5 Steps for teaching your kid entrepreneurship

After failing special ed math, I went on to launch three startups, securing funding for all three from investors.

At this point, it’s pretty clear to me that very young kids can run their own company. Certainly they can by age fourteen, but probably even younger. Did you ever read Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Money? The book is a great example of how different people think about work and money. But it also shows the two bear cubs launching five businesses in one week.

The book is inspirational. Really. And I’m even a person who thinks all Berenstain Bears books are too long for bedtime reading.

Anyway, the reason it’s realistic for kids to launch businesses is because the basics of entrepreneurship are: make something people want and give it to someone to sell, or find something people want and sell it to them. There is no magic age when you get insight for how to do this. And most of the knowledge people have about entrepreneurship comes from hands-on experience, which means helping your kids start early is a great thing to do for them.

Here are five things to do to enable your kids to learn to be entrepreneurs.

1. Don’t get hung up on size.
Kids can launch a company that has only a few hundred dollars in revenue a month. My son’s egg business had only $40 in revenue a month. But it was still a business. The point is for kids to see that they are able to convince adults to give them money for something they offer. It’s an empowering feeling and jostles the brain to start thinking of other ways to earn money. Sometimes the only thing you need to do for a kid is to call what they are doing a business. How we use language changes how we think about ourselves and what’s possible.

Ben Casnocha is a great example of the power of allowing a kid to think small. He had an entrepreneurship class in high school where they had to dream up a business and a way to launch it. He ended up actually launching his, and with the help of a bunch of mentors, he got it funded and it became a well-respected business.

2. Cater to the kid’s strong suit.
Some kids are good at making things. Some kids are good at marketing things. Get a sense of what your kid is good at and don’t stress the kid out about stuff they aren’t going to be good at. This is what adult entrepreneurs do as well—they find someone to fill in where they are weak.

If you have a great product, you can sell it at a place that already has an audience. If you have a great audience you can sell someone else’s product. Kids are constantly launching components of successful companies. For example, my sons watch tons of videos on YouTube to learn about how to play a spot in a game they are stuck on. Or how to play a spot they haven’t gotten to. And, eventually, they just like watching a certain kid play, and they watch anything by that kid. The kids who are making these videos (my kids like Koopa Kung Fu) have an audience of  thousands who are very loyal. They could sell a lot to that audience, if someone would show them how. For example, one link to one Amazon product in their videos would bring in $200 a month in the Amazon affiliate program.

3. Invest $2000.
Y Combinator is an angel investing fund that works with kids who have no resume but a decent idea for a company. Y Combinator invests a very small amount of money to help the kids get the company off the ground. For Y Combinator, $10K is a standard amount, which also covers room and board. You are giving free room and board, so $2K seems like a reasonable amount. Give your kid the money after there’s a one-page business plan. Decide in advance that you will be okay if you lose the money. That’s part of entreprneurship.

4. Help kids get mentors.
So much of startup life is about mentoring. Many venture capitalists think of their day-to-day job as mentorship. And angel investors are largely looking for entrepreneurs where they can “add value” which means, essentially, mentoring. The studies that show which founders are most successful conclude that mentoring is extremely important. This is all to say that teaching your kids entrepreneurship means helping your kids find someone to answer questions. I have had parents hire me to help their kids figure out a business, and that has encouraged me to hire other people to help my kids run their various businesses. We wouldn’t tell our kids to learn figure skating jumps on their own, so why tell them to learn to launch a business on their own?

5. Help kids find a community.
Entrepreneurship is often about inspiration and hope. It takes a pie-in-the-sky way of thinking that a lot of the world does not understand. Colleges are recognizing that kids don’t need training for entrepreneurship so much as they need to be surrounded by people who think that way. So there are college-based incubators for kids to dream up ideas together. When I helped two college-aged kids start a business, I found that what they needed was an older person to model let’s-start-a-business thinking, by talking to them each day about their ideas. Their ideas got better and better until they didn’t need me anymore.

The most important thing, in all these steps, is to focus on learning rather than money. The best entrepreneurs are not focused on earning money. They’re focused on having an interesting life and experiencing the joy of being right about guessing what people want. Success for entrepreneurial kids is learning the process of entrepreneurship so they can use those skills to create a life.


8 replies
  1. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    This was so interesting and helpful for me. This space where your two blogs converge makes for fascinating reading.

    I’ve been thinking about this kind of thing more and more, under the guise of helping the kids forge their own careers instead of trying to figure out how to get them to fit into an established one. I want to believe that it’s possible, and a good use of our homeschooling time, to get them started on their future career now. But it’s really scary because few people seem to be doing that. So thanks, again, for giving me some direction.

  2. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    There are a lot of great points here, many you have mentioned before. And while I agree, and want this for my sons, I wonder how to teach even the beginnings of this way of thinking when it does not come naturally to me? I appreciate hiring a consultant once they have ideas etc, but my boys are too young for that yet (2 & 4), and in the meantime I don’t think I am creating that type of environment for them. I am the person who has the lists of reasons a business will fail, rather than succeed.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think teaching failure is really important.

      I think I’d always be a leader and a big-picture thinker. But the thing that made me able to do startups is that I don’t mind failing in front of people. And I don’t mind starting from scratch over and over again.

      As parents, we can encourage kids to fail and start over again by letting them see us fail and start over.

      We fail all the time, but our instinct is to try to hide it. From everyone – not just the kids. But failure is the result of trying something.

      Homeschooling gives us this opportunity all the time. I am constantly rethinking how we are going to do homeschooling and telling the kids why my last idea was bad. (For example: workbooks, lots of travel, these are things that did not work out.)


  3. Rachel D.
    Rachel D. says:

    Mentors, I never realized how important this was until recently. Some mentors will only teach you how to work hard. Other mentors will teach you how to work smarter and run things and show you how to never stop pushing forward and making life better for yourself and others.

    Some are inspiring…. and then some teach you just enough to keep you working for them and nothing more. It’s great to teach kids which is which, and how to pick the right ones so they never get stuck on that never-ending treadmill of working for someone else.

    The last offer I received to learn something new was to learn how to sell for a big corporation. I have no problem selling myself and my own abilities, but I have no clue how to sell for an entity outside of myself, especially one I don’t particularly believe in.

    I have no desire, zero, to sell for this company. I’m guessing it’s a personality trait of mine that’s working against me. It’s just not something I want to learn. It doesn’t sound like an authentic role for me. I can’t be fake, which is a drawback, I know.

    Finding a mentor to learn something you desire to learn….there has to be that desire for whatever it is.

    And if you don’t respect who you’re learning from, then you won’t learn anything except how to do the opposite of what they say, or maybe that’s just me.

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