Nobody taught me to be an entrepreneur, it just felt right. But, I've always believed the lessons of entrepreneurship should be taught to kids as early in life as possible. And, apparently, so did brothers Adam and Matthew Toren, who co-founded the company, YoungEntrepreneur.com, and wrote a great kids' book on entrepreneurship -Kidpreneurs.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Adam and ask him why he's so passionate about teaching entrepreneurship at an early age and why it matters so much.
Here's how our conversation unfolded...
Why does it matter that kids learn about entrepreneurship when they're still kids?
There are a couple of reasons why it’s important to start teaching entrepreneurship at a young age. First, the lessons a child learns while being taught about entrepreneurship can help throughout his or her life. And just as with any important lesson, the earlier it’s learned, the better.
A good example of this is teaching kids the money side of owning a business. Financial management isn’t generally taught in the schools, and a lot of parents are either poor money managers themselves or don’t think to really teach their kids about how to properly handle money. This lack of knowledge can be disastrous to a young adult’s credit rating and, ultimately, their lifestyle. And often, by the time they decide they need to learn about how to properly handle money, the damage is already done.
On the other hand, if a kid is taught about money management at an early age, they are much better equipped to take on the challenges of budgeting and finance as an adult.
The other reason teaching entrepreneurship young is important is that there’s a lot of opportunity for young people in the business world right now! We interview teens and twenty-somethings all the time who started their first business in their teens – or even pre-teens – and are now very successful business owners. A lot of people say, “It’s never too late to follow your dreams.” We’ve always said, “It’s never too early!”
Do you believe kids have any advantages over adults in embracing entrepreneurship and, if so, what are they?
The most obvious qualities that kids naturally possess that are favorable to entrepreneurship are a natural curiosity, a willingness to take risks, and abundant amounts of energy! But I actually think the biggest advantage kids have over adults in the entrepreneurial world is lack of experience. Now, that might sound a little strange, but really, it makes a lot of sense. Adults have learned “what works and what doesn’t work” from their own experiences and from what others have told them. That can be very useful, but it can also be limiting. At some point, a lot of adults stop trying new things or lose the ability for true outside-the-box thinking because of their limiting beliefs about what will and won’t work.
We run into young entrepreneurs all the time who say that they were successful specifically because they tried something that they later found out no one thought would work, but they didn’t know any better. Not being entrenched in a particular industry or market can give a fresh perspective and a unique point of view, and that’s where true innovation comes from.
Also, because kids now are growing up in a world that is changing more rapidly all the time, they tend to be more accepting of change and are able to adjust quickly as new technologies and market fluctuations alter the business landscape. That’s an important key to thriving in business today, so it’s definitely a good advantage to have.
What additional skills, mindset changes, and experiences does entrepreneurship give kids, that can impact their lives beyond work as they grow?
In my view, all of the qualities necessary to be a successful entrepreneur are easily translated into success in life in general. To be successful as an entrepreneur, kids need to learn critical thinking skills; they need to learn to take responsibility for the decisions and their actions; and they need to be able to communicate well and get along with people. There isn’t an area of life where these skills won’t have a positive impact.
The other skill – or quality – that all successful entrepreneurs have is perseverance. Entrepreneurship is often loaded with challenges, and if a business owner hopes to do well, he or she has to have a strong will and be able to keep on going, even when they don’t feel like it. Again, this is a quality that can translate into success in many areas of life.
If a parent is not an entrepreneur, but buys your book - Kidpreneurs - for her or his kids and even reads it to them, how effective will that be in letting them understand that world? And, how effective will it be at inspiring them to explore that world when their parents haven't made that same choice?
That’s a great question, because one of the challenges we often hear young entrepreneurs expressing has to do with parents who just want them to forget about owning their own business and focus on doing what it takes to get a good job. Parents want what’s best for their children, and in their minds, that’s often what they see as the “safe” choice.
The irony of that thinking is that these days there isn’t a job that exists that’s guaranteed safe or secure. Whereas a laid off worker might hunt for a comparable job for months or, in some cases, years, I can think of ten businesses that I could start with very little investment - right now. They would take some time to flourish, but not more time than it takes the average job seeker today to find employment.
If a parent has purchased and read Kidpreneurs for their kids, we can assume the parent has some level of interest in and understanding of entrepreneurship. And that alone can be huge. It is very difficult for children to pursue something their parents don’t believe in. Having support – or even just not having them disapprove – can make a big difference to kids trying to express their entrepreneurial spirit.
A study conducted in 2007 and then repeated with similar results in 2010, by the Kaufman Foundation, shows that kids are in fact more likely to start a business or aspire to do so if they know another entrepreneur. But overall, about 40% of kids from ages eight to seventeen expressed an interest in starting a business. So, a parent doesn’t have to be the example or the inspiration for a child to become an entrepreneur, but they shouldn’t be a hindrance.
Buying Kidpreneurs and going through the process together can be a great learning experience for kids as well as parents. Even if a parent has no entrepreneurial background, the child will, at the very least, begin to think of the possibilities of business ownership. And if that doesn’t translate into starting a business right now, they’ll still carry the lessons with them into adulthood.
What are some of the stories and/or kid-driven businesses that you've seen come out of the Kidpreneurs experience?
We continually receive mail and email from parents, teachers, and kids who have read Kidpreneurs and want to share their stories. Many inspiring accounts have come out of the book, from kids who have been motivated to start their own businesses to those who simply found inspiration and encouragement to follow their dreams, whatever they may be.
Some of the actual businesses that Kidpreneurs readers have started include jewelry sales, used book retailing, and a number of online ventures, to name a few. One of our big Kidpreneur fans, Sky Rodrigues, is in the movie making business, and he shot a video testimonial that’s pretty cool. A good example of the many emails we receive is this one from a teenage reader:
“Thank you Matthew & Adam for writing this book and sharing your passion for Entrepreneurship. This book really made me think about all of my potential and I have already started writing down ideas for my first business. I plan on talking to some of my best friends to see if they would like to partner with me.” – Adeena T. (13 years old)
There is little else as rewarding as hearing from a child who’s read the book and been encouraged to start their own business!
Why now? At this point in your life? And at this point in the world?
My brother and I were very fortunate to have been guided and encouraged by our grandfather, Joe, to become entrepreneurs. At an early age, he introduced the concept of entrepreneurship to us and set us up with our first business, selling these little stunt airplanes at a local folk festival. From that point on, we knew “what we wanted to be when we grew up” – entrepreneurs! Without his encouragement, and that of our mother, we might not have ever been drawn to entrepreneurship.
A lot of kids don’t have a parent or grandparent who is well-versed in business ownership to show them the way. We’ve found that many parents – even those who are entrepreneurs themselves – want to guide their children in the direction of business ownership but simply don’t know how. Knowing how to start a business and being able to effectively teach the concepts to kids doesn’t always go hand in hand. So we wrote Kidpreneurs to help parents, teachers, and kids work together to bring kids to entrepreneurship.
It’s almost cliché to say that children are our future, but it’s so true. And in today’s rapidly changing world, the old “Get good grades; go to college; and get a good job” advice is no longer relevant. The days of working for a company for 30 years and retiring with a nice pension are long gone. Kids entering the adult world need to be ready for a new paradigm – one that comes with its own set of unique challenges and opportunities; and we strongly believe that entrepreneurship, and the skills that go along with it, are what will best prepare our children for the future.
What is the single most important thing a parent can teach her child about what's important about the way they choose to earn a living?
Regardless of whether someone grows up to be a business owner or an employee of someone else’s company, what’s most important is that they are doing something that is fulfilling to them. In our writing, my brother and I often talk about the importance of passion. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, obstacles won’t seem as big and will be easier to overcome, and your “work” won’t feel like work at all.
People talk a lot about how much entrepreneurs have to work to build their businesses, and that’s very true. But it’s not the same as someone having to work hard at something they don’t like to do. When you’re following your passion, all areas of your life improve. You’re happier, so your relationships are better, you’re likely to be more productive, so your financial picture is better, and you even have more incentive to take care of your health. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but the struggle is vastly more meaningful, which makes it less of a fight and more of an adventure!
++++ Adam Toren is a serial entrepreneur (Co-founded YoungEntrepreneur.com), mentor, investor and award winning co-author of Kidpreneurs (Basic Principles of Entrepreneurship for Kids). He also co-authored the soon to be released (September 2011): Small Business, Big Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right.
Jonathan Fields is an attorney turned serial-entrepreneur, business strategist, speaker and author. He writes about the creativity, innovation, embracing uncertainty, leadership, entrepreneurship, mindfulness and lifestyles at JonathanFields.com. Jonathan's latest book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance, is due out in September 2011 from Penguin/Portfolio. When not deep into the process of creation, you can usually find him dancing around his living room with his wife and daughter.