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Taking Off: 5 Lessons From a 19-Year-Old Entrepreneur and World Record-Attempting Pilot

By:  Jared Kleinert Apr 28, 2014
Airplane taking off

A couple months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Matt Guthmiller. Matt is a small-town kid from Aberdeen, South Dakota, and is already a successful student at MIT, serial entrepreneur, and piloting enthusiast at 19. When we first spoke, he shared with me his upcoming challenge of a lifetime – to be the youngest person ever to fly around the world solo – a feat he is to begin in less than a month.

As a new member of the 2 Billion Under 20 community of Millennials who are redefining success, breaking down barriers, and changing the world, Matt agreed to share five of the top lessons he’s learned in taking off, from his days starting one of the first iPhone-unlocking businesses to preparing to break a Guinness World Record.

1.      You Don’t Have to Be Old to Tackle Huge Endeavors  

Matt Guthmiller

Matt Guthmiller


Like the rest of the 2 Billion Under 20 community, Matt has shown that you can get started at any age. “When I decided I wanted to pursue the record for youngest person to fly around the world solo, I had already looked a bit into flying a small plane across the Atlantic to Europe and realized it was doable," Matt says. "I thought I’d need to wait until I retire from the rest of my upcoming career in whatever field I end up pursuing or something like that, but it turns out that this type of journey is totally feasible now, and that I could even travel the entire world. Similarly, if I had started my iPhone business just a few days sooner, I would have probably made a lot more money and ended up acquiring other companies instead of being the one acquired. Starting a bit sooner was definitely possible with just slightly more resources, which would have been attainable had I tried a bit harder.” It’s easy to see that it doesn’t require a ton of experience or resources, necessarily.

2.      Only Do Things That Are Remarkable

Here’s Matt again: “The vast majority of people only try things that are fairly easy, so there’s actually less competition if you go for the really-out-there type ideas, making them more easily attainable in a way. These type of goals are typically more rewarding in the long run, too. Lots of tech-savvy people could have done what I did with my iPhone unlocking business, taking advantage of an emerging market at the time and growing a sizeable business before being bought out, and there are plenty of reasonably experienced pilots my age, but most of them don’t try to do the really hard things because they seem really difficult and risky.” Matt reminds us of other entrepreneurs who embrace the same ideology. Instead of thinking about how difficult it was to start an airline, Richard Branson just called up Boeing and asked how expensive it would be to lease a plane when he was thinking about starting Virgin Airlines. Similarly, Tim Ferriss has repeatedly achieved the remarkable by going after goals like becoming a Chinese kickboxing champion or setting a Guinness World Record of his own for the most consecutive tango-spins in one minute. Do things that are remarkable and you will bypass the majority of people who are settling to achieve mediocre goals.

3.      Nothing is Too Hard

“Even people familiar with aviation and the fact that there had been previous record holders thought I was crazy at first and said I would never be able to pull it off, but as I get closer and closer to beginning my journey around the world, I’m feeling more and more confident about my chances of making history. As I map out my stops and raise more money from sponsors, I’m realizing that this goal, like most others, if definitely attainable. Just like in business, just because you have a crazy idea doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. In fact, combined with the thought of only doing remarkable things, this is how the biggest companies have got their starts,” Matt said. It’s hard to disagree with him, considering we’ve met people who have accomplished everything from raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity to making the Olympics in the past year through 2 Billion Under 20. If you have passion for something, and stop at nothing to achieve it, almost nothing is too hard to achieve.

4.      Teamwork is Critical

Although Matt’s journey is technically solo, as he states, “It takes a lot of different people working together to make this solo flight happen. You always need teammates, whether you’re starting a business or planning to fly around the world solo, and there are plenty of other capable, qualified people out there to help you even when you think you might have an idea entirely figured out on your own. There needs to be a leader or visionary in any major endeavor, but no one can accomplish greatness by themselves.” The same is true in a company, where the early employees of a new start-up are just as important to future business success as a founder, in a sports team where you need the bench players to contribute just as much as the superstars, or in pretty much any worthwhile endeavor. Teamwork is critical to taking off and being successful.

5.      Give Back

Throughout his upcoming journey, Matt will raise funds to support Code.org, an organization that is trying to teach computer programming to as many people as possible. “It’s important to help other people have a chance to do the sorts of things you’re doing or want to do because they’re capable, too, and I believe computer science is the most powerful tool for enabling people’s dreams,” says Matt. “Code.org is helping to ensure that opportunity is available to everyone, and the round-the-world goal of this flight is a great fit with education, as no matter where you are in the world, education opens doors and helps transform dreams into reality.” It’s also important to note that we will all need help in our careers at one point or another, so giving back is crucial to ensuring that others will receive the same type of opportunities we are blessed to have on any given day.

We will all certainly be cheering for Matt Guthmiller as he gets ready to take off on his quest on May 24 from El Cajon, Calif. You can support his journey and follow him as he circumnavigates the globe at http://www.limitless-horizons.org/. Hopefully the lessons above inspire you to take off on your own adventure, be it starting a company or planning to break another Guinness World Record.


Jared Kleinert

Jared Kleinert is the 18-year-old co-founder and co-author of 2 Billion Under 20, a community of Millennials redefining success, breaking down barriers, and changing the world. Find out more about their upcoming, eye-opening book at www.2billionunder20.com.