News & Insight

Are millennials really less entrepreneurial?

Christian Nellemann

Successful entrepreneurs are driven to do what they do with a passion that's hard to quantify.

A story has been circulating recently that suggests millennials are less entrepreneurial than their older counterparts.

It centres on a data study by the US Small Business Administration, which found that slightly fewer 30-year olds were in full-time self-employment than Generation X-ers or Baby Boomers at the same age. For some, this data supports a long-held view: that millennials are more risk averse, and therefore less entrepreneurial.

Has there been a generational shift in attitudes towards being your own boss? Or is this small data discrepancy being misrepresented?

More debt; higher property costs

Most experts agree that the circumstances have changed for young people making their way in the world over the last 60 years.

The average millennial has for more debt than the average Baby Boomer or Generation X-er did at the same age. Property costs are markedly higher too, and overall, financial security appears far less attainable. So we can assume that millennials have more financial strain – and potentially, a greater fear of failure.

Furthermore, it’s very easy to imagine banks – who are also also more risk averse than they were 20 or 30 years ago – refusing to lend to entrepreneurs who lack a strong financial foundation. So, even when millennials do have the confidence to start a business, they can’t get the cash.

Millennials, we’re therefore told, aren’t starting businesses because the risks are too great. I’m not convinced – and here’s why.

Fear of not trying is bigger than fear of failure

Successful entrepreneurs are driven to do what they do with a passion that’s hard to quantify.

I can say from experience that it isn’t isn’t just a desire – it’s an obsession. So the idea that financial hardships could dampen that obsession doesn’t work for me. For an entrepreneur, fear of not trying is far bigger than fear of failure.

When the bank says no, entrepreneurs try another way. They revisit their business plan, they cut start-up costs further; they beg, borrow, and take another short-term job to raise the cash they need. These aren’t hardships; the struggle makes success all the sweeter.

Whether there is any truth to this story or not, aspiring entrepreneurs should take no notice. It’s absolutely true that young people are facing unprecedented levels of debt and often unmanageable living costs. But for me, that’s even more reason to start a business. Starting a business, for the right person, gives you the opportunity to transcend all of it.

If you’re good at what you do and stop at nothing to succeed, the earning potential is incalculable. And if you really do want to start a business, you will never be fulfilled by anything else.

Through the businesses I’ve started, the thousands of small businesses XLN supports and the entrepreneurs I’ve mentored or sponsored, I’ve seen what entrepreneurs are like for decades. And it hasn’t changed. It’s the same drive, the same obsession, the same passion. The financial circumstances of the time make no difference.

Entrepreneurial spirit isn’t generational, and it isn’t fickle. It lives on, carrying our economies forward like it always has and always will. So don’t read too much into small data anomalies like this. Entrepreneurs of every age group will keep forcing the doors open – and no amount of financial uncertainty or doom-mongering will change that.


Christian Nellemann is the Founder and CEO of XLN, a provider of low-cost phone, broadband, energy and card processing services exclusively to small businesses. A serial entrepreneur, he’s a two-time winner of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and one of only 17 inductees into their Global Hall of Fame. He is passionate about small businesses, and is a featured columnist for Follow him on Twitter @christianxln