I grew up in a go-to-school, get-a-degree, get-a-job type of family. I remember thinking, “Why are businesses even open during the day when everyone’s at work?”
One day when I was 12 I was lying on my bed and thinking, “Man, we work Monday through Friday and clean the house on Saturday. Sunday is the only day that’s any fun.”
Upon making that realization, I started balling my little eyes out. That’s the day I started looking for ways to make sure that didn’t happen to me.
This is my entrepreneurial journey starting at age six.
The Elementary School Days (6-10)
My entrepreneurial journey started at age six with a lemonade stand. I quickly learned that lemonade stands only work when you have an audience. So I set up shop during my parents’ garage sale.
Lesson 1: Sell things that people already know they want when and where they want them.
The next year, I decided to try my hand at upselling. So I set up the lemonade stand again, but this time I sold slightly more expensive bead animals. I also found that if I bought the beads in larger quantities, I could reduce my costs and increase my profits.
Lesson 2: When you already have customers, offer something else they might want.
Lesson 3: Buy your supplies in bulk to bring down the cost per unit.
After two years of garage sale domination, I decided that I wanted to sell stuff more than just one day out of the year. So I started collecting Ty Beanie Babies and Topps baseball cards. In 1998, my parents got me a baseball card appraising handbook. Some of my cards were valued at $50-$100.
I managed to build up an inventory of 600 Beanie Babies and over 6,500 baseball cards, but I never sold any of either.
Lesson 4: Sell things at the height of their demand.
Lesson 5: Something is only as valuable as someone is willing to pay you for it.
The Middle School Days (11-13)
I started off middle school by moving from Fairport, NY to Longmont, CO. Around that time I started collecting golf balls with my Grandpa because they lived next to a golf course.
During another garage sale, I found that I could clean the golf balls and sell them back to golfers for a quarter apiece or five-for-a-dollar. But I also discovered that I could sell the ones with logos on them to collectors for twice as much.
Lesson 6: Offer discounts for higher volume purchases to persuade people to buy in bulk.
Lesson 7: Different target markets have different perceived values.
Also in middle school, my parents created chore charts for me and my sister. It was their way of making us earn our allowance by getting paid only for the jobs that we did. My chores included taking out the trash ($.25/each time), feeding the cat ($.50/day), cleaning the kitty litter ($1/each time), and mowing the lawn ($10/mowing). When I completed a chore, I marked it off.
Every month or so, those chore charts served as invoices that we took to our parents to get paid. Sometimes they were shocked to find that they owed us $100’s.
Lesson 8: Charge by the job, not by the hour.
Lesson 9: Keep great records of all the work that you’ve done.
One day when I was 12, my mom told me that a lady down the street would pay me $20 to mow her lawn, and she’d pay me every week. That was twice as much as I was getting from my parents, so I took the deal.
The High School Days (14-18)
Through high school, I built my one-lawn gig into a mini mowing empire. At one point or another, I had mowed about half the lawns in our 70-home neighborhood.
With the money I earned from this business I bought my first car outright (‘98 Ford Explorer). And I had a nice little nest egg when I went to college.
But before I went off to school, I had to give up the lawn business. I’ve learned since that I could have sold that business (five-ten steady lawns per week) for an extra $5,000-$8,000. Instead I gave it to a kid down the street. I found out later that he mowed for the rest of the summer and let the business fizzle out.
Lesson 10: Do a good job, be friendly, and your neighborhood business will naturally spread.
Lesson 11: A business with recurring revenue has value and should be sold.
The College Days
My sophomore at Colorado State University I learned that all the business things I had been doing since I was a kid was called, “entrepreneurship.” I had heard that word before but I didn’t know what it meant.
That spring I watched the 2008 Venture Adventure Business Plan Competition. That was the day I realized that I wanted to be an entrepreneur for the rest of my life.
Side note: I found out later that Matt Wilson from Under30CEO presented at that competition.
When I was watching a particularly boring presentation, not Matt’s, I decided that I wanted to compete next year. That day I came up with the idea for what later became JuniorBiz.
Lesson 12: Immerse yourself in an entrepreneurial environment if you want to become a successful entrepreneur.
During the latter half of my Sophomore year I started developing the idea for JuniorBiz. I knew that my mission was to teach young people how to start, run, and build businesses. I also knew that the internet was the best way to reach people. But I didn’t have a clue how to build a website.
One Friday afternoon I saw a job posting for a web developer. My uncle taught me a few things about domains and hosting, so I called the guy. After chatting a bit we scheduled the interview for Monday morning. I spent the entire weekend learning everything I could about making a website. When Monday rolled around, I met with the guy and he gave me the job.
That job paid me to learn the skills that I wanted to learn anyway, and I used those skills to build JuniorBiz.com.
After spending a few months writing my business plan, I competed in the 2009 Venture Adventure.
Lesson 13: If a customer asks if you can do something, say “yes, I can do that.” Then learn how to do it.
Once JuniorBiz was up and running, I wanted to learn how to become successful. So one night at a networking event I met the publisher of 50 Interviews. I told him I wanted to interview young entrepreneurs and make a book out of it. He thought it was a good idea so he signed me on as an author.
Before I started the interview process, I recruited my best friend from high school, Nick Scheidies, to help me write the book. In July 2010 we published, What it Takes to Make More Money than Your Parents.
Lesson 14: To be successful, you need to model other people who have found success before you.
I’m focused on 14 Clicks.
In the comments below, tell me what you did as an entrepreneurial kid. I’m looking forward to reading about your story.
Post image by: Nicholas Tart