23 April 2018

Millennial entrepreneurs understand the power of profit

By Sophie Sandor

The UK is brimming with young entrepreneurs who are embracing free-market capitalism, setting out with modest businesses and not-so-modest ambitions.

Politicians should not fall into the trap of thinking that winning young fans is a question of targeting them with giveaways. Instead they should tap into this entrepreneurial teen spirit and promote it unapologetically.

One such entrepreneur is Christianah Jones whose journey I follow in my new short documentary, Tianah. She started as a teenager selling her own clothes on the Depop app from her London home. Depop is a clothes-selling platform that looks like Instagram and enables its young, six-million-strong user base to not only discover the latest fashion trends, but buy and sell them too. With her self-built Depop fame, Christianah designed her own fashion lines and started her own business.

Three years later and Christianah’s products are worn by some of the world’s most famous supermodels and hundreds of Instagram-famous millennials. She now employs a studio manager to help run her business, and her latest fashion line is already stocked in London, LA, New York, Paris, Hong Kong and Seoul.

The amazing thing about Christianah is that she started with nothing apart from an iPhone and her ingenuity. It isn’t just her. Bubbling under is a whole revolution of young entrepreneurs similarly “making it” using tech-facilitated companies.

Christianah is clear about the importance of the market in her success. She says:

“People are having more confidence to just do something new or open up their own business and make their money from there.”

“The things we have access to are from companies that are profit-makers. The very things that we use and we like and we enjoy come from profit-making companies. Then some people will access that – the resources, the materials – and use that to set up their own businesses and make their profit.”

“If profit was banned in this world, only the rich could live.”

It has been pointed out that young business people such as Christianah are showing their generation that “most businesses are not faceless multinational corporations run by greedy fat cats in pinstripe suits smoking huge Churchillian cigars”. Debunking that stereotype is important. But just as important is fighting that mischaracterisation of multinationals.

The innovation being achieved by Christianah and others like her is done with the help of larger, multinational corporations, the services of which are utterly indispensable. Some of these young entrepreneurs may be founders of future multinationals; others will certainly find employment because of them.

They are using Google as a research tool at every stage and in every aspect of starting their businesses. In those frugal early days of a business, many are working on the go and getting by on the McDonald’s Saver Menu and free wifi. They are gaining exposure and making contacts in their respective markets through Twitter and Instagram.

The fact we are better off with Retweets and McFries than we were before may seem obvious to some of us. But to others that is less obvious, their protestations epitomised in the form of a bizarre image that is being shared on social media: a woman holding her middle finger up in an iPhone selfie with a “Fuck Capitalism” hashtag.

Take just one of the objects of the sceptics’ hate, McDonald’s: it serves 68 million customers a day and employs nearly two million people across the world. Their employees’ average age is 20 and 43 per cent of them are under 21 in the UK. It is one of the biggest providers of first-time jobs. McDonald’s is an enormous wealth creator and provider of stepping stones to young people.

So, free-market capitalism is where it is happening for my generation of entrepreneurs.

There should be no pandering to the old hat anti-capitalism attitude that Labour successfully took advantage of in the 2017 General Election, and no allowances made when big businesses are attacked simply for no good reason. For politicians, it may be a case of biting the bullet initially since, in spite of all its successes, there is a reluctance to boldly advocate free-market capitalism.

Perhaps it is all too much of a big ask given that politicians’ strengths lie more in coercion and regulation than being amenable to the idea of freedom.

Sophie Sandor is the director and producer of 'Tianah'