Origins of an Entrepreneur

Origins of an Entrepreneur

Every kid has a touch of entrepreneurial spirit. It comes out as soon as they realize that the things they want, like toys, candy, ice cream, and DVDs, aren’t actually free.

Kids say the darndest things

I remember my then 4-year-old brother Jordan asking me to take him to the store to buy Pokémon cards. When I told him I didn’t have any money, he said, “Just go to the ATM and get some.” Then he gave me driving directions to the bank. Who needs a GPS unit when you have a determined kid in the car?

More recently, my 3-year-old nephew Shane asked me why I didn’t have more Play-Doh at my house. Then, he told me we could “go buy it at the mall.” But I protested, “We can’t. I don’t have any money.” His response: “I have money.” Wow, he’d already started doing chores (small ones of course) to earn some cash.

Both my brother and my nephew figured out that some adults would (eventually) decline their demands. But they quickly deduced that some way, somehow, they would need their own money to get what they wanted. That’s the entrepreneurial spark.

Pom-pom racketeering

In third grade, my friends and I resolved to turn our pom-pom making hobby into a small business. (Pom-poms are those puffy things made from yarn that you often see on clown costumes.) We had a large supply of yarn, courtesy of a knitting grandma, and dreams of big profits.

We created two price points: a dime for a small pom-pom and a quarter for a large one. Once we exhausted our neighborhood customer base, we moved distribution to a much bigger market—our school.

It didn’t take long before our business faced an imminent shutdown. The principal wasn’t very happy with our backpacks filled with pom-poms…and cash. We had to negotiate with him to be able to prevent our pom-poms from being locked up, but every deal has its price: no more selling (anything) at school.

So maybe the pom-pom business wasn’t for me. That didn’t stop me from dreaming up new ways to make money.

From lemonade stand to Broadway production

The school year wasn’t really the best time for a kid to run a small business, so I set my sights on a summer job. What’s the perfect business for a 10-year-old during summer vacation? The lemonade stand, of course!

I used to spend my summers at my Dad’s house. He lived on a street with lots of kids my age, so I had plenty of potential business partners.

Cutting production costs

We started with a small business loan from my Dad to purchase powdered lemonade mix and cups. For a few days, we were thrilled, but the overhead was killing our profits. We needed to cut the cost of goods sold. We were already using the cheapest cups possible, so we looked to the lemonade itself. That powdered mix was expensive—we could buy several huge bags of sugar for the same price. So that’s what we did.

Living in Orange County, California, we had an endless supply of fresh lemons from the trees around our neighborhood. In fact, most people had so many that they encouraged us to take as many as we wanted and to keep coming back.

The next day, we re-opened with a better product: fresh lemonade. Sales were brisk, but we eventually saturated the market on our street. We needed to emulate today’s restaurant trucks to stay profitable.

Entering new markets by going mobile

My Dad was a carpenter, and he was willing to contribute some wood and a few hours of labor to our business. He constructed a mini-concession stand, complete with a roof for shade, behind-the-counter storage, and, most importantly, wheels.

We started moving our new stand to high-traffic areas, wheeling our supplies around in a wagon. But soon disaster struck—a cold, cloudy day. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to sell ice-cold lemonade when the sun disappears behind a sky full of clouds… Let’s just say it could force us to close up shop for the day. And we didn’t want that to happen.

Product development

But remember, the entrepreneurial spirit of a determined group of kids can’t be quashed. That day, we swapped out the lemonade for coffee (yes, coffee!) and hot cocoa, thanks to our Moms. Business was booming again.

Next step: new product development. We needed to add something to our product mix that would generate profits, as well as increase our lemonade revenues. We started selling bags of freshly-popped popcorn.

At that time, there was no such thing as microwave popcorn. Most people didn’t even have microwaves. Popcorn was almost a delicacy because you had to make it on the stove—a pretty labor-intensive and messy task. Lucky for us, my Dad was a gadget junkie. Not only did we have a microwave, but we also had a special plastic container that enabled us to pop the perfect batch in minutes, every time.

Next stop: Broadway

Now, we were running a real concession stand and building a clientele beyond the people we knew. We always had plenty of money, and our parents were thrilled because it kept us busy. We never had the chance to say, “I’m bored. What should I do?”

What was next for these junior entrepreneurs? Broadway baby! Well, maybe not exactly. We decided to produce an end-of-the-summer musical spectacular. We would sing, dance, wear costumes, and sell popcorn and drinks. (Think about the concession stand at the movies or a play. That was us.)

Musical theater was definitely not our greatest talent, but we still managed to fill the seats in my friend Edna’s backyard, using the patio as our stage. My big number was “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” No standing ovation, but I sold a lot of popcorn after that.

I don’t see many lemonade stands these days, but I know kids are still dreaming up ways to start their own businesses. The young entrepreneur is initially driven by a desire for money, but that desire is quickly overshadowed by the unmistakable satisfaction of doing a hard day’s work for a hard day’s pay.