Sean Frank Talks About Age Bias Towards Young Entrepreneurs

Sean Frank

Sean Frank is a serial entrepreneur currently serving as a portfolio manager for his firmCloud Equity Group. Sean started his entrepreneurial journey when he was only 12 years old when he started a full-service web hosting provider during the tail end of the dot com boom. During his teenage years, he grew this into a multi-million-dollar business that provided a wide variety of web-based services from website hosting to outsourced staffing services.

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011 with a degree in Finance, Sean pursued his Chartered Financial Analyst designation. Then, in 2013, he combined his extensive real-world executive-level business experience with his formal finance education to start an investment management firm specifically focused on the web-based industries he had already achieved such great success in.

Although Sean had deep experience in the space and a very strong track record of successfully acquiring and scaling businesses, raising discretionary investor capital at such a young age is no easy task and Sean learned this first-hand. "It's a strange thing to be young and successful. People are quick to credit your success and be envious of the things you have been able to do at such a young age. However, they are equally quick to discount all the hard work you had to put in to get there," said Sean. "For whatever reason, if you are a young entrepreneur, the natural assumption is that it was all luck."

In a talk he gave at Harvard Business School to entrepreneur students, Sean talked about some of the struggles he faced as a young entrepreneur and offered some advice on how other young entrepreneurs can overcome them.

First, Sean explains, is to never give up. "They say that most new businesses fail, and I'd imagine that the probability of failure is skewed more heavily towards young entrepreneurs," said Sean. "I've been through it all from maxed-out credit cards and empty bank accounts to not getting enough sleep for several years straight and being rejected repetitively for no reason other than my age." Sean added, "I can list a million breaking points where I could have called it quits, where many other people might have called it quits, but I was hungry to solve the problems and figure a path through it." Malcolm Gladwell wrote about a concept of 10,000 hours in his book Outliers. This theory asserts that one can examine any person who is performing at a world-class level, in any field from the arts to business, and that to get there the person had to put at least 10,000 hours into mastering his or her craft. Being able to push past complex problems and other bottlenecks that may prevent one from reaching this level is naturally a requirement to get there.

Second, Sean explained, is that you must be confident in yourself. "At first, people will question many of your decisions, especially when you are young. You need to be capable of conveying your confidence to people who may have much more life experience and success than you," Sean said. "Don't let rejection or negative feedback dissuade you. You need to be confident in yourself and what you can do. If someone can convince you that your idea or strategy is not good enough, why should others believe that you are the expert, particularly when investor capital is involved? Project to others every single time that you are the smartest person in the room, even if you aren't."

Lastly, Sean explained that you need to address the unspoken bias head on. By not addressing it, you let people come up with their own assumptions. Sean talked about how he would make a point to bring up his young age in every meeting so that rather than allowing people to perceive it as a negative because he is young or inexperienced, he would highlight how it's actually a positive because he had achieved so much already at such a young age. In doing so, rather than people leaving meetings thinking, "he's got a neat strategy but he's still young and has a lot to learn," they would leave the meetings thinking, "wow - this guy has done so much before he even hit thirty - I need to ride this wave as he continues to do great things."

Today, Cloud Equity Group manages discretionary capital on behalf of high net worth individual, family office, and institutional investor clients. The firm continues to grow each year and continues to execute on the same investment strategies that Sean had mastered over a decade prior.