Anxiety runs high on the first day of doing something new. Think back to the first day of school every year, moments before a competition, or your first day on a new job. You probably don’t sleep well as you lie awake in bed with countless, and often meaningless, scenarios of how the day will go running through your head. Let’s face it, starting something new is downright terrifying!
These feelings were not a part of my first day of entrepreneurship, however. It’s safe to say that I really didn’t know what I was starting. It just seemed to be a natural and happened organically. I didn’t ever consider putting the title of business or entrepreneurship on it until now. As I reflect back on how I was first introduced to a world of entrepreneurship, this moment is it.
The setting is sometime in the early to mid 90’s. I was a tall and fairly uncoordinated middle school aged kid. As you may recall in a previous post, I grew up in a rural area and attended Catholic School. This is important to note for a couple of reasons. One there wasn’t a lot to do when I was a kid. I didn’t grow up in a city or neighborhood where you could simply walk to a friend’s house or even ride your bike. My friends were generally a 15 minute drive, or more, away. This meant that my brother and sister would often be the only kids around to play with.
My brother is a little over 5 year older than I am. So by this time he was in high school and we didn’t really have a lot to relate to other than the Boy Scouts and the fact that we shared a bedroom growing up. I was always just a bit too far behind in age to be cool enough to be included with him and his friends. As I started high school, he was making his way off to college. Always just a step behind.
My sister is 2 years younger than I am. We had the complete opposite relationship than what I had with my brother, because my sister actually thought that I was cool. Rather than try to compete for my brother’s attention and try to keep up, I simply hung out with my sister more often. With that came, what I will call sacrifices, where I would be obligated to play doll house and My Little Pony. Embarrassingly, I had the only male My Little Pony, Texas Pete, so that I didn’t have to play a girl pony. This may seem like irrelevant information, but it will soon make sense, I promise.
Spending time with my younger sister introduced me to things that I would not have otherwise been interested in doing. My mom encouraged us to be creative and crafty. We had what we called an “arts and crafts cabinet” in the basement which was always fully stocked with construction paper, glue, popsicle sticks, wiggly eyeballs, etc… it had everything that you needed to come up with some pretty spectacular creations.
At one point we really got hooked on creating jewelry using those little plastic beads. We would test out the different threads that would be easy to thread through the beads yet durable enough so that they didn’t easily snap, which would leave beads scattered all over the floor. There would be shopping trips to the bead aisle at our local Ben Franklin Arts store, where we would look for the shiniest and most colorful beads. We even had containers with partitions that wouldn’t let your beads mix, unless you accidentally turned the container upside down which resulted in hours of sorting. This happened quite frequently.
I would be threading beads almost every chance that I had. The bus ride from our rural home to school ranged from 2 1/2 hours when I was in kindergarten to a little over an hour at this point in my life. The difference in ride time is that my mother complained to the school district enough to get dedicated bussing for the private schools “over the mountain.” Mom would always go to bat for us, and she still would. When I was in kindergarten, I would catch the bus at 5:15 in the morning and be driven all over the county. First one on and the last one off. I’m sure that there are those of you reading this that can relate!
These bus rides were the perfect time to sit and make jewelry. This was before cell phones and the plethora of mobile entertainment devices. Granted there were Gameboys and Sega Game Gears, but those were the kind of luxuries that my parents didn’t want to spend their hard earned money on. The only portable device I had was a Walkman which was eventually upgraded to a Discman. A Discman was a portable CD player for those that don’t know what I am talking about. “What’s a CD,” you ask? Yikes. It is hard to believe that technology has evolved so quickly.
One day while making beaded jewelry on the bus, a girl asked me if I could make her a bracelet. I said yes, but she went on to say “I can pay you for it.” Suddenly, the inner monologue began playing out. I would have just given her a bracelet, but she is willing to pay me for it? If I can get a couple of dollars, I would be able to buy more beads and make even better jewelry, which I could turn around and sell for more money. This was all very exciting to me! Also, we weren’t really friends or anything so I said sure and we negotiated a price of a couple of dollars.
This continued for a while. I was making “custom” beaded jewelry on the bus and selling it to the other students. Eventually, I had saturated the limited market, so I began making keychains and other crafts.
From crafts, I moved on to candy. My parents had a membership to one of those club stores where you can buy a huge bulk container full of candy for much less than you can buy pieces candy individually. I would have my parents pick up Airheads and Now and Laters in bulk. I had a silver metal tin container that I would fill with candy and take on the bus with me. I would sell the candy for ten cents each or three for a quarter. I would sell a few dollars worth everyday and the good news was that the demand was always there for more candy. I was the candyman through the remaining years of grade school and gave it up when I started riding the bus to high school.
Even though these are examples at the tiniest level and no one would be able to support themselves with these activities, they got me excited for business and gave me a little bit of walking around money at a young age. It was in those very moments that I began to understand the very basic mechanics of business. I just didn’t know it at the time.
I feel like I was fortunate to have accidentally fallen into this learning opportunity. I often wonder how we can teach children these lessons at a young age to plant the seeds of entrepreneurship. Give them the power to be creative and find opportunities to not only make money but be innovative in identifying needs.
Can you remember your first lesson in business? Was it organic or did you have a mentor? How are you using what you had learned through that experience in your life today?