Friday, August 4, 2017

Thrifty Thinking: Raising Young Entrepreneurs

JJ Ramberg, host of Your Business on MSNBC and the founder of Goodshop is releasing the book The Startup Club: The Big Idea.  It's a fun fiction early-reader series about a group of elementary school kids who use their creativity and passions to start small businesses.
Kids are natural entrepreneurs - just think of all the lemonade stands you see over the summer.  As an entrepreneur, a journalist who covers entrepreneurship, and a mom of three kids (7, 8 and 9), JJ was shocked when she couldn't find any books that tap into kids' natural interest in starting a business.   It seemed like a wasted teaching opportunity.  
So, together with Melanie Staggs and S. Taylor, she wrote a book that is both fun to read and based on characters that real kids can use as inspiration when they start their own kid-run companies.  Through the book, kids will learn the components of starting a business in an age appropriate way. 

I had a chance to interview her to learn more.

Why did you decide to write this book?

Kids are natural entrepreneurs -- my co-authors Melanie Staggs and S. Taylor and I have served as the back office for our fair share of lemonade stands and other kid businesses.  As an entrepreneur myself (co-founder of Goodshop) and a journalist who covers business (host of Your Business), I was surprised that I could not find a current fiction early reader book about kids who start businesses.  So, we wrote one.  We had two goals for the book. First, we wanted to write a fun book that elementary aged kids would want to read.  Second, we wanted to create characters whom our readers would relate to and be inspired by whose story would teach the readers (in an age appropriate way) the basic tenants of running a business. 

The book follows the story of two best friends who start a company - CJ Chainz. They deal with all the same things us grown ups have to think about:  how to price their products,  how to deal with competition when the mean kid at school starts a competing brand, how to create effective marketing materials, how to split the profits and how to be socially responsible in business.  

As we were just finishing up the book, my two sons (8 and 9) started a company with their friends called American X-Stress (they make and sell "stress paper").  I gave the whole group an early copy of the book.  I knew we were on to something when I overheard the the American X-Stress team referring to what the characters in the book did as a model of how they could sell their paper.   

Why is it so important to encourage entrepreneurship in kids?
There are many studies which show that the earlier we start to teach kids financial literacy the better.  Entrepreneurship is a way to get that conversation going since kids are already interested in starting businesses.  In addition, no matter what job our kids have when they get older, having an entrepreneurial mindset will help them succeed.  

How can we help our kids start to think about what it takes to run a business?
Here are a few fun things I have done with my kids that you can try with yours:

1.  Ask your child what kind of business they would open on your local main street. Then ask them what they would need to think about in order to make sure it's successful.  For example:  Can you get a good location?  Does anyone in the town even want to buy what that business has to sell?  Is there any competition in the area?). This is a really fun game to play for any age.

2.  Ask you kids what ads (tv, print or signage) they like best and why.  Then you can explore what makes good marketing.  (As an aside:  this is also a great way to start to talk about how they can look at marketing as a consumer (eg:  that toy figurine is not always as fun when you get it at home as it looks in the TV commercial!)

3.  If your child is going to start a business, like have a lemonade stand, do not buy the materials for them and bring them home.  Have them go to the store with you and pay in cash. This starts to give them a true sense of expenses.  Then, go through revenue and expenses with them.  Even if you are not going to have them pay you back for the supplies, they should understand that when they have a lemonade stand, the lemons aren't free (or if you have a lemon tree, then at least the cups aren't!)

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