Kids these days. Who needs an MBA anymore when you can just open your own business in the garage?
My 10-year old son has taken the concept of a neighborhood lemonade stand to another level. Only this time he’s not donating proceeds to charity. He’s in business for himself.
Along with several other committed kids in the neighborhood, he’s created a bike repair service called Opie’s Bike Repair in our garage. As the “general manager,” he pays the other kids a “salary,” which we’ll get to a little later.
Most of the time they spend sitting in the garage, waiting for the phone to ring or a random customer to happen by. They’ve made a bit of money doing various bike jobs for friends and family, and they’ve reinvested it in the company, after paying out expenses.
Understanding the need for additional customers, they’ve started marketing with a website, created special offers, and plastered flyers all over the neighborhood. Recognizing there is a limited potential market for bike repair services in our neighborhood, they’ve recently added car washing to the menu of Opie’s services.
And they’re already getting a taste of labor disputes with the employees (a.k.a friends) demanding to be equal partners in the enterprise instead of specialists hired to do a job. As a result, my son sent a memo to the staff requesting feedback on how to make work more fun, via anonymous notes dropped in a mailbox. Employee engagement 101!
As a parent, it’s a fine line between encouraging enterprising behavior and being the voice of reality. For example, when they wanted to add a new phone number for the business, I told them that would cost around $30/month, which they didn’t realize. Of course, that’s not in their budget and so the news was hard to take. On the other hand, they’re learning nothing in life is free and you have to work hard to make something succeed. It’s difficult not to just tell them how to do things, because I want them to have some success. After all, isn’t this how Bill Gates and Mark Cuban and Steve Jobs got started? I’m just hoping the friendship dynamics on the street don’t get permanently bent out of shape while they figure it out.
What’s amazing to me through all this is that the lessons my 10-year-old is learning are on some levels the same ones any small business owner learns. And I hope that the experience he’s gaining today will help him succeed in the future. By the time these kids get to college, business degree curriculum is going to need a major update.
But, until then, the next time you have bicycle in need of repair or a car that needs washing, remember Opie’s, just down the street.