How Kids Become Entrepreneurs – Rebecca Campbell, Posse
How Kids Become Entrepreneurs
Last week I had the privilege to mentor at Club Kidpreneur – a program teaching 8 – 12 year olds to start businesses. It was inspiring to see the enthusiasm for creating something from nothing, to be a part of guiding them and to watch their confidence transform as they found customers for their products. It reminded me of my own journey, which started with my first business at age seven and how early entrepreneurial experiences shaped my perception of work, commerce and my own potential.
I grew up in small town New Zealand. I was an only child so I spent a lot of time alone thinking up things to do. My first day as an entrepreneur was a failure: I cut flowers from our garden and set up a stand outside our house, selling them for 1 – 20c each. We lived on a main road and as the cars roared by, no-one saw seven year-old me and my flower stand. I passed a whole day without a single customer. That night I asked mum to buy me some balloons at the supermarket, and the next day I tied these brightly coloured balloons around my stand and erected signs and balloons down the street, so oncoming traffic would notice my enterprise and have time to stop. It worked! That day I sold all my flowers. Mum asked me to pay her back for the balloons, so I only made a small profit but I had set the foundation for a life of entrepreneurship. I learnt many business lessons that weekend: marketing, profitability, but most important of all – resilience.
By the time I reached high school I’d set up five businesses. I had run my flower stand, collected golf-balls and sold them back to a shop, set-up a dog-walking and cat-minding business, for which I also employed my best friend. I sold rides on a friend’s pony at a Saturday market, which made me one of the richest twelve year-olds in school, and ran a pamphlet distribution business where I’d get delivery jobs and subcontract other kids to do the work. At high school, we were taught our ultimate goal: to build an impressive resume so we could land good jobs. Every year I’d endure a mandatory appointment with the careers guidance counsellor. I always told her I would start a business but I wasn’t sure what kind (and I’m still unsure!). She made me write a CV anyway, writing out the types of companies that might want to employ me. This was how my school taught us to think about our careers. I suspect it’s the way most schools continue to persuade kids to view their careers.
This is why programs like Club Kidpreneur matter. The camp runs from 9am – 1.30pm for four days, with a market day on Saturday. The Kidpreneurs set up their businesses either as a sole founder or with a partner with whom they’d need to split the profits. They choose a product to make, set a goal and budget — how many they hope to sell and for how much — design a prototype, make the products, and ultimately sell to real customers. I worked with the Eastern Suburbs camp, where I mentored kids making candles, greeting cards and jewellery. They were all so excited, creating real products for real customers; I enjoyed sharing my skills and then watching them learn the fundamentals of business. Eight year-old Ellie decided to make greeting cards. The program allowed three hours for the kids to make their products; after 90 minutes I noticed Ellie had only made 4 cards when she’d set a target of selling 25. She was making each card individually, thinking up a new layout each time. I suggested she start a production line, doing all the card-folding, then the cutting, the writing, finishing up with touches like stickers and feathers. We laid out 21 pieces of card, and planned how many ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Thank-you’ and ‘I love you’ cards she’d make of each. We decided against phrases like ‘It’s a girl’ — one that she’d initially considered — as it would limit our potential market. Then she started in earnest. An hour and half later, Ellie was proud to finish her 25th greeting card, ready for market.
On Saturday morning, we set up the Club Kidpreneur stand at Bondi market. The kids came early to assemble their stands, price stickers, and company incorporation certificates, and had business cards ready to hand out to customers. At first, they stood nervously behind the table waiting for people to approach them. Along with the other mentors, I encouraged them to stand in front, approach people, and ask if they’d like to look at the products. Danielle, age 9, was the quietest kid in the group. All week, alone in a corner, she’d made beaded bracelets. At the market, she was scared to talk to strangers, so was not selling at all well. I coached her to walk up to people and ask if they’d look at her jewellery. Imagine a tiny nine year-old girl tapping on your waist, whispering. Most said, ‘not today thank-you’ or, ‘I’ll come back later’ but it didn’t matter. I told her that it’s fine for people to say ‘no’, and she was doing a great job. After ten minutes, Danielle made her first sale — to another young girl who was shopping with her Mum. Her eye’s lit up as she sold her creation for actual money. She started approaching more people, didn’t care when they said no, made more sales and her confidence soared. By the end of the market, Danielle had ripped her stand from the table and carried the whole thing around to other stalls, hustling for sales. Right on closing time, with a smile as wide as the Harbour Bridge, she sold her last piece of jewellery. In two hours, Danielle had blossomed from a shy little girl into a confident hustler. It was incredible to witness the birth of an entrepreneur.
Club Kidpreneur is a wonderful organization. They make money running paid camps, secure sponsorship from companies like Google and St George, and with it take the program to disadvantaged areas. The company itself is non-profit-making, and through it, kids develop both business and life skills such as innovation and resilience. They encounter failure and develop self-confidence.
Reflecting on my own entrepreneurial journey, I know my early business experiences shaped my view of the world. Most people grow up thinking of shops or banks as big faceless organisations that one day might give them a job. They don’t think about the person who had the vision to start the business, or that they could be that person.
I’m sure many of the Kidpreneurs will go on to high school with ambitions to start something, rather than build an impressive résumé and land a job. For kids like Danielle, that entrepreneurial sparkle in their eyes guaranteed that life would never be the same. I’d love to see more kids gaining access to programs like Club Kidpreneur. Better still, business creation could become part of the school curriculum. Club Kidpreneur are always on the lookout for adult entrepreneurs who’ll act as mentors and advisors. Find out about them here and email me if you’d like an introduction.