Teenage job-creators make their own opportunity

Last week I featured the story of New Hampshire’s Ian Hill, whose Wicked Good Donut business is allowing him to save for college and meet a payroll for several staff—all at just 16 years of age.

Ian’s story is an example of how the entrepreneurial spirit in America is often learned early. He offers an example in his understanding that opportunity is often something we create rather than stumble upon.

That’s exactly the lesson to draw from the responses to my letter last week, after which dozens of people wrote in with stories of young Americans who are learning early that hard work pays off. Like Ian’s donut business, many of these children started work as little more than a hobby, or perhaps a way to earn some spending money, and soon saw the chance to create something much bigger. One man I heard from actually started washing windows at age 16 and two decades later has grown that business into a multi-million dollar home improvement company. Another person wrote in with the story of a young man in Houston, Texas who started running garage sales for his neighbors and is now working on franchises.

Because young people may often have fewer resources when starting a business than full adults, many of their examples truly demonstrate what it means to be an entrepreneur. With sometimes-limited access to credit and transportation, children who start businesses sometimes have to find niches to work with what they have. One girl, for instance, made sewing kits to sell door-to-door in her own neighborhood. Several have started websites to sell their products more broadly.

I hope you’ll take a look at some of the encouraging responses we received, featured here:

•    Back in 1997 I owned a small-town, small staff FM Radio station. My son and I had been purchasing “disco” lights and associated entertainment equipment for the almost obligatory DJ dance service small stations provide, from a web site run by a couple college students. One day while following up on an order, the guys told me they wanted to sell the business. I loaned my son the money to buy it. My son, who was 17 at the time, is a worker and grew the business. He paid me back with interest all while earning a bachelors and then master’s degree. At graduation he had a problem. He was earning a fair bit more than he could earn in his field of study – integrated technology and hospital administration (at least entry level and likely several years beyond). He elected to pursue the business full-time. He has continued to grow and is global truss company’s largest U.S. dealer. 

•    There is a young man in Houston, Texas who began his business a few years ago putting on garage sales for neighbors in his surrounding area.  He does all the work. He supplies the labor, set-up, advertisement, etc., the customer just supplies the items and their garage.  He takes a percentage of the garage sale profit.  I have used him and he and his crew are really great kids.  He started this business while in High school I believe, and he has continued with much growth and success

•    I enjoyed your story about that young entrepreneur – that is what this country needs.  Plus a government that will help not hinder him as he tries to make this into a successful business and brand. It reminds me of my own story…I started with a window cleaning company at 16 and now I am 35 and we have grown into a multi-million dollar home improvement company serving SE Michigan.

•    When my 11 year old daughter asked for an allowance, I explained I didn’t have money to just give her.  After hearing her many requests, out of frustration I said, “Get a job”.  She came to me later saying she wanted to do what I had said.  She wanted a job.  I love the entrepreneurial spirit and I recognized this as a “teachable moment”.  We brainstormed and then I took her to the printer to print the logo she had designed for her “To Keep You in Stitches” sewing kits.  The sewing kit on the outside was a match-book-like cardstock cover and inside the kit was thread, needles, and buttons. She sold them door to door in our neighborhood whenever she was feeling the need for cash.  She even had them in a few gift shops and a local business used them in a creative advertising mail out.  Now, I can’t say this turned into a huge business hiring lots of people, but she has never lost the entrepreneurial spirit.

•    Our son is 9.  Since age 4 he has come up with countless ideas for businesses.  Most of his business ideas were good but not viable for his age. Then, when he had just turned 8, he came up with the idea of selling Christian movies, books, and cds for two reasons. One he wanted to spread the gospel and secondly he wanted a business.  I thought on that for a moment and then said yes, this is something that you can actually do at your age. So he launched Christian Soul Food:

This has been a very good learning experience for him. He has learned so many aspects of running a business. Here are a few: working on a website, using quick books, making bank deposits, and interacting face to face with his customers at a local tradeshow he exhibited at the past two years.  In addition, he has learned to manage email and phone communications with his customers, inventory, packing and shipping orders, and managing his money.

•    Look at the January 4, 2012, issue of the Times Union in Jacksonville, FL, for an article on a young man who is in Bartram High School and has started a profitable advertising agency.

Also, Please take a moment to remember Tony Blankley, a great person and a good friend. My memories of Tony are here.