I recently had the honor of presenting to my son’s kindergarten class. His teacher invited me to come tell the kids what I did for a living. When I showed up, 16 eager students quietly listened to my story of starting and running businesses, and helping other entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground.
It was then that I decided to test a long-running theory I have had: that our kids are much smarter than given credit for, and if given the right education and tutelage, they could easily grasp complicated business topics, even at the young age of six years old.
So, how better to test this theory than to have the class brainstorm the launch of a new business? Not just any business, however. It would need to be one they would be passionate about, as all good entrepreneurs are.
After discussing a range of ideas, the class was all in agreement: They wanted to open an ice cream store. And, the minute the mention of this new ice cream store started, this peaceful group of listeners turned into impassioned active participants in designing exactly how this business needed to be built.
Shoot for the moon, land among the stars
First of all, I told them they needed to name the business. And, after a few suggestions, including “Mr. Deeb’s Ice Cream Store,” one student had the winning name that got everyone excited: “The Best Ice Cream Store in the World.”
Nothing like shooting for the stars, as all good entrepreneurs do.
Then, I asked them where we should locate the store. The students agreed our hometown of Northfield, IL was missing a good ice cream shop, which I told them was a good choice being miles away from their closest competitors of Oberweis and Ben & Jerry’s in Glenview, Homer’s in Winnetka, Dairy Queen in Wilmette, and Baskin-Robbins in Northbrook.
Of course, this applies to the real world as well. Catering to local needs is often a good way to enter the market, especially when your closest competitors have not yet penetrated.
One student identified that the hot dog chain in Northfield, U Dawg U, also sold ice cream in addition to hot dogs and hamburgers. Since we needed to be better than them, our store should be offering “every flavor known to mankind,” instead of the small sampling of flavors offered at U Dawg U.
When asked how much we should sell our ice cream cones for, we all agreed that one student’s recommendation of $100 per cone would be too expensive, and that our prices needed to be the same as the other competing ice cream stores, at around $3 per cone.
Sure, offering everything under the sun might not be the most refined strategy, but it’s good to see young minds think competitively and how to differentiate themselves from others.
When asked who should run the ice cream store, they all eagerly raised their hands to take turns running the store themselves. But, I told them they needed to focus on their studies, and for now, we needed to find an adult to run the store. They asked if I could be the store manager. I declined given my busy schedule, but said we could put out a job posting to find somebody willing to manage the store for us.
Sometimes, founders have to accept that their schedules can’t allow them to properly focus on the project at hand. Good entrepreneurs know when to trust and delegate for the benefit of the company as a whole.
After deciding to hire a store manager, we needed to figure out how to get get customers to our store. The ideas started free-flowing: “A big sign in front of the store!” “On the internet!” Handing out pamphlets to our friends!” All good solid marketing instincts, at the ripe old age of six!
The last topic we addressed was how would we raise the needed money for the products, rent, marketing, staff, etc. Their immediate response was to “ask a bank for the money.”
I told them banks don’t lend money to startups. Then, they said, “we could pass a hat around asking their parents to make donations.” I told them they were on to a good idea, and their friends and family would be great targets to seek angel investors.
Creating a startup is not glamorous. Sometimes you have to be willing to beg for help, and know when to stop asking for money before you ruin relationships with your loved ones. If you can’t get your biggest personal fans to support your product, perhaps you weren’t on to something big to begin.
The classroom teacher was completely surprised at how engaged and vocal the class had become on this topic, as they hadn’t been like this for the other presenting parents. Even though it was much like herding cats to turn their excitement into actionable ideas, they did it. I helped coach them along the way, as a good startup mentor will do.
But, it was largely their ideas that got summarized above.
So, my pitch to our school administrators: Stop “babying and spoon-feeding” our kids. They are very smart, and can grasp big topics if given the opportunity. We need to teach kids to not fear risks, and we shouldn’t reprimand students for failure.
And, for goodness sake, stop using the same outdated curriculum that I learned in the 1970’s, my parents learned in the 1940’s and their parents learned in the 1910’s. Enough with learning the types of rocks, the U.S. state capitals and the inventor of the cotton gin. If our kids are smart enough to use an iPad, surf the Web, play complex video games and engage in a dialog like the above, then they can start learning about technology and business, even while in elementary school.