Upstarts: How GenY Entrepreneurs are Rocking the World of Business

Upstarts about Generation Y EntrepreneursUpstarts is the new book by Donna Fenn about young entrepreneurs from Generation Y. The book is filled with fascinating stories and case examples of these young entrepreneurs.

The full title of the book is  Upstarts!:  How GenY Entrepreneurs are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit from Their Success.

About Generation Y

Before I delve deeper into the book, let me explain “Generation Y” — called “GenY” for short.  These are individuals born between 1977 and 1997.  The book covers some of the 77 Million of them in the United States … the ones that have started and now run businesses.

One of the trends we’ve written about here at Small Business Trends over the years is how entrepreneurship keeps attracting younger and younger people.  It used to be that people started businesses AFTER school.  Then they started them in their dorm rooms at college (remember the famous story of how Michael Dell started selling computers from his dorm room back in the 1980s?).

Guess what?  Now entrepreneurs are starting businesses in their teens, before they are out of high school.  As Professor Jeff Cornwall of Belmont University is quoted as saying in the book, “Forty percent or more of students who come into our undergraduate entrepreneurship program as freshmen already have a business.  It’s a whole new world.”

This movement toward earlier and earlier entrepreneurship is what the book covers.

Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile, er … Startup

The book covers over 150 entrepreneurs from Generation Y.

While a few of the entrepreneurs are the “usual suspects” that you may have read about before, there are many others  who will be new to you, with stories just as interesting.

Most operate technology, consumer-lifestyle or services businesses.  But there are a wide range of businesses represented, including retail, media and manufacturing. There’s even a section on reinvigorating family businesses through GenY blood.  For instance, the book covers Emily Powell, the 29-year-old heir apparent to Powell’s Books.  Then there’s Kathy Vegh, a GenY-er who is now CEO and 49-percent owner of Danny Vegh’s Billiards.

For those who are running a business virtually or who leverage social media today, or who have always been  committed to social causes, you may not find the points made about those and other topics revolutionary.  You already may be operating your business according to those same principles the GenY entrepreneurs employ in their businesses.

But then again — maybe not.  Chances are there is at least one thing new you can learn from the experiences of these GenY entrepreneurs.

What I Liked About the Book

The most intriguing part of Upstarts is all the stories and case studies.  The book is absolutely stuffed with them.  You can tell the book was carefully researched because of the detail.

Another part of the appeal is the writing and editing (published by McGraw Hill).  The author, Donna Fenn, writes energetic prose that holds your interest.   The book is highly readable.  The information is presented as colorful vignettes.  It’s almost as if you could be watching short video snippets of these entrepreneurs — that’s how vivid some of it seems.

There’s a lot of human interest in this book.  If you like getting brief glimpses into entrepreneurs’ business lives and hearing tidbits about how they grew their businesses, you will certainly like this book. Once I started reading my review copy of Upstarts, I could hardly put it down.

And as you read about the challenges these entrepreneurs faced, it may inspire you to feel more confident in confronting your own business’s issues.  After all, if an 18-year-old can overcome a gnarly problem, shouldn’t you be able to, with all your years of experience?

Who This Book is For

Upstarts is an analytical book.  It examines successful GenY entrepreneurs and gives you a glimpse into what they are doing well and what drives them.  There are two groups of people who will benefit from this book.

First, this is a book for marketers, policy-makers, educators and others who are trying to understand what makes GenY entrepreneurs tick.  If you have a deep motivation to know more about GenY entrepreneurs, and how to appeal to this group for any product or service offering, this book is ideal.  You will get a strong sense of what drives these entrepreneurs as a generation. You will get a picture of how they approach their businesses.

Second, I think Upstarts is perfect for anyone trying to capture a little of the magic behind the phenomena of  today’s successful startups.  Do you love reading about how others “did it”?  Are you looking for something to inspire you or trigger an idea or two that you can try in your own business?  Then you may well find it in Upstarts.  If the book gets you to try just one different approach or identifies one breakthrough idea, it is well worth the $17 price tag at Amazon.

Who This Book is NOT For

If you are looking for detailed “how to” instruction for improving your own business, or a step-by-step guide for how to start a business, Upstarts is not that book.  Yes, I know what the title says.  And yes, at the end of each of the eight chapters there is a summary of points called “Upstarts Playlist” of about 2 pages each.  But these pages total just 16 pages or so out of about 240.  In other words, not a lot of attention is placed on the advice.  Plus, the advice in these Playlists is broad and general.  Examples:  “Find a mentor” or “Assemble the right team.”

If you hunger to know HOW to assemble the right team, though, you won’t get it from UpstartsUpstarts doesn’t even delve deeply into how the GenY entrepreneurs did it for their own businesses.  At most it summarizes the problems they had due to not having the right team.  Don’t expect it to give you a roadmap for executing any ideas you pick up from the book, if you run a small business or startup.

But if you are a marketer to GenY entrepreneurs, or you are looking for something to trigger ideas and inspire your own business, you definitely want to check out Upstarts.


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

5 Reactions
  1. Sounds like an interesting book Anita. Sometimes reading a book like this can actually help you think a little more laterally than you might do otherwise.

  2. Sounds like a great Thanksgiving read!

    I believe the entrepreneurial spirit has always been present in the younger generation, it’s just that the barrier of entry (capital required, go-to-market, access to talent) to start a business are now significantly less than ever. The Internet is truly the amazing enabler.

    Should be a fascinating decade ahead!

    Cheer, Grant

  3. Now this sounds like a good one to pick up for the Thanksgiving train ride home. Thanks, Anita! 🙂

  4. As usual, my Kindle library is about to get another title based on your recommendation. I could use a little inspiration during the holiday season.