By Hayden Taylor
Teachers used to make me repeat my age, whilst trying to work out if I was just a naughty pupil trying to slack off from school, as opposed to a young entrepreneur. So in an effort to reassure them, I would hand the teacher some sales literature and set about trying to pitch my concept in the most mature manner possible.
This awkward situation is all too familiar for young entrepreneurs trying to prove their worth and credibility in an increasingly pessimistic world. Proving you’re as good, if not better than the competition, is notoriously difficult when the potential client you’re pitching too can’t see past your rosy cheeks and soft voice. It’s not all bad though – sometimes having a youthful appearance can really help sell a product too, especially when the target audience is other young people…
My name’s Hayden and I started my social business, Unloc, at the age of 16, just months before my final GCSE exams. I’m your usual state-educated lad from a normal family, living in a quiet area in the suburbs of a small city called Portsmouth. There’s one thing that makes me different from the majority of young people my age though; I always knew I wanted to be my own boss and I knew I wanted to bring about positive social change, one way or another.
Many people ask me why, why start a business so young? Why not wait until you’re older, more experienced? Well for me, starting a business was more than just picking a career path. It was a way of life and a way of thinking that I could align with. I always knew I wanted to work in business. It meant freedom, creativity and a chance to take risks.
There was a reason I wanted to start a social business too, I wanted to marry my passion for enterprise and my love of social activism. I also knew that I wanted to build a team that could rally around a vision for society and young people and not a plan for a consumer product. I guess that’s because of my long-standing engagement in communities at a grass-roots level and my understanding of the needs of young people.
Starting up at my age was difficult, there’s no two ways about it. Overcoming patronising people and getting potential clients to take you seriously is difficult. I have been quite lucky due to a few people who have helped push me in the right direction. Once I had these key stakeholders on board, it was then much easier to open doors to new opportunities, clients and partners. I also think it’s about how you present and think about your age – having youthful entrepreneurs and directors brings energy, enthusiasm and innovation. I very quickly decided that I would use my age as unique selling point – being young in business is a blessing, not a curse.
The primary reason I started my social business was because I believed that there wasn’t enough being done to bridge the soft skills gap in education, and promote practical learning such as enterprise education, developing and nourishing leadership and building confidence through student voice. I knew that there weren’t enough of these services available for schools and colleges and those that did already exist simply weren’t good enough or adapting quickly enough to the individual needs of communities. I wanted to think differently about how we tackle these issues and take an innovative bottom-up approach.
So, that’s exactly what I did. I am now 19 and still running Unloc and we continue to grow year-on-year. Entering the world of social entrepreneurship has been a wholly rewarding and life changing experience.