How Three Local Business Owners Started Their Companies Before Turning 30

Starting a business is tough for anyone, but jumpstarting one early in your career comes with its own challenges. How can you make it big as a young entrepreneur? For the answer, we turned to three successful business owners who all got their start before turning 30.

While some high school students were worrying about prom dates and SAT scores, Lauren Haik, Layton Alsup and Paul Sundy were dreaming up businesses. “I think I always just knew that someday, somehow, I would just have a business,” says Haik, who purchased what is now The Market in 2006 when she was 26. That sentiment is one Alsup and Sundy can relate to, and over the years, all three have learned what it takes to make it while building successful brands.


Before you can make a name for your company though, Sundy, co-founder and co-owner of Big Whiskey’s American Restaurant & Bar, says you have to make a name for yourself. “When you’re a young entrepreneur, you have maybe one shot to make a consistent name for yourself,” he says. “If you don’t have a consistent personal brand, then you might as well just start working for somebody else immediately.” How can you do that? Sundy, who was 28 when the first Big Whiskey’s opened, says it’s a matter of passion, education and drive. Talk to other business owners about how they built their companies and use that information to make smart decisions, Sundy advises. Most importantly you must be willing to do what others won’t. “Calling yourself an entrepreneur is really sexy; being an entrepreneur is not,” he says.


Alsup knows the feeling. She purchased Nu Essence Spa in 2007 when she was 18. “I had a flood twice in my second location within seven days of each other, and we were closed for a week and a half—moments like that, yes, it slaps you in the face: You’re a business owner,” she says. Alsup’s confidence and determination have been two keys to her success. “I think because I was younger, I had to work harder just because people were looking at me a little differently than maybe they would have looked at someone in their 30s doing the same thing,” Alsup says. “I think I just felt like I had to make things happen better and faster than was the normal.”


Still, not everyone recognized her skill when Alsup was just beginning. “Being such a young business owner, I was definitely surprised a few times, especially early on, that people weren’t interested in working for me because of my age,” Alsup says. She didn’t let that deter her and continued to build a reputation for herself and her business.


Haik found she could use her young age to her advantage. “Customers would freely tell me their opinions of the store—what we should do or what we should change—because they thought they were just talking to just somebody who works there,” Haik says. She could then use that feedback to adjust The Market’s inventory and atmosphere. Among her advice for young entrepreneurs, Haik recommends keeping a journal to track your business’s ups and downs and review it as you plan for the coming year or even for a particular weekend. But her top piece of advice for younger people interested in starting a company is to go for it. “If you don’t take the risk, it will just always be a dream,” Haik says.

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