3 (and a Half) Tips for Being a Young Boss, or Working for One

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - 01:00 AM

This week New Tech City is exploring wisdom in the workplace. Who has it? How do they get it? And can all those baby-faced founders of tech startups have it? Here are a few lessons from young CEOs and the people who work for them. 

1. Be Humble

"You really have to check your ego at the door," said Caroline Waxler, one of the first employees at the personal finance startup LearnVest. She was pushing 40 when she started. Her boss was 24. So she had to focus on the work, not the praise at times. When important visitors would come to the office, they'd breeze past the elder Waxler to see the younger star CEO. "It’s all about the founder," Waxler reminds us. In the end she left Learnvest, but she also says the experience taught her to be more innovative well worth the ego check. 


2. Focus on Strengths and Weaknesses, Not Age and Experience

Brian Wong was 19 when he started the mobile rewards network Kiip (pronounced "Keep"). Three years later, he has a staff of 50, including some more than twice his age. Faced with the prospect of hiring much older employees, Wong tries to suss out skills and passions rather than measure years of experience at particular tasks. He has potential hires write their own job descriptions to make sure they'd be a fit, and in interviews asks questions with no right answer, like: 'what's your superpower?' "The reason we ask it is helping identify the things you know you are good at and hone in on those strengths," he said. 


3. Work on Your Human Side, Not Just Your Tech Side

Arjun Dev Arora is another young tech founder. The company he started when he was 24, ReTargeter, is a platform for display advertising. He works hard to understand his employees needs as people, not just workers. "Personally, I have a strong passion for leadership, management psychology and philosophy, so I had done a lot of reading around these sorts of issues," he said. As his company grew, he knew he had to manage employees in different life phases, which required him to empathize with a wider range of types of people. 


Bonus tip: Outsource What You Aren't Good At

We also heard a short story from two especially young bosses: Emily Matson and Julianne Goldmark who started a company at 14 years-old. Emi-Jay sells hair ties to more than 2,000 stores and employs about 25 people. So these girls, now 18, find themselves with a very grown up operation. Their strategy has been to do what they are great at themselves—selling the hair ties, earning new customers, and getting press—then ask for help with what they aren't so qualified for. Their moms are a big help in handling the human resource side of the operation. "That's not our domain," the girls concede. 


This list comes from our podcast, How to be a young boss or work for one, that is complete with war stories from the reshaped workplace, including a story about how Caroline Waxler had to share a bed with her boss and another colleague on a business trip. It was the young way of the new company. Listen to that here:

 And subscribe to all our podcasts, here



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Comments [6]

Dan Everett from West Village

Based on what metric is this show a top-rated podcast on itunes? Great ideas, but really substandard, unpolished result. Remember the most important lesson in tech! EXECUTION is everything.

@agoldmark - I'm not the same Dan who posted earlier but in terms of what I'm looking for, I'd want skeptical intelligent examinations of the tech industry. Not just the standard childish cheerleading you see it in the media.

Take this piece: The Unexotic Underclass (by CZ Nnaemeka). Read it and you'll understand the frustrations a lot of us in tech feel about where tech is going. That's the kind of examination I'm looking for. Don't just cheer the next new tech thing. This is NPR: MAKE US THINK.

Jan. 18 2014 04:23 PM

Daniel, what topics do you want to hear? Or if you had a favorite New Tech City, let me know. All feedback helps!

Jan. 15 2014 04:42 PM
SamIAm from NJ

I am rarely driven to leave a comment on this site, but I had to question why on Earth you thought it was appropriate to use the word "fricken" several times during this story. It sounded very unprofessional and detracted from the overall flow of the story, never mind the fact that it's really borderline profanity that I think has no place on NPR. I'm in my mid-30s and no old fuddy-duddy ... but really, try to have some class, please.

Jan. 15 2014 11:13 AM
JohnP from NY

It's really too bad. You may have a great pod cast and I like it, but for the most part here in Silicon Alley start up wizardry you missed a great opportunity. Your older experience v.s younger founders could have been a great report. Do you know that most startups in NYC are started by older folks in medicine and advertising as well. Do you know that Bloomberg began a program to transfer knowledge from older folks into startups. We helped a lot of peeps in start ups who had no idea how to EXECUTE their business and management. Young founders make lots of errors esp in hiring.
Also, young founders have very big egos. The thing to keep in mind, is EVERYONE at the firm has to think and focus on the brass ring whatever the brass ring may be ( at the current time before pivoting ). LOL

Jan. 15 2014 11:13 AM
Peter Gunther from NYC

What's with the typos? I expect this from Buzzfeed, but WNYC?
I'm not a grammar-nazi, but it slows readers down when they have to stop and try to decipher your copy.

Jan. 15 2014 09:01 AM
Daniel Freedman from UWS

The first few minutes were so badly written and so disconnected from the rest of the show that I was left wondering if you had uploaded the wrong episode..or I had clicked on the wrong episode. You went on and on in an extended riff about Beyonce, without really connecting it to young bosses.

A little less cuteness, please. Get to the point. Stop frustrating listeners.

Jan. 15 2014 07:59 AM

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