Have you heard the one about the entrepreneur bragging to his grandchildren: “I started out with nothing, and I still have most of it left.”
I can just picture the naches my parents would have shepped if I’d become a doctor, lawyer or some other type of professional. They would kvell when reporting to their friends about their son Ben Feferman, MD, CA or JD.
But times have changed, and my gen X/millennial generation is foregoing the career path of ultimate parental naches and rolling the dice in pursuit of success in the startup tech world.
The career path of a 20- or 30-something is so different from a generation ago. We are products of the ever-changing sharing economy, which essentially is removing more available jobs than it can produce. Actually, let me qualify that: it’s removing more full-time, secure, well-paying jobs than it can replace.
Cue the pragmatic yet seismic shift of the next generation, living in the shadows – and often in the basements – of the wealthier and more successful baby boomers. They’re overwhelmed by underemployment and underwhelmed by foreign concepts such as health benefits, paid vacations and retirement pensions.
This new cohort of leaders is pursuing careers out of passion, meaning and necessity. For them, it’s about building an awesome product that improves our lives in some big or small way.
It’s all about the bigger picture.
“I think now there’s more of a focus on enjoying what you’re doing every day, and having a meaningful impact and contributing to something cool and amazing, rather than securing a comfortable lifestyle. It’s all about what suits the individual. I think my personality is well suited to be an entrepreneur, and when I realized that, I bailed on pursuing dental school,” says Paul Arlin, founder and CEO of Jiffy, an app that provides on-demand home maintenance services that has launched in Toronto, Ottawa and Chicago.
While tech startups may have seemed geeky or strange a generation ago, iconic figures such as Larry Ellison of Oracle and Jack Ma of Alibaba have romanticized the rags-to-riches dream of starting with nothing and creating a game-changing product or service.
Paul Davidescu, founder of the culinary concierge app Tangoo, suggests the change is due to several factors.
“The spirit of entrepreneurship is soaring as more people come out with stories of how they got started off an air mattress [AirBnB] or an internship with a Montreal community newspaper whose language you didn’t even speak [Vice],” he says.
“Technology of course is a huge one, as it becomes more affordable to start a company by building a website for under $10 a month, and crowdsourcing your logo, developers, funding, basically anything else you need to get started.”
The parents of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Box’s Aaron Levie are likely satisfied with their sons’ success, but will the new cohort of successful startups be able to shift the naches meter?
‘This new cohort of leaders is pursuing careers out of passion, meaning and necessity’
Arlin was able to convert his parents early on.
“My parents love Jiffy – they’re proud investors. After using it for the first time, they immediately saw how we were on a mission to change the entire industry,” he says, adding: “My brother’s a very successful accountant, so they at least have a financially stable son in him!”
Monica Abramov, founder of the baking startup ShopBake, feels “there’s certainly an old-school mentality that much of the older generation still has. There’s a certain level of prestige that comes with telling others your son or daughter is a doctor, lawyer or dentist, but it’s also a feeling of security, knowing your child will be successful.”
Some of the concerns have to do with the sporadic and unreliable flow of income. Many startups are forced to go a year or sometimes longer before management can take a salary, and many of them don’t even survive that long.
“My parents also asked me, basically from day one, if I’m making money yet. I don’t think they understand quite how different a tech startup is compared to a traditional business,” Abramov says.
The growing number of Jewish-led startups has created a need for mentorship, support, funding and opportunities, and several groups have recently popped up to serve that community. Jewish Entrepreneurs Toronto (JET) and the Jewish Investor Group are two examples of grassroots groups, which collectively boast more than 500 members in Toronto. They use popular social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp chats to communicate and share information with their members.
“JET is a volunteer-led network that helps Jewish entrepreneurs from across Toronto connect with one another to make each member’s entrepreneurial journey a bit easier, enjoyable and rewarding. We empower our members to grow and learn through five types of engagement: social, education, community, mentorship and investments,” says JET founder Daniel Warner.
Genesis, supported by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, is another organization that has found success reaching out to the startup community.
“Successfully engaging young Jews means creating added-value and meeting them where they are,” says Dan Hadad, director of Genesis and an entrepreneur himself. “With more and more millennials shifting from conventional careers to entrepreneurship, we’ve launched a mentorship program supporting those entrepreneurs both in for-profit and social enterprise/not-for-profit companies.”
As more and more Jewish entrepreneurs succeed in the startup world, it provides some security, and Abramov, Arlin and Davidescu are living proof that a successful career can exist beyond medicine, law and finance. Further evidence is that their parents have downloaded their kids’ apps and are tweeting out their naches.
Ben Feferman is a tech entrepreneur, adviser and mentor. He can be reached at [email protected]