I remember the first time I read in the Wall St. Journal that it’s becoming common for parents to buy their kid a franchise so they don’t have to go through the trauma of looking for a job. And, for that matter, the kids don’t have to go through the trauma of entrepreneurship either.
I remember the first time I worked for myself. I was playing professional volleyball and I knew I needed a media kit to be able to send to potential sponsors. But I didn’t even have money for toilet paper, let alone putting together a media kit.
At that point, I had spent three years practicing seven or eight hours on the beach, and then lifting weights and sprinting after that. I had traveled from Chicago to Los Angeles to get to the best partners to play with. I wasn’t going to give up just because I ran out of money.
So I sold jewelry my family had given me. I didn’t know much about selling stuff like that. I sold my grandma’s pearls instead of the clunky gold necklace I got for graduation. The market was better for gold. But I knew nothing about how a pawn shop works. I thought I was actually selling something.
(Today, there’s a huge industry devoted to giving great prices for unwanted jewelry. Like, if only I had been so efficient as to get engaged and call off the wedding: I could have sold the engagement ring at Worthy. Great prices there.)
Anyway, I sold my jewelry and got a terrible price for it and had no idea I could go back to the pawn shop and buy things back. But really, it didn’t matter. Because I’d never have put the money toward buying the jewelry back anyway. What I really wanted was sponsors for my beach volleyball career, and you know what? I got them.
Kids dream big when they’re just starting out. It’s great to have big dreams if they are realistic, and it’s disappointing if they’re delusional. But the crux of life is learning to evaluate your own dreams. Which requires, of course, failing.
Forcing kids to spend their own money to start a business insures that they’ll focus and work hard to find out quickly whether running a business is right for them. So much of learning from mistakes is making sure you don’t dawdle while making that mistake. Quick failures lead to more quick failures which leads to lots of learning in a short amount of time.
Failure works only if the parents can stomach it.
I never told my parents I sold the jewelry, but my mom did ask me a few times why I wasn’t wearing the pearls, because “they’d look great with that dress.”
By now my parents have figured out where the jewelry went. But you know what? I got more out of learning to run my own sports sponsorship business than I would have ever gotten from wearing the jewelry.
It turned out that while I could never get higher than 25th seat at US nationals, I was one of the five most sponsored players on the women’s tour. Which taught me that I am better at business than sports.
But even if I had sold the jewelry to fund business ideas that failed, I don’t think I’d regret doing it. I went on to start four companies, and while launching each one I ended up, at one point or another, having to put more money into the company than I should have.
I learned to bet big on myself when no one gave me money for my first business venture. And I’m here to tell you that knowing how to bet big on yourself is the best business plan, the best career move, and the best safety net I’ve ever had in my adult life.
So don’t give your kids money to start a company. Give your kids a free bedroom to start it in. And a free support system to rely on when the emotional challenges of work get to be too much. Because you can’t buy that type of support, and that’s an important lesson as well.
Epilogue: When I finally started making money with my startups, I bought french chandeliers for my house. They’re like jewelry for homes, and I like knowing I’m stable enough financially that I won’t ever have to pawn them.