Pass The Hat: Despite Economy, Young Entrepreneurs Are Following Their Passions

August 15, 2013

1:00 pm

You’re in your last year of college. Sure, you’ll end up with that neato degree from Swarthmore or Berkeley, but what if the only job offer you get is a six-month unpaid internship, doing development and fundraising work for a large nonprofit? Ugh. I get it. No one has a job and everything in the economy sucks and you just want to swim around in hummus. Well, if swimming in hummus is your passion (and you somehow devise a way to profit from that), why not start a company around that concept? For Charlie Miller and other young entrepreneurs, transforming these primary interests into business ventures like Pass The Hat has become an economic trend.

Music has always been a passion for Miller. A recent graduate of the University of Virginia, Miller turned down a banking position in Manhattan to start Pass The Hat. While at UVA, he sang for the Hullabahoos, a popular a cappella group which made recent appearances in The Office (portraying the fictional Here Comes Treble) and Pitch Perfect. Outside of these organized group performances, however, Miller and his cofounders have each performed independently. “All of us have played in local bands [around New Orleans and Charlottesville], so we know what it feels like when musicians miss out on tips and [fan or supporter] engagement,” says Miller.

The idea for Pass The Hat derives from Miller’s interests in music and technology. The startup aims to help independent musicians and performers financially sustain their artistic passions. The company’s primary offering is a Web and mobile platform that helps monetize performances, disrupting the traditional method of tipping by giving people the opportunity to tip musicians using their PayPal accounts. Additionally, the platform allows musicians to engage with tippers over the long-term, with the aim of turning them into fans and supporters.

Miller knows that starting a business right out of college is pretty risky, but as the economy continues its painstakingly slow recovery, the notion isn’t completely out of touch with national trends. While the unemployment rates for young people declined in July, the labor force participation rates in the 20-24-year-old and 25-34-year-old groups continue to hover about 3 percent below the average rates from five to six years ago.

At the same time, however, a recent study supported by the Kauffman Foundation shows that the desire and act of entrepreneurship has increased among 18- to 34-year-olds. While these young entrepreneurs certainly won’t provide a solution to our economic issues, it’s important to recognize that these business startups have made large contributions to the overall economic growth. With these considerations in mind, the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance (YEA) met this past June to recommend ways through which global economic challenges could be tackled through policies encouraging young entrepreneurship, particularly as they relate to financial matters.

For Miller, age and timing (as they relate to finances) factored into his decision to jump into the startup environment full-time. “Financially, risk-wise, it was the best time [to start Pass The Hat]; I don’t have a wife or kids to take care of, and I have plenty of time to rebuild [financially] if something goes wrong.” If you’re contemplating on whether to launch your own startup, this financial risk is important to consider, so it’s important to research where and when is most opportune.

Pass The Hat is currently accepting bands and musicians to utilize its platform through an invitation system.

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.

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