Age is truly just a number when it comes to your ability to help the world.
My guest for this episode set out to solve a problem in one of the greatest health crises in the world at only seventeen years old.
Instead of venture capital funding, she raised $114,000 through several business competitions, ranging from Detroit Startup Weekend to Harvard Business School. She’s achieved the distinction of becoming a Thiel Fellow, and manages a team of twelve with a company that has experienced exponential growth by solving a problem and bringing relief and some joy to those who are suffering with diabetes.
Meghan shares her journey in this conversation while also letting us in on her book and keynote speech The Youth Advantage, where she dives into all the advantages of starting a business at a young age and how you can get started.
Listen to the podcast here:
Thiel Fellowship & The Youth Advantage With Meghan Sharkus
We have a unique guest who’s uniquely qualified to talk about the youth advantage. She’s a Thiel Fellow. She also is on a mission to solve one of the greatest health crises in the world. She doesn’t have a vision to do it. She’s doing it. She’s making a disease even fun for people who are suffering. She’s creating a movement around it. Her name is Meghan Sharkus. She’s the Founder of ExpressionMed, a company that creates designed medical adhesives for diabetes devices. She created this when she was seventeen years old. What were you doing when you were seventeen years old? Were you building a multimillion-dollar company solving some of the biggest health crisis and health issues in the world?
I think you’re going to love this episode. You’re going to love her spirit, her energy and a whole lot more. Here’s the other part. Instead of getting venture capital to fund ExpressionMed and her business, she went out and raised through hustle. Probably a little bit of charm too. She raised over $100,000 through several business competitions that she enrolled in places ranging from the Detroit Startup Weekend to Harvard Business School and a whole lot more. As a Thiel Fellow and college dropout, she has a team of twelve people and a company that generates over six figures on average a month. You’re going to get a lot of wisdom. Meghan, welcome to the show. How are you?
Thank you. I’m doing well.
We’re grateful to have you on the show with us. We have to also do a shout out for our friend, Max Goldberg, who got us connected and has been on the show. If you never want to miss an episode, go to GrowthToFreedom.com/subscribe. Meghan, your story is amazing. At seventeen years old, you built the seven-figure-plus companies, solved one of the biggest health issues in the world, and almost making a disease more than tolerable and fun. You’ve got many stories. Let’s go to the beginning. Can you remember when you have this idea? What was it that was the catalyst to go, “At seventeen, I’m going to start this business and solve this problem?”Getting enough sleep makes your work that much better and makes you that much happier. – Meghan Sharkus Click To Tweet
When I was seventeen, I was like a lot of seventeen-year-olds. I had the opportunity to be exposed to so many different educational platforms within my high school. I was able to take an Entrepreneurship class, take a Marketing class, be involved in a co-curricular organization called DECA and all of these things that maybe weren’t around several decades ago. I was excited about the idea of building something. I did the cliché. Have an idea journal, have a bunch of different business ideas bouncing around in your head as you go. One that stuck with me was one time when I was at a pool with my friend Jessica. We were doing the cliché seventeen-year-old thing where you get heart stickers so you can make tan lines on your skin.
Jessica also had this tan line from her glucose. It was her infusion set for her insulin pump. I questioned, “Why don’t you have a fun tape, like a heart or something?” They didn’t exist at the time. I went on a simple endeavored to change the shape of her tan line. I wasn’t trying to make a statement in the industry or anything. As I do, I went very overboard and tried to solve the problem as best as I could. I googled Entrepreneurship Camp. Google is my biggest asset to learning. I found this phenomenal program called Endeavor at UPenn. I got to live with entrepreneurs for six weeks and go after this issue. I ended up finding the perfect material to keep devices on through pools and sweat, so thin that you can scratch on it and it won’t roll-up.
A lot of adhesives try to go for that thick woven feel, which isn’t very practical. It’s not going to rip off. It’s going to roll up from the edges. It was thin, readable, long-lasting, let’s go. I sent it out to moms in the community of families with diabetes and they were like, “Meghan, that’s cute that you built this for this three-day device. I have this device that I want to stay on my kid for fourteen days. What do you have for that?” I was like, “Internet moms, I have nothing yet.” I spent all my money on this first little project. I ended up talking to my engineering materials manufacturer. I was like, “Can I get a sample to test some things out?” They were like, “Yes.” They sent me fifteen feet of the stuff. I was like, “I can use this.”
I was hand-cutting and hand-drawing glucose monitor adhesives for six months before I was doing 200 a week. I was like, “I should probably do something so this is more sustainable.” All of the moms that were excited and buying these homemade, very scrappily thrown together adhesives from me, supported me on a Kickstarter. I got enough money to do the machining of the stuff. It wound up being something that we sell to tens of thousands of people in the US and over 30 different countries. It became a big thing.
A lot of that had to do, not from my own ideation because this was simply an aesthetic thing for my friend at the time. Using my creativity, problem-solving and combining it with talking to those moms and having a conversation with them and building exactly what they were asking for. It created this unique and awesome solution. The coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life was that we had competitors mimic what I was doing. As a kid, I was like, “Real adults think this is a good idea.” My mentors would be like, “Meghan, having competitors is not a good thing.” I’m like, “It’s cool.” It was a very good fun time for me to build that.
Your enthusiasm is contagious, Meghan. A couple of insights to tune into, this youth advantage. How great would it be to work with someone like Meghan that’s driven on purpose, mission-oriented, resourceful, committed, innovative? How great would it be to tap resources like that if you know how to do it? This whole idea that Millennials are younger, they are not committed. It’s total BS. It’s a story that isn’t accurate. Meghan, I want to back up before we get into some other insights and strategies. You mentioned this six-week opportunity that you had where you googled it. What were your biggest takeaways from being an accelerator and incubator, a hyper learning chamber, whatever? What did it do for you? What confidence did it give you? Explain that a little bit.
There are many things. That was the first place in my childhood where someone told me that I could start a business at seventeen. Usually it was like, “Listen to these podcasts, read these books, get excited about it but don’t start until after you graduate.” That was the messaging I was getting so that I felt enabled by the camp. Another piece that I touched on in my book is as a youth you can step out of your life for six weeks and focus on all the crazy things you need to focus on to start a business. Marketing brand, product, consumer surveys take time. If you have a family, you can’t leave for six weeks. If you’re in a school program, you can’t leave for six weeks. If you have a full-time job, you can’t leave for six weeks. That’s a significant amount of time. I learned that immersion. Going to sleep, waking up, thinking about the business project. It gets the ideas flowing.
Another thing that it taught me is the importance of peer brainstorming and someone would have a completely different idea about augmented reality and things I don’t know a lot about. How they solve problems inspires me or how they interviewed their markets, inspires me or how they navigate getting information as a young person. That’s how I learned how to do that. I can cold call big businesses and ask for samples so I can test my product on real devices. You can. I had no idea until I met these other young hustlers that think it’s obvious that you can do these things. That was a lot of the takeaway too. It was a lot about how unique it was that I’ve that much time to dedicate. How much I learned from my peers that I could get started on it as a seventeen-year-old. When they talked about the different concepts and I understood it, I was like, “This isn’t beyond me.” That was cool as well.Understanding your client and the problem increases your odds of starting a business. – Meghan Sharkus Click To Tweet
Think about what would it be worth to you if you could put yourself into a learning chamber, an accelerator, that would help reshape any boundaries almost taking it from limiting to limitless? What would it be worth to be surrounded by other like-minded peers that could help you take wherever you’re at the next level? What would it be worth for you to understand truly how to tune into your potential clients to solve their biggest problems and be able to fund it and then be able to turn it into a profitable business?
Even if you’re already successful, what if you looked at adding this as a new way to be thinking about growing a new division or a current division or whatever? Meghan, what’s amazing that we briefed over this idea that you have qualified and are part of a Thiel Fellowship, on top of all the amazing things that you continue to do, the impact that you’re making, making a difference. I love one of the quotes that you have. It goes something like this, “I’d rather I have a healthy meal and be fit than drive a Ferrari.”
Where that was coming from was a lot of people who see what entrepreneurship can do for your lifestyle and what it can do for your bank account. They envision themselves with a Ferrari and them being happy. There are people who a counterculture of that of, “A Ferrari will make you happy.” There’s a lot of books on it, but they’re not as popular about what makes you happy. When I’ve spoken to young entrepreneurs through the Thiel Fellowship, which is where I get a lot of my learning and comparables to people my age doing cool things. They spend money on a nice gym membership or nice food. To see how that changes your awareness, your alertness and your focus are nuts.
It’s like something I touch on my book a lot after I get over the youth advantage and how to start a business, there’s a little blurb at the end about finding yourself and your healthy habits. My generation has glorified the, “I don’t sleep because I’m a hustler. I can hustle all day, party all night and that makes me cool.” What I found is getting enough sleep makes your work that much better. It makes you that much happier. I walk into my gym lifetime fitness and I feel so cool. I’m going in with my car, there’s a sauna in the locker room. I’m like, “I’ve made it.” I might not be a gazillionaire with a penthouse, but this is cool for me. Building those healthy habits into my life is way cooler than a Ferrari or a million days of vacation because I get vacation stress.
For our audience who don’t know what a Thiel Fellowship is, what is it? What does it mean? Also, what are you getting from it as a result of what you’re building and growing?
I’ll talk a bit on the Thiel Fellowship, but also bridge that out to all resources to young entrepreneurs. There are a lot of resources for young entrepreneurs that go away as you get older. Something like the Thiel Fellowship, if you’ve decided what you want to do when you’re younger instead of waiting to decide when you’re older and you get something with traction. You have the opportunity to get paid to leave school and then have that six weeks focus. You don’t get six weeks of focus, you get two years of focus. You can’t start hiring first staff and start raising capital if you choose to do that. I did it if you have a full-time school program or worried about leaving a full-time job. This is one of those opportunities that make that possible.
My piece of advice for young people surrounding something like this is I get way too many emails being like, “What are the odds of getting chosen? How many people enter each year?” They’ll say like, “Put in a good word for me.” The thing is it’s not a raffle. They don’t pick people at random. They don’t take people who get the suggestions. How I enter business competitions and how I enter things like the Thiel Fellowship is I made sure that I’m qualified. For example, 1 in 10 businesses fail. If you start a business, you don’t have a 90% chance of failing. If you start a business, you do everything right, you get the right resources and you learn the right things, your odds of success are way higher than you think because there’s this overall statistic.
I try to warn people about statistics and with the Thiel Fellowship, say it’s 1 in 1,000 that’s picked. If you apply, you don’t have a 1 in 1,000 chance because some people are applying with no business yet and some people are applying with multimillion-dollar businesses. Does their business coincide with the message of the Thiel Fellowship? I encourage people to do their research and make sure they’re a good fit and try to push the numbers because that’s not even real. It’s like this backend analysis of things. Bridging off of that, I won every first place at every single business competition I entered except for one in Chicago. That’s not because I’m the best person who pitches because I’m not. People can speak way better than me. People have way better companies in theory.People who diversify their income have a higher chance of being successful and keeping life interesting. – Meghan Sharkus Click To Tweet
You can’t compare company to company. In theory, I shouldn’t have won them all. I did the research. I was like, “Who is running this? What is their mission? Who won before? What were they like? What stage companies are they looking for? What type of person the life stage are they looking for?” I entered the ones I could realistically win first place. Not had good odds of winning because I don’t believe in odds. I went into ones that I knew I could win. I have good presentation advice in my book. For those of the readers that end up wanting to enter business competitions and win, which is a good goal to have when you go into them. Another thing with these competitions, you’ll get great mentorship, great peers and great feedback. Winning is always good too.
What an incredible gift and many layers of lessons here frankly. I’m going to take this maybe a little different than most might think. Regarding the odds, how you increase the odds. What jumped out for me, Meghan, was this idea that if you do the research and you set yourself up so you are a fit. That is more than 90% of the game and the preparation. You seem to do this naturally. Doing a presentation, it sounds like you stack the odds in your favor by doing your research and understanding your audience. As you’re reading, would it be worth for you to boost the odds in anything you do? Winning clients. The same strategies apply in clients winning presentations, applying for a Thiel Fellowship or anything. It’s about a fit. It’s about knowing the problem also being aligned in values and otherwise to speak to it even better than the people that are potentially talking to you. What have you learned about creating winning presentations, but attracting clients that there are some similar themes in preparation, in understanding your clients first?
It’s a great question because it goes a little bit into the youth advantage and how to start a business as a young person, but also how to start a business as any person. Understanding your client increases your odds and understanding the problem increases your odds. Something that increases your odds as a whole is solving a unique problem and building the right educational foundation to be the best at one specific problem. If you look at careers that aren’t entrepreneurship, you look at careers like brain surgeons. Someone can be objectively a better brain surgeon than someone else because they did all the school things better. They’re smarter. When you look at like me versus another young entrepreneur, I’m designing medical adhesives and they’re curing cancer.
I can’t cure cancer like they can cure cancer, but they can’t make medical adhesives like I can make medical adhesives. The first thing I did was not marketing and branding. The first thing I did was not building out my personal brand on social media. The first thing I did was, what is the problem and what do I need to know to get there? The problem surrounded material science with the medica adhesive. It’s rounded understanding the diabetes market. That’s the subject in and of itself that they clearly don’t teach in school. It was about graphic design, which was something I was already passionate about. It was all these factors. I was like, “That’s step one. Finding your idea, which is finding a problem to solve.” That is about finding the right foundation.
What I touched on in my book as well, which can be applied to anyone of any age is that knowing that foundation, I can’t major in material science, graphic design and knowing people with diabetes and their lives that’s so complex and all this stuff in individual majors. I was like, “I’m getting six majors.” That would be terrible and it would take a very long time. Something I touched on in my book is that you have to look at education in levels. Similarly, to how someone diversifies their income. They might have a business, a podcast, a course, real estate investments that they do, that’s diversifying their income. People who diversify their income have a higher chance of being successful and keeping life interesting.
It’s the same thing with learning. If you want to stay interested, you want to have the upper hand, you need to learn from different areas. I broke that down as school. Something you can take in a course. I did take Finance and Accounting because you need that from school. I’m not one of those who left school because I hate it. I love school. I’m a nerd. My professor is amazing. After that, it’s online. How am I supposed to know about what it’s like to live with diabetes? I don’t have it. First of all, I will never understand diabetes. I spent five years talking to moms, families, doctors, watching videos and reading research papers to learn as much as I could.
There are mentors. If I want to start a business in the manufactured adhesive space, you know who I’m calling. People who’ve done manufactured medical adhesives because even the brightest and best of marketing and branding professors aren’t going to know that specific thing. The internet, that’s not going to get to the top of the search bar because it’s so niche. You need a mentor for that. There’s experience. Things that you could do on paper that you can’t do in person until you’ve done it. Fire people, give people job offers, disagree with someone in a constructive way. I learned so much, I’ve only had one job in my life and it was a marketing internship and it was amazing.
I have interns under me and I teach them everything and give them as much exposure as I can because there are some things you can only learn from experience. To tie that all back to how do you know to be the best salesperson? Do you research your clients? Do you research them by talking to them? Do you research them by talking to a salesperson that you think is the best salesperson you’ve ever heard of? What can they teach you as a person? There are many sales videos to watch, but what have you gained from your specific industry, style, success, patterns that you want to mimic. Where are you getting that information? Can you diversify that is how I think you can hack success?The first step to building a business is finding a problem to solve. – Meghan Sharkus Click To Tweet
As you’re reading, this is the SOME Learning Channel, the learning method. What are you going to do to create your SOME learning channel and how would it shift the game for you? How would it impact you? How would it help you grow your reach, your impact, your opportunities by tapping into school, online education that’s easily available more than it’s ever been in the world? The mentorship and experiences. What would that be worth to you to tap into that and consciously choose this is the way to exponentially buy time and shorten the curve? Which is what Meghan has done. Meghan, it’s amazing what you have accomplished in such a short time. I have something I want to hit on because it’s something you do intuitively, but I don’t think it’s natural for everyone. Coming back to solving a problem in your niche, what’s the first step you would recommend somebody that’s starting a business to tune in to figure out what is the problem to solve here?
First of all, holistically, there’s also an answer to that question. You said the first step to building a business and the first step to finding the problem to solve. There’s a big misconception in entrepreneurs my age. I can’t speak too much to the older generations of people who believe that starting a business is to first acknowledge that you are going to become an entrepreneur. You are now an aspiring entrepreneur like that. They’re like, “I’m going to learn business skills. I’m going to be savvy. I’m going to learn marketing.” They learn all these things and they could get good at that. If they don’t find the problem first, they will have to start all over.
They realize that and they’re like, “Why did no one tell me this?” I’m telling you this. If you want to start a company, find the problem first. The example I use is if you learn great social media marketing skills and the best accounting skills for big corporations. You find out that you can save the world by selling something to small governments. You don’t know how to do that. You’ve got to start over and say like, “This is the type of marketing I need to learn. How do I get that? Is this the type of accounting I need to do because I’m engaging with government entities? It’s completely different, but you don’t know what you need to know.”
The first step for people who want to solve a problem is to commit to that problem. I don’t think that you can commit to a problem that’s too small. At my summer camp, not everyone who was in that summer camp ended running a business. It was because they reached a little too far. They’re like, “The next biggest augmented reality app that’s going to combine blockchain and data.” Young people can be smart, but you can’t be smarter than every single developer in that space. It’s okay to start small. I started with, “I’m going to color and cut some good adhesive. I know it’s going to help people,” but that’s totally something I can do.
I learned all those experiential skills of starting a business. Maybe once I have that level of education, money and connections, I could do something wilder. Everyone’s like, “Why didn’t you cure diabetes?” I was like, “I was not smart enough. I did not have the right connections. I’m doing what I can realistically do.” The first step people need to take is to commit to their goal. Don’t think it’s too small. If the numbers make sense, the numbers make sense. It doesn’t need to be gazillions of dollars. Step two is once you found that idea, figure out what you need to learn to be the best at it.
That’s where the SOME learning process can help accelerate you like school, having the ability to tap into online education and resources, mentors, experiences. What would happen for you if you simplified the game for yourself and you followed Meghan’s guidance? Solve a problem, develop the skills around it, accelerate the skills by tapping into SOME learning methodology. Meghan, there are many places we could go with this conversation. You’ve given us a great sneak peek behind the curtain into your world, how you view the world. It’s obvious why you’re having the momentum and the success. Your enthusiasm is contagious. You figured out a way to accelerate learning in so many different ways. Where can people learn about you? Where can they get the book that you’ve talked about? Share with everybody right here how they can connect with you.
We are building out the TheYouthAdvantage.com, which will be a great place for you to get the book, get on an email list if you get there early. Also, I have been loving doing these mentorship calls. If you want to sign up for that, there’ll be a channel on the website for that as well. I wrote a lot of the book from my personal experiences. My 10 to 15 friends that I know about their problems in business, but I’m learning so much from other entrepreneurs I’ve been helping. I’d love people to take advantage of that.
We also have the Youth Advantage Instagram, which is going to be lots of fun. Some of those good quotes to remind you of all the nice tidbits of learning from the book. Also, if you know anyone with a glucose monitor that wants some nice tape to keep their device on, ExpressionMed.com is where you find that. I’m excited. We launched custom skin tones. We can do custom designs after I geeked out about tapes and research. We dug deeper into inks. We’re excited about our offering there. Those would be the two main platforms, the different Meghan offerings that exist in the world.Innovation lies in these junctions of ideas that aren't typically built around. – Meghan Sharkus Click To Tweet
I want to encourage you to get access to the resource. Go hit them down. Go get her book. Tap into some of the mentorship opportunities that she makes available. You can go check out her site at TheYouthAdvantage.com. If you’re looking at a way to look at making diabetes care more affordable and fun with some of the resources she’s got available, go to ExpressionMed.com. Meghan, give us a view of your personal life a little bit. Can you remember when you were first ignited about this idea of being independent as an entrepreneur and being on your own? When was that? You’re young as it is. I remember being about ten years old when I had a situation in our family where I was like, “I’m not doing this whole big company thing based on what happened.” For you, can you remember back to when that was? What was it?
I was super young. I grew up in a family of five kids in a suburb. We lived in a house in the woods. I had to invent a lot of things to keep my siblings entertained. I would invent fake economies, “We live in this town. If you run around the pool table, you get $10 and you can buy things.” Off of that, I learned what the real world was and that money was a thing. I was like, “I’m going to fertilize these aloe vera plants and I’ll sell them someday.” I never did. I have these little nerdy kid ideas about creating things. I always like wanted to build things like, “Mom, can we make pasta?” She’d be like, “Yes, here’s a box of pasta.” I’m like, “No, but can we make pasta?” The idea notebook of I want to build businesses someday started happening when I watched The Profit on NBC.
This guy, Marcus Lemonis, would go into businesses and use that creative problem-solving skill to clean things up, make things more efficient. I was like, “You can make money by solving problems? That’s a job?” That was when I googled entrepreneurship. I didn’t even know what that word was. I was like, “It is a job. I got to go to a summer camp. Conveniently, I have this idea.” I had that interest, but I didn’t know what it was. When I saw the external world being like, “It’s a thing.” I jumped on that. I went to the summer camp when I was seventeen. I probably started writing out little business ideas and drying up products when I was thirteen or fourteen. The whole creative child thing, as soon as my siblings could talk, I was like, “This is what we’re doing, young children.”
I have a daughter that’s fourteen and my son is twelve. What advice would you give to parents of kids? Call it in their teens and my daughter’s going to be going to high school here, my son not too far behind. How would you recommend parents look at summers with their kids or even kids that might end up somehow finding this show? What advice would you give them? How to use summers to help stage for a better opportunity in the future?
I have a short blurb about the kid mindset and the parent mindset. My short blurb about the kid mindset is there are different ways that kids think they should spend their summer and thinking about how you had mentioned cut down the timelines, move things fast or look at the values of things. People value immediate cash more and value lasts the growth of that monetary and time value. If someone gives you $1, would you want $1 or $5? Everyone was like, “$5.” You don’t find where that is in your life. The way that is in the summertime is an example that I like to bring up is my friend worked jobs every single summer for our high school career. She made $5,000 a summer.
I made zero dollars a summer because I went to this summer camp. I started spending money. It ends up like this. I started making decisions. She ended up transferring because she didn’t know what she wanted to do. She had money to do it. She got into a great school. She realized she wasn’t there for the right reasons. She lost more than the $15,000. The average loss of transferring is $16,000. One in three students transferred. Kids are indecisive because they don’t decide. People are like, “It’s okay not to decide.” Which it is, but it’s okay not to decide like it’s okay to eat ice cream every day for breakfast. You won’t die, but you’ll have an advantage if you decide. Sit down for a little bit and be like, “What am I interested?”
Use SOME education channels to figure out what each of these career paths means. Sit in and audit a class on being a doctor. Do you like that? Go online and be like, “What is being an engineer like? The online will tell you. Find a mentor and be like, “What is your life like that you’ve gone through everything?” or get an internship and be like, “Very specific career, would you mind if a high school student came in for free, learn some stuff and did some free work for you?’ If you find the right company, they’re usually free. Making a decision earlier on will save you time and money in the future. If people lose an average of $16,000 when they transfer, imagine how much time and money are lost if you graduate and realize you don’t like the career path.
My advice to parents and also to kids as well is if you want your kid to be creative, get crazy excited and have crazy unique ideas, give them the foundation to innovate on. Give them resources to build a type of foundation that matches the times. A lot of entrepreneurship classes, people will go for the quick and easy like, “Here’s a water bottle. Put a water drop on it, donate 10% of clean water invention.” Kids that get to experiment with like circuit boards and coding, “If you do like this on your computer, you can make a video game.” Learn about artificial intelligence and machine learning. This can be interesting for kids.
There’s an adrenal thing called Spark Fun. It’s made for kids. That’s how I learned how to code and to do circuitry. There’s an easy CAD thing for kids. There are many resources for kids to learn these things. When they’re thinking up these creative ideas, they’re like things no one’s heard of because it’s a creative kid that knows all of these things. It has all of these unique perspectives on different things and their capacity to create is expanded because they have these resources. Instead of them knowing only what they know, “Here’s a shirt, how can I make sure it’s better? I don’t know.” Once you give them the exposure to all that, it gives them more room to grow. From a selfish perspective, we want these kids innovating at these high levels because then our future is going to be awesome. They’re going to vet new things instead of making the million-dollar water bottle company.
I encourage you go check out what Meghan’s got going on. You can get access to her resources at TheYouthAdvantage.com and ExpressionMed.com. There’s so much wisdom you’ve shared here. It’s amazing how young you are and how much you’ve done. We’re all better for having a Meghan in our business world, that’s for sure. Meghan, what would be one to three action steps you hope our audience take from our time together?
I hope they check out my book or read through some of the quotes on my Instagram, so they can learn from some of the key pieces that I want them to absorb. Action steps, no matter where you are in your career, look at the different channels that you’re learning from. People step out of school when they’re 22 with a Master’s, maybe 26 or Doctorate in their twenties. They’re still working through their 30s and 40s. You should always be learning because you always can be learning. Some people are like, “It would be weird for me to go back to school or it would be expensive for me to go back to school.” Going to school is not the only way to learn and to grow your capabilities and the value you provide for the world. Look at online courses, look for mentors in your life and different experiences that can teach you things. That will automatically improve you and you’ll have way more fun as you learn new things. It’s more exciting.
If I had to pick a third thing that they could do lead to creativity and innovation is to diversify what types of knowledge you have. For example, the world’s best chef couldn’t invent an oven because they don’t have to build ovens. The world best engineer could have built an oven because they don’t know what an oven needs to do to be cool. Somebody who knows about chef stuff and engineer stuff to build an oven. For me, I knew about material science graphic cause I had diabetes. I could even think that this would be a good idea. If you’re excited about something, you think that’s weird like horses, but you’re an accountant, that’s not limiting. Don’t be like, “I’ll never think about horses because it won’t ever add value to my world.” Think about how you can combine things because real innovation lies in these junctions of ideas that aren’t typically built around.
What is something I should have asked you that I didn’t get a chance to ask you?
I’ve given optimistic talks like I was very successful. These young people are like, “Oh.” I was like, “We’ll start a business. Everything will be perfect. I’ll make a gazillion dollars. Everything is super great.” Entrepreneurs always make more than people in other careers. They have this glorified idea of entrepreneurs and something that I want people to like tune into are the ways that you need to be careful when you’re an entrepreneur, especially when you’re young. Something that I warn people about is contracts and how they trust people that they engage with. I used to have a third party. I went to someone and I was like, “You deal with a lot of contracts. Can you read my contracts?” I was young and cute and she was like, “Yes.”
I do that for other people because when you’re young people will be like, “We’ll do your customer service for 6% of revenue.” I’m like “Six percent of revenue? That’s worse than 6% of profits. You’re giving them more than equity. What are you signing children?” People don’t suck. You’re a little naive being young because when you grow up, every person in your life wants the best for you. Your parents, your family, your friends, your teachers and coaches are literally paid to do what’s best for you. Every service industry human, their job is to please you. You get into the business world. People have other incentives. They’ve got to make money for them. They’ve got to make money for their company.
They’ve got to reach a sales goal and sometimes it will be at your expense. Read those contracts, trust people cautiously. There are other things I touched on my book. Some kids want money off of my pitch deck from that camp. The camp is amazing. It’s not their fault. Kids stole my stuff, almost won $100,000 off of something I created. I learned everything from that lawyer on how to protect myself, how to protect my work. Always get things in writing. Don’t pick up the phone when they call you. Things like that I didn’t know. I was like, “They’re calling me. I’ll call you back.” She’s like, “Meghan, no. Make them email you.” I had no idea. There are these little things you’ve got to watch out to protect yourself. It’s like defensive driving but for business.
She’s Meghan Sharkus. I encourage you to check out what she’s doing at TheYouthAdvantage.com. If you’re looking for a way or know someone who’s looking for more affordable daily diabetes care, that’s more fun and with spirit, go check out ExpressionMed.com. Make sure to share this with someone you care about. Make sure to share this episode with a young person who I imagine be inspired by Meghan’s story, her inspiration, her wisdom at such a young age. Whether you’re young or old, there’s a lot that we can all learn. Meghan, thank you for being with us. Thank you for sharing your story.
Thank you. This was lots of fun.
Take action with what Meghan has shared with you. Go get her book. Check out The Youth Advantage. Check out her mentorship opportunities, whether it’s for you or for a young person. Think about the channels of learning and how it would shift the game for you to speed up your learning, growth curve and diversify your knowledge. Also, don’t underestimate the power of defensive driving tactics for business and how to protect yourself. It can save you a lot of pain, agony and suffering that unless you’ve been through it, you don’t know. If you have, you understand what she shared as a wealth of wisdom in and of itself, that one little nugget. Seize the day. Make it a great week. We’ll see you next time.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Max Goldberg – Previous episode
- Thiel Fellowship
- Marcus Lemonis
- Spark Fun
- Instagram – Meghan Sharkus
About Meghan Sharkus
Meghan Sharkus founded ExpressionMed, a company that creates designed medical adhesives for diabetes devices, when she was 17 years old. Instead of venture capital funding she raised $114,000 through several business competitions in places ranging from Detroit Startup Weekend to Harvard Business School. Now as a Thiel Fellow and College Dropout she manages a team of 12 and a company that pulls in 6 figures a month. She credits her success to her learning and problem solving style and to the fact that she started innovating at a young age. This lead her to write her book and keynote speech “The Youth Advantage” where she dives into all the advantages of starting a business at a young age and how to get started. She’s just getting started having only spoken at UNC, Sarona Hub Isreal, DECA CRLC, and this podcast.