Business Ideas for Adults
A 12-year-old pitches his business on Shark Tank. I’m watching it now on YouTube. At three times his age, hand plunged halfway into a bag of Cheetos, I realize: I am an underachiever.
Have you ever wished that you could break the space-time continuum and deliver wisdom from the future to your teenage self? What life lessons, learned the hard way, would you impart?
My first business was a Kool-Aid stand. It’s a fairly unremarkable start for an entrepreneur, but the simple goods for cash exchange (sugar-water, 25 cents) was enough to awaken my inner #girlboss. It wasn’t until after college, however, that I took a real stab. While holding down a “career” by day, I squinted into a sewing machine light by night (I now require eyeglasses, but I digress) and peddled my handcrafted goods via local and online markets.
I was born with entrepreneur baked in, but squandered it during my prime: I will never have the energy, time, and resources I had as a teenager. Hindsight, right? In this post, I’ll share all of the advice I’d give my teenage self if I ever get my Marty McFly moment. “Start a business!” I’d shout, shaking my own shoulders.
Here’s what I wish I'd known 20 years ago:
1. You’ll never have this much time. Use it wisely, grasshopper.
While a typical full-time work week is 40 hours (unless you’re Tim Ferriss), the truth is many of us are working multiple jobs, or taking work home with us (it’s currently 10:25 PM, for the record). 8 hours of sleep is a luxury. I long for the days of spare periods, a 3:30 PM quittin' time, and free summers. You have more time in your preteens than you think.
Kidpreneur: LeiLei, 19
Founder, Designed by Lei
LeiLei started designing jewelry at the age of 13. Three years later, her hobby became the foundation for her business. For LeiLei, investing time in her business was rewarding because it was based in a passion.
“I was 16 when I started. When I was in high school, balancing everything was pretty easy. When I got to college, I treated it as if it were any other part time job or work study. I set aside a few hours each week and fulfill orders. This got a lot harder around finals and holiday shopping season. I would try to multitask by studying and making jewelry at the same time. I work on the more time consuming aspects (new products, photography, website design etc) during breaks.” – LeiLei
2. Take advantage of free resources – your school has a wealth of them.
Here’s a dose of reality: after high school, your education is going to cost you. Actually, so is everything else. This is your free ride, son. You’re bound to pay more for pretty much everything from bus passes to entertainment. Many schools are beginning to address the need for practical business skills, offering elective classes as part of the curriculum. Labs, studios and tech equipment are also at your disposal.
Kidpreneur: Sydney, 15
Founder, Poketti LLC
We first discovered Sydney when she became one of the youngest competitors in the Shopify Build A Business Competition. Along with her sister Toni, she founded Poketti with skills she’d learned in a 7th grade entrepreneurship class. Sydney honed business skills before her freshman year in high school, and continues to sell her invention – animal pillows with pockets for holding cell phones or tooth fairy treasures – in her Shopify store.
Bonus lesson: the girls responded to my email while in line for a ride at Disneyland – a reminder that it’s important to take time to just be a kid.
“The key to making the most of the many opportunities Poketti gives us is to be prepared, optimistic, and confident in ourselves and our business. – Sydney and Toni
3. Use your built-in audience to your advantage.
You will never in your adult life, have such a captive audience at your disposal. Classmates become the best springboard for testing a product, and a school’s built-in network makes powerful word-of-mouth marketing easy.
Partner, Clicks Charms
Inspired by Lucja’s enthusiasm for selling charms to her friends at school, family-run Clicks Charms began as a jewellery business, but evolved into a direct sales platform for kids, aimed at teaching them valuable business skills.
“Knowing how to start and run a business is very empowering and gives kids the tools to be successful, responsible and engaged adults. Almost any kid business can be successful with passion, a great attitude, organization, and discipline.” – Andrea, Stepmom
4. Make mistakes. The fall is much harder when you have a mortgage.
Starting a business at any age involves risk, especially when your family’s livelihood is dependent on it. Strike now while your expenses are low, and the roof over your head is guaranteed by someone else’s income.
Kidpreneur: Nick, 18
Co-founder, Bone Broths
Nick and brother Justin snubbed healthy treats as much as any kid, but their mom managed to instill good eating habits anyway. The duo started their own business when they discovered the immune-boosting benefits of bone broth – a food that also improves joint health, but was seemingly impossible to find.
“When starting any kind of business there is a lot you don't know, and the only way to accelerate your learning curve is by trying many things. Trying and failing isn't something to avoid. Fail fast and learn faster.“ – Nick
5. Get an education – life skills are student-debt-free.
Snagging my first job out of college was entirely attributed to my extra-curricular work through the student union. While it wasn’t my own business, it provided an opportunity to learn about business and government – skills not taught in art school. Don’t get me wrong: formal education has immense value, but it won’t make you an adult. "I think having your kids work on a business is a great opportunity for creating discussions about business (profit/loss, risk/reward, etc.), ” says Doug Tetzner, whose kidpreneur sons run a business on Shopify.
(Former) Kidpreneur: Tucker
Content Marketer, Shopify
Tucker Schreiber is a Doogie Howser for the millennial set. His name may be a familiar to some readers, as he's a regular content contributor on this blog. While he’s no longer a kid, it’s the experience he gleaned from his entrepreneurial childhood that landed him a seat two desks over from mine. He had several businesses under his belt before he could grow a sparse teenage moustache. In his posts, he’s speaking in first-person, doling out advice based on his own experience. You can’t buy street smarts.
“Being able to prove that you've been through the ups and downs of building a business and making money on your own is incredibly valuable, and in some cases more important than a piece of paper from college that says you went to school for 4 years.” – Tucker