The reason I write so much about entrepreneurship for kids is that I do career coaching for adults, and most of them wish they could start their own business. Or freelance. Or be more creative in their work. And the problem for most of the people I coach is that they never learned these skills.

In fact, most adults spent their formative years in school which is actually the opposite of entrepreneurship. School teaches kids to do what they are told. To learn to think about someone else’s ideas. To supplant their internal compass with their teacher’s grading system.

I keep looking around for what kids can do to learn skills so they feel comfortable working for themselves when they get older. For sure a big part of starting your own business is dealing with risk. (But, then again, it’s very risky to give up your life to a company that tells you when to work and when not to work.)

I was talking to the people at Zazzle about how their company works, what people can do with their products and services. I looked around Zazzle.com at how people are making their own t-shirt designs, and custom mugs, and designs for a wide range of stuff, really.

And then I realized that while Zazzle is lots of things to lots of people, for kids, Zazzle is a way to get a taste of entrepreneurship. Zazzle provides a sort of template for kids to think about what they could sell. And Zazzle provides the kids with a easy way to tell people, “Buy my stuff. Here’s a link.”

Also, kids can change their product mix quickly. They can learn about pricing. And they see their competition as inspiration, which is what all good entrepreneurs do. Of course, in school we call this cheating, which is another example of how school works against learning to be an entrepreneur.

So I had my friend Cassie try it out with her kids. They loved it! Cassie helped them set up an account, and the kids created t-shirts. Then they sent emails to people they knew and told them to buy the shirts. And in just a couple of days they became email marketing geniuses—their email campaign had a 20% conversion rate!

Cassie said the kids were jumping up and down screaming when they made their first sale. And their next reaction was, let’s do this more. Which is, of course, a micro-instance of the intoxicating moment of entrepreneurship that makes you want to keep going at all costs.

I told my sons they should make t-shirts and I would buy them as Father’s Day gifts. My eleven-year-old took one look at the site and said, “Why would we make a shirt for dad? No one else will buy that. Let’s think of a shirt to make that lots of people will buy.”

For some people Zazzle is a fun way to monetize a creative outlet. For my son it’s a way to segment the market and dominate, one non-Father’s Day shirt at a time.

So okay, your kid is not going to be a millionaire on Zazzle, no more than high school chemistry class will create a roomful of Nobel Prize winners. But that’s not the goal: the goal is to whet your kid’s appetite. So help your kids think in different ways. And if you have a son like my son, it’s so exciting to find a new system for earning money where earning $5 online makes him super excited.

23 replies
        • MBL
          MBL says:

          Exactly!

          Every time you post about your son, I think “I remember when he was just a prayer!”

          I am so grateful to PT for this community that she has cultivated.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Heh, ya right? We’re all a little crazy though… to varying degrees. :)

        • MBL
          MBL says:

          I’m so glad you responded! I was a little worried I had over-stepped when you didn’t zing something like “takes one to know one” (but wittier) right back!

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            haha, nope! Actually I was wondering how your daughter’s testing went and meant to follow up on our convo. All is good here. :)

          • MBL
            MBL says:

            The testing was very, very interesting. She was having some tummy troubles (not nerves related) and spent part of the test lying on the floor, sitting on her chair, in my lap, or the floor. We kept asking if she wanted to stop and she said no, so…

            Spelling, math, reading/comprehension went great. However, the “general knowledge” section was hilarious since it appears to be linked to the “common core.” I think it is total luck of the draw as to how that pans out for unschoolers. The art and science questions were a breeze. The civics/government questions were a hoot since she has shown zero interest and refused to even consider considering answering some of them. The Peabody is an out of level test, so the questions just keep going through high school or whatever until the child misses a certain number. Her common knowledge score was barely above grade level and brought her overall average down an entire grade level. Had she been asked different topics it might have brought the average up two levels, so I’m taking all of it with a grain of salt. :D

            I would pay big, big bucks to have a video of that session! Thanks for asking!

            I would also pay big bucks for an edit button. On the original “homeschooling books” post where this conversation started, I had written “per sAY.” Oh the humanity!

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            You know, I would be worried at first too with standardized tests, then I would realize we aren’t doing a standard learning method, we learn what’s important to us and dig deep, so if all we do for a few months is study things under a microscope and detail what we learn then how is a standardized test going to measure that? If we don’t do scope and sequence, but they read and do math several grades ahead, how is that measured? Who are these tests important to? Common Core just seems so hastily thrown at everyone, I wouldn’t even be worried about it. You know she is fine. :)

            Here in CA we don’t need to do any standardized testing. So I often wonder how my fellow gifted unschoolers do where the state reqs are more difficult.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            You are so funny with spelling and punctuation, I usually read right through spelling/grammar errors because I’m used to certain commenters writing style, and I knew you would beat yourself up over it, haha! Sometimes people type on their ipads, or their phones, and autocorrect has done damage to me several times…

  1. MBL
    MBL says:

    I remember reading, I think it was in Child’s Work (a great somewhat pioneering unschooling account,) a child who had a neighborhood newsletter that he sold. After a while, his parent’s gently said, “You do know people are just buying it because you are a kid.” He responded to the effect of, “I know, but you have capitalize on what you have while you have it.”

    My daughter’s strategy is to give things away and have a tip jar.

  2. Mary
    Mary says:

    What a great idea! My kids aren’t quite old enough for this level of engagement in business, however they will be soon. Kids can do amazing things if you give them the right tools. I’ll keep this in mind and see what we can do. Thanks for the idea!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      My older son is analyzing the situation. This is a great example, actually, of how kids totally live up to their personality type. My son is an INTJ (description of that type here: http://www.quistic.com/personality-type/intj)

      He is a fiend for systems. So he is studying how Zazzle works in terms of pricing and advertising. He has asked me great questions, like, “Do you think if I paid a famous artists to make my t-shirts then my store would get famous I could sell the t-shirts for $100 each?”

      So we talked about what type of artists would sell for what. And how much he would have to pay a famous artist.

      Of course the whole time, I’m trying to imagine my son’s letter to Jeff Koons asking him to design a t-shirt. And it doesn’t seem promising. But the exercise of talking about all this is amazing for my son. And I don’t think he could have formed his questions in such a useful way without seeing the concrete example of the Zazzle platform and how it works.

      Penelope

  3. Kathy Donchak
    Kathy Donchak says:

    I love this idea. I was telling the boys just the other day that they needed to earn money to buy things they wanted, if it was not a special day like a birthday or Christmas.

    We will join in on the experiment…what will they do? I guess just like in school, it will be the parent helping them with this – since they are 5 and can’t read well yet! They are both artistic, so we will give it a go!

  4. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I’ve been dying to comment on this but I haven’t have time since I’m not at work ;).
    Commenting on the phone is painfully slow.

    My parents always tried to put us in positions to sell things as kids. It could be part of a culture that normalizes self employment due to lack of great jobs. We loved it! It was exciting and we felt so special that people wanted to give us their money for our product.

    I love the idea of doing this intentionally and taking it further with kids. I imagine it’s the difference between just tossing seed at the field and actually carefully planting it and raising it.

    I’m too excited for all this but the toddler is not even two years old yet. Not many things are exciting at this age.
    I’m thinking of asking that they put wifi at the park. I bet more parents would bring their kids over and work on their laptops while the kids climb the monkey bars.

    I can’t tell if it’s impossible or people are too dumb to not think about it.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      (1) it is possible
      (2) it is not cheap to cover a large open area
      (3) an open network in a public areas is extremely prone to illegal activities -including the hijacking of your computer.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        Yes on number 3!

        The park next to my house is well, surrounded by houses, and the school. So there are wifi signals but they are too slow/weak.
        That particular park would be very doable and without much problem.
        But yeah, it would be inviting others to look into your computer.

  5. Kim
    Kim says:

    One of the reasons I decided to homeschool was the frustrations I found in starting a home based business as a mom. I felt like my education was almost a complete waste because I was given so few options. I had no idea how to be creative, yet I had a college degree.
    I don’t want my kids to be stuck if they can’t find a job or want to spend more time with their families. It makes no sense setting them up for something they may not want to do, but that’s what the school system does because it has almost no relevance to the real world.
    Entrepreneurship is so great for kids because it’s education they can touch and feel.

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