

5. Live

I was in a group interview one time for a scholarship. The interviewer asked us how we had prepared for the interview. We proceeded to try to impress him with our work ethic.

He then remarked, “You’re kids. Why didn’t you go on a date or something last night?”

It turned out that I actually had been on a date. I told him this. The interview went well. Don’t forget to live and be young. Go on dates, party and enjoy this valuable time that is your youth.

Want to develop your leadership skills?

Are you a future leader? Interested in test-driving entrepreneurship for five days? Check out MaRS Future Leaders programs and our upcoming Summer Boot Camps.

Find out more and book Jerry Zhang at imjerryzhang.com. Jerry is currently working on a men’s accessories store at tartangrand.com. 

Jerry Zhang

Jerry has spoken to over 20,000 people, from elementary and high school students to social media professionals to top Canadian HR leaders. He uses personal and professional anecdotes to engage, entertain, and inspire people. He believes in catalyzing transformation by capitalizing on human potential. See more…