Today’s rockstars are the entrepreneurs. Teens look up to the Mark Zuckerbergs, Steve Jobs and Richard Bransons of the world because its entrepreneurs are shaping the world of the future. In this volatile economy, entrepreneurship is a huge asset for your teen.
I started my first company in high school at age 15. The company sold a coupon subscription to college students that enabled them to get a free drink every night. I made money from the bar for each patron and the students who were paying the $5 per month subscription. Although it ultimately got shut down by the AGCO (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario), it taught me a whole lot about business.
What got me started? How do you get your teenager started on entrepreneurship?
Teens are a bit too old to be running lemonade stands. Classes and clubs are often too structured to actually get someone’s feet wet with real entrepreneurship. Books, magazines and blogs were a good start but not enough to get from idea to execution. Local business mentors and speakers are definitely good inspiration but often not enough motivation for easily distracted teens. Getting their friends involved can make business more fun but can also derail the entire project.
Overall, encouragement and guidance are needed to help your teen getting started with their business. It can be fun to help them brainstorm different ideas and work through various business problems. However, the truth is, teens are still gonna have a hard time keeping focused. Their friends will be going out while they are doing sales calls. The real motivation to execute on their business will come after an investment of their own money.
For my first company, I invested $640 from the summer job I had the year before. At the time, that investment was an enormous sacrifice. Money for teens is seen as extremely valuable as they have little understand of the value of time and can’t see past minimum wage jobs. I spent my investment wisely taking the time to find a cheap web developer on Craigslist.
It was just after that point that I ran into my first major problem: I couldn’t even get into the bars because I was underage. I was ready to give up but I was unwilling to give up because of the cash I had spent on the developer. After brainstorming with my dad, I came up with a sales strategy. I would call up the pubs beforehand and arrange meetings. I put together professional packages to hand out to bars and would always show up right after school at 5pm so that no one would think to ID me. It was a challenge but I managed to sign up over 40 bars in Toronto by the end of the second month.
Although ultimately a failure, I learned a ton of skills which I use today at my venture backed startup, UpOut. Among other things, I learned to do my taxes, bookkeeping, negotiating, sales, graphic design and software development. Without that very young foray into entrepreneurship, I doubt that I would have been where I am today. I highly encourage you to get your teen started in entrepreneurship.
Martin is one of the founders of UpOut, a San Francisco based startup changing the way we discover fun things to do. He started his first company at age 15 and focused on interface design. You can follow him at @martinshen or at martinizer.com