Teen Entrepreneurship: When To Parent, When To Advise

Teen Entrepreneurship: When To Parent, When To Advise

StartupDad LogoThis post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.

This post is inspired by a recent lack of communication between my wife, Gwen, and me. It reminded me of how we had to manage communication with Joshua, our teen entrepreneur. At first, we didn’t realize there was an issue, but a couple of confrontations identified the problem. We had to figure out how to talk to each other all over again.

I was Joshua’s parent, business advisor, and educator. The problem was that the conversations on all these topics would run together and get very convoluted. I found myself praising him for a great pitch to investors in one breath and chewing him out for his room being a mess in the next. Gwen was not always in on some of our business conversations, which was another issue we dealt with, and she would expect Joshua to be responsible for some school or family task without knowing Joshua and I had agreed on some other prioritization of his time. It was confusing and frustrating for all of us. We had to do something different. We were all living two different lives, the normal one with school, family and friends, and the business one with product development, meetings, pitches, and investors. It was challenging, tiring, and incredibly exciting.

Here’s what we did. We treated business conversations like business meetings. We had certain times of the day devoted to business discussions, and planned topic-focused conversations just like any other business meeting. When casual conversation morphed into business, we had to all be conscious of what was happening and decide whether to table it and schedule a business conversation. Gwen limited our business conversations during our family dinner. She said that dinner was a family activity, and she was absolutely right. She helped us set boundaries and priorities.

Yes, it was weird and a bit hard to get used to. However, without compartmentalizing and organizing our conversations, chaos ensued that had a negative impact on our family. With faith and family as top priorities for us, this was an unacceptable consequence.

THE TAKEAWAY: Good communication is critical for businesses and families to be successful. It is important that communication issues be recognized and dealt with immediately. Allowing poor communication to fester will undermine our friendships, families and businesses.

Header image courtesy of T.E. Theriot

How To Encourage Teens Exhibiting Entrepreneurial Traits

How To Encourage Teens Exhibiting Entrepreneurial Traits

StartupDad LogoThis post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.

Parents: Have you noticed any of these traits in your teens: Lack of interest in school; A messy room; Drawers and closets littered with a variety of electronic and small engine parts; Spending far more spare time on the computer in his/her room than outside playing or with friends; Staying up too late, doesn’t want to get up in the morning, tired much of the time; Generally mischievous behavior? Also, have you noticed burn marks where it appears a small explosion may have occurred, electricity outages, or parts missing from appliances, lawn equipment and furniture? Do some of your extension cords and tools seem to be missing?

As a parent, these appear to be signs of trouble that require some serious discipline, counseling, juvenile detention or a twelve step program. OR, you could have a young entrepreneur on your hands. Please don’t misunderstand, these could, in fact, be signs of a teen headed for serious trouble. They could also be signs of a restless teenager, bored with the system, who is trying to find an outlet for their creativity, curiosity, and product ideas.

While the signs look pretty similar, the actions parents take in these situations are pretty important. Parents can attempt to shut down this behavior with disciplinary action, let the behavior go after several unsuccessful attempts to stop it, or direct their teen to people and programs that will give them a somewhat structured outlet for their creativity, product development ideas and curiosity. Our son was disassembling his Happy Meals at age 8. Luckily, my wife didn’t make him stop. Turns out he was just trying to figure out how they worked.

DIY teen entrepreneursHere in central Arkansas, there are a variety of locations and programs where youth can experiment with ideas and develop skills in math, science, electronics, microprocessors, coding, app development, robotics, project management and entrepreneurship. A partial list includes Y.E.S., EAST, Innovation Hub, Art Connection, Noble Impact, STEM Coalition, 100 Girls of Code, First Robotics, Best Robotics, the Arts & Science Center, The Museum of Discovery, and a variety of local after-school programs that may have technology initiatives. There are similar programs in Northwest Arkansas. Many of these programs serve youth outside their region. The EAST program, a project based learning program that teaches kids coding, video production, how to use design and GPS mapping software, and develop websites is already in 200+ schools around our state and in a handful of schools in other states. 100 Girls of Code has had events in a variety of regions. All of these programs are underwritten by grants, public funding and private donors and investors so their cost is free or close to free. Part of my mission is to use communication technology to bring this content to every corner of our state. So many of these programs have sprung up around the country in the past five years that there is likely one near you. Find it and get plugged in.

If you are a parent, or a teen entrepreneur for that matter, who wants access to these programs, use the links in this post to contact these programs. If there isn’t one near you, talk to them about how you can access their services or figure out how you can start a program or club in your area. Be a local Champion! The power of like-minded people coming together to create a community is critical in these endeavors. A local group of parents and teen entrepreneurs makes it easier to carpool to after school activities, purchase project kits, materials and equipment, and discuss potential community projects and product development. Many of these programs started with a parent or group of parents and teen entrepreneurs who decided to start something in their area.

THE TAKEAWAY: As we go through our daily lives, usually at 100 MPH with our hair on fire, it is easy to believe that we are alone in dealing with challenges and we tend to seek remedies that are swift and immediate to alleviate what we perceive to be a problem. This tends to blind us to the resources all around us that can put us on a path of turning a problem situation into a positive outlet for growth and change. While it is certainly possible that some of the traits noted above are, in fact, signs of a serious problem that requires immediate attention and discipline, these signs may also be indicators of a need for a constructive outlet for creative and design skills. As parents it is our job to figure out which one it is and do something about it!

Age Is Irrelevant In Entrepreneurship, But We’re Just Not Ready

Age Is Irrelevant In Entrepreneurship, But We’re Just Not Ready

StartupDad LogoThis post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.

As the parent of a teen entrepreneur, I’ve seen my son, Joshua, battle many aspects of entrepreneurship, but one of the earliest he went up against was the psychological pressure to “prove himself,” because of his age. Back in 2013, he and his co-founders participated in a startup accelerator in Northwest Arkansas called the ARK Challenge Business Accelerator. More than winning, Joshua was often focused on proving he deserved to be there. After all, he was the youngest by six years and the only high school student in the accelerator, which by the way, conflicted with his school year. In many ways, he stuck out from the crowd, a feeling that can be disorienting.

So, imagine your startup company is selected to participate in a business accelerator with the opportunity to receive $150,000 in investment funding. You are ecstatic, right? Doing back flips! Over the moon! You call everyone you know and share the excitement, right?

Well, maybe. If you are a barely 17-year-old high school student about to start your senior year, though, you likely feel like the dog that caught the car. You’ve chased this thing, but now that you caught it, what do you do with it? On top of that, few of your friends really understand what you do and what this means.

The Moment Discomfort Sets In

“I just wanted to prove I deserved to be there.” That was our son Joshua’s mantra after being selected for the ARK Challenge accelerator. Upon arriving at the accelerator, meeting the other startup teams, and sizing up the competition, his priority was more about gaining respect than winning. He figured he had no chance against the other ten teams. He was the youngest by six years. Most of the participants had at least one college degree, and several of the teams had companies that were already making money. In addition, Joshua’s co-founders were busy running their own app and web development company, so he participated in the accelerator activities by himself most of the time.

“The training, mentors, and access to resources were great, but I also realized how much I didn’t know,” Joshua told me. “My focus was on soaking it all in, getting smarter, and holding my own. I didn’t want to embarrass myself, and I didn’t want people involved in the selection process to feel like they had made a mistake by selecting me.”

Reasons We Doubt Ourselves

There are so many reasons we use to make ourselves believe we don’t belong in certain situations. There’s a term for this feeling: Impostor syndrome, when typically high-achieving individuals doubt their accomplishments in the face of adversity. It’s often associated with those in the minority and is typically race or gender related. For young entrepreneurs, though, I would argue that age is often a trigger for self-doubt, given outdated societal beliefs that young entrepreneurs aren’t as well-equipped as those senior to them.

Joshua had many data-points that theoretically supported his doubts. The ARK Accelerator had 92 entries that year from 15 countries around the world and 15 U.S. states. The application included written documents and short videos on the company, team, and product — as well as an interview process. Joshua took the lead on the application process with the support of his co-founders — even editing the videos for submission.

In addition, the timing of the accelerator did not fit with his high school calendar. This was a clear indication that this accelerator was not conceived with the idea that anyone still in school would participate, especially high school. Joshua had to ask his principal at Catholic High for permission to participate in the accelerator since the program would cause him to miss the first month of school in the fall. The principal agreed, but, in true Catholic High form, had Joshua commit to work with his teachers individually to ensure all of his assignments would be turned in on time despite his physical absence from the classroom. Joshua agreed and complied. His grades suffered due to the work load of a full-time business and school, but he complied. A good economics lesson in opportunity cost and a good lesson in doing “whatever it takes” when you believe in something.

The Takeaway

The idea of a teen CEO and founder participating in a startup accelerator, designed for more experienced founders and companies, was improbable. But wouldn’t you know it — Joshua pulled through. Joshua’s decision to apply for a startup accelerator, as improbably as it was, has changed his life and put him on a path toward entrepreneurial success. His was the only U.S.-based company out of three selected for investment that year. The other two teams were from India. You can’t win if you don’t play.

In the end, Joshua’s accelerator experience shows us, too, that we shouldn’t allow our dreams and goals be limited by our logical assessments, our assumptions for why “it will never work” or our concerns about how difficult it will be. When we take the road less traveled and push ourselves toward a goal, we unlock something inside us that expands our horizons and gives us even greater courage.

To all the young entrepreneurs out there, I encourage you to keep traveling the road less traveled, even if it means bucking systems that haven’t yet caught up with the reality that entrepreneurship at any age is possible in today’s economy.

Passion: How Important Is It For Young Entrepreneurs?

Passion: How Important Is It For Young Entrepreneurs?

StartupDad LogoThis post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.

I’ll save you the suspense. The answer is “VERY IMPORTANT.” But what exactly does that mean for a young entrepreneur who is 13-23 years old? How does their passion manifest itself in what they do and how they think? How can they have a passion for something they know little about at that age?

Our experience with our own teen entrepreneur is very informative. Joshua started tearing apart McDonald’s Happy Meals when he was really young. This could have been viewed as destructive behavior, and we could have made him stop. However, his destruction of these toys was more like disassembly than tearing them apart. He didn’t smash them unless it was his only option, because his goal was to learn how they worked. He did this, sometimes to our dismay, with lots of items including phones (wish he would have limited this to our old phones), cameras, speakers, computers, and electronics, in general. This activity, combined with the Internet research he did on his own as he got older, was how he learned about electronics, printed circuit boards, and power supplies, and it’s also how he learned how to program software to control the electronics.

That is what I’m talking about when I say passion is important for young entrepreneurs. At a young age, with limited other skill sets and resources, their passions manifest themselves in what they spend their time doing. When Joshua had free time to do whatever he wanted, he chose building or researching product development. That’s when we knew he had the necessary passion to be an entrepreneur.

I had a passion for sports when I was young. I started playing organized sports when I was 8 years old but spent far more time outside of team practice trying to hone my skills. While it was fun, my passion didn’t match my natural ability, and when I got to college, I realized I had reached the limits of my natural talent. However, all that time spent on my passion for sports did not go to waste. In the process of trying to be the best athlete I could be, I learned so many other things from sports, including:

  • how to work in, and lead, a team
  • how to work with people you don’t necessarily like
  • work ethic
  • sacrifice
  • loyalty
  • discipline
  • game planning
  • how to perform under pressure
  • what my limits appear to be and how to push myself beyond them, if necessary

While I didn’t realize I needed them, all of these are critical soft skills. I’ve used them every day for decades now. Young entrepreneurs MUST learn these soft skills as well. So, I had a passion for something that I didn’t have the natural talent to pursue at some point, but, in pursuing my passion, I developed these soft skills that are the core of who I am and what I do for a living. I got what I needed, even when I didn’t know I needed it. Funny how that happens.

The final point here is that passion can’t be taught. As parents, it is our job to expose our kids to a variety of experiences so that they can sort out for themselves the things for which they have both natural talent and great passion. Joshua was a gifted athlete, but he did not have a passion for it. He played a variety of organized sports from age 5 through his sophomore year in high school. He enjoyed sports and, like me, learned many things from the experience. However, he seldom practiced outside of an organized team practice. That was a sign that he didn’t have the passion to pursue sports long term. Remember the 10,000-hours-to-mastery theory? His passion for developing products eventually overshadowed his attraction to sports. He dropped out of sports to pursue entrepreneurship. That appears to have been a good decision for him.

THE TAKEAWAY: Passion without talent will only take you so far. Talent without passion is unfulfilling. Young people, and especially young entrepreneurs, have to try out lots of activities to help them identify those for which they have a passion so strong that they will push themselves to develop the necessary level of talent to be successful. Most people, it seems, never discover this intersection of passion and talent for themselves. For entrepreneurs, finding this intersection is imperative for success, because the passion required to sustain the effort is great, and the skill set is vast.

5 Questions To Consider When Making The College Vs. Startup Decision

5 Questions To Consider When Making The College Vs. Startup Decision

StartupDad LogoThis post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.

Not long ago Gwen (my spouse), Joshua (our teen entrepreneur), and I went through the process of deciding whether Joshua would attend college right out of high school or run his angel funded tech company full time. We get quite a few questions on this so I thought it might be beneficial for both parents and teens if I walked you through the process and the key questions our family considered.

Let me set the stage for this commentary with some background. Joshua’s company was selected as one of three finalists in the ARK Challenge business accelerator when he was a junior in high school and acquired $150k in angel funding as a result. This was great, but the company would need more funding to be successful, so it was only the beginning. Gwen was pretty strong in her opinion that Joshua should go to college. Less risk and he’ll need the degree to get a job someday, she reasoned. I had come around to thinking that college was still a good idea but that it didn’t have to happen in the traditional time frame given his current business opportunity. Joshua placed a high value on his Catholic High education but was far more interested in product design and development than tolerating what he thought was an inefficient higher education system where he would get very little of the practical experience he needed.

1. IF HE DOESN’T GO TO COLLEGE RIGHT AWAY, CAN HE MAKE IT ON HIS OWN?
In Joshua’s case, we had little doubt about this one. He’d been making his own money since he was 13 by hacking the iPhones of his classmates (a practice Gwen and I stopped when we found out), repairing smartphones and computers, and editing pictures and videos. He never asked for an allowance.

2. BEYOND SURVIVAL, DID JOSHUA HAVE THE SKILLS, KNOWLEDGE, AND MINDSET TO LAUNCH A SELF-DIRECTED CAREER?
No! He still had so much to learn about technology, project management, dealing with people, and a whole host of soft skills that come only from experience. Yet, he had a burning passion for the work and a drive to succeed. We had little doubt that, while it would be a struggle at times, he would figure it out.

3. WERE THERE COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES WITH MAJORS THAT FIT HIS BROAD INTEREST IN TECHNOLOGY AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
Yes, some, at least on paper. The number of universities offering entrepreneurship programs has exploded right along with the public’s interest in technology, high profile entrepreneurs and the new found cool factor in being a geek. What we found in our research was that very few of these programs incorporated real-world experience with academics and even fewer had a culture where science, engineering, design, and business were truly integrated. As much as they touted that students and professors in various colleges did joint projects, the typical silos still existed.

4. WAS IT IMPORTANT TO ATTEND A COLLEGE IN AN ENTREPRENEURIAL CITY?
Absolutely! Because I am somewhat familiar with entrepreneurial cities around the country and the resources they offer, I knew it was important that the school be located in one of these cities. Even if the academic program proved to be less experiential than anticipated, access to the entrepreneurial community would provide access to talent, opportunity and experience. Our research of colleges focused on highly ranked programs of study where science, engineering, design, and entrepreneurship were highly integrated in schools located highly ranked entrepreneurial cites.

5. WHILE STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL, WAS BUSINESS OR GOOD GRADES FOR COLLEGE THE TOP PRIORITY?
This was a tough one for us. There was a constant balancing act between spending time on the startup and studying. His high school, Catholic High, was demanding and Joshua took great pride in doing well there. We felt our role as parents was to help Joshua learn how to make these decisions on a case by case basis, with the help of some basic guiding principles, so that he could learn the skill of prioritizing multiple things that all seemed important. Thus, school was not always the top priority and we accepted lower grades and test scores that we knew might keep Joshua from being accepted into certain universities or hurt his qualification for scholarships.

THE TAKEAWAY: This was, and still is, a challenging situation for us all. Like most tough decisions, with the “college vs startup” decision, you have to ask yourself the hard, penetrating questions and not be afraid of the honest answer. Having some guiding principles to help you decide and keep you on track are important. Parents and teen entrepreneurs must honestly assess each path and the preparation, passion and skill it will take to be successful with each one. As with most situations in life and business, if you don’t manage them, they will manage you.

A Mentor’s Role In Managing Risk

A Mentor’s Role In Managing Risk

StartupDad LogoThis post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.

Recently, for about 30 seconds, I witnessed something that reminded me of the role of startup mentors.

I was leaving the library in Fayetteville, Arkansas and noticed a mother and her young daughter walking along the natural stone that lines the beautifully landscaped flower beds outside the building. The young girl appeared to be around three or four years old. She was walking along the rock boundaries of the elevated flower beds. Her mother walked along beside her, just below on the ground, with her arms stretched toward her daughter, just in case she started to fall. I was struck by the fearlessness of the young girl. She seemed undaunted by the potential risks of walking on a narrow, elevated ledge. Her mother mitigated the risk of injury by walking just below her on the ground, allowing her daughter to experience what it was like to be that far off the ground on a narrow ledge. Because of the trust the daughter had in her mother, she did not fear falling.

This reminded me of entrepreneurs, especially young ones, who don’t know, or choose to ignore, the risk of failure. They charge ahead to save the world, create the next great product or discover something the rest of us don’t know exists, without regard for their own personal or financial well being. They do these things simply because they believe they can and failure is really not even part of the thought process. We could all use a dose of that way of thinking. It’s liberating.

The mother reminded me of what good mentors are supposed to do for entrepreneurs. If an entrepreneur is lucky, he or she will have at least one really good mentor early in the entrepreneurial journey. The mom did not panic when she saw her daughter in that situation. A worried reaction may have startled the daughter and caused her to fall. Instead, she let her daughter have the experience, guided and reassured her along the way and made sure that, if she did fall, someone would be there to break her fall and help her up … to try again.

As a mentor to these young risk takers, I believe that is exactly what we are supposed to do — assist them in the process of managing risk. Stay close, provide our best guidance, let them learn through experience which will include failure, and don’t let them fall so hard that they don’t get up and try again.

As the father of a young entrepreneur, I experience the phenomenon described above with the mom and daughter, in a different way, every day. Joshua’s confidence and fearlessness are simply part of who he is. As his parent and business mentor, I have chosen to embrace his fearlessness, but put boundaries in place to limit his risk of failing so horribly that he’s afraid to try again. He has seen that I am not afraid for him to pursue his ideas and that I have confidence in him. I believe this further bolsters his fearlessness. Like a good mentor, I walk just a step behind, in case he starts to fall off the ledge.

THE TAKEAWAY: Young entrepreneurs – Be fearless and seek out good mentors for support. For, families, friends, and mentors of these young startup leaders – support their trapeze act, but be ready with the net.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Miki Yoshihito

Does The 10,000 Hours Mastery Rule Apply To Entrepreneurship?

Does The 10,000 Hours Mastery Rule Apply To Entrepreneurship?

StartupDad LogoThis post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.

In his book “Outliers,” author Malcolm Gladwell focuses on external factors that pave the path to success. Along with these external factors he also suggests that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to “master” a skill or set of skills. He cites a variety of examples in sports, music and business to support his theory. I believe this theory also applies to entrepreneurial success.

10,000 hours. That’s approximately 15 hours per week, every week for thirteen years. Most well-known athletes started playing their sport from five to ten years of age, and with lots of practice and good coaching, reach the “master” level in their late teens and mid 20’s, just as they are beginning their pro career or making an Olympic team. The data tells us that most entrepreneurs are around 40 years of age when they start their first company.

Most people begin their entrepreneurial training in college with the exposure to business courses, some cool technology, or other experiences that get them thinking entrepreneurially. It takes another 15-20 years of education and work experience to develop the vast skill set, relationships, connections, maturity, risk tolerance, and confidence for entrepreneurs to start their own company.

If it really takes 15 years or more to hone the skills needed for entrepreneurial success, then parents and educators should make a more purposeful effort to identify potential entrepreneurial talent early. Once identified, young would-be entrepreneurs should be exposed to opportunities and surrounded with the resources they need to “master” the broad array of skills, and prepare them for the startup life by the time they are in their mid to late 20’s. This also coincides with scientific data regarding brain development and more mature thinking.

Joshua, our teen entrepreneur, is well on his way down this path. Once we realized he was displaying entrepreneurial traits at around age thirteen, we became more intentional about nurturing his passion and gifts with opportunities for business education, programs, contacts, and experiential learning. He was doing this on his own before we finally realized his entrepreneurial traits and he has continued to educate himself and gain experience. Despite having been at this for six years now, I suspect he will be in his mid 20’s before he has attained the skills and experience that will significantly increase his odds of success in the startup life. He is on a faster track than most at his age because he is not in college at this point and fully focused on his business endeavors. Fifteen years may seem like a long time to a teenager, but it is still a decade or two earlier than most first time business owners feel confident enough to go out on their own.

Although Joshua is on his own at 19 years of age, we continue to enjoy watching him grow in knowledge and experience and do all we can to help and support him, along with the network of mentors, advisors and supporters he has developed on his own. When he hits his mid 20’s, look out!

THE TAKEAWAY: While there are exceptions, the 10,000 hour theory seems to apply to young entrepreneurs. There are simply too many examples in comparable areas of mastery to ignore it. Young entrepreneurs – this is much more challenging than you probably thought it was at first. So what! If that’s all it takes for you to give up, you weren’t going to make it anyway. If you have the drive, passion and willingness to do what it takes to build on your gifts and develop the necessary skills, mentors, advisors and supporters, you can live the startup life. For those of you who take up the challenge, “Welcome to the Community.”

Header image courtesy of Flickr, BusinessSarah

How We Knew Our Son Was An Entrepreneur At Age 13

How We Knew Our Son Was An Entrepreneur At Age 13

StartupDad LogoThis post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.


Our son, Joshua, has always been curious about how things worked and, as he grew older, had his own ideas about how things could be improved. It was obvious that he saw the world around him differently than most people. While many of us fly through our day taking many of the products and services we use for granted, Joshua always seemed to have an idea for a better design or a new product.

Joshua Moody Young Giant Picture
At the age of 7 or 8, Joshua was bringing home drawings with elements that were unusual for his age.
When he was very young, he would take the toys in Happy Meals apart to see how they worked. When he drew pictures for school projects, he portrayed unusual angles and multiple dimensions. In the picture to the left depicting a giant, for example, Joshua utilized foreground and background elements, showcasing a sense of spatial recognition at an age younger than average (he was 7 or 8). Engineers also have this trait.

He’s also always been very curious about how things work. Once, when we returned from a vacation, he asked if he could have the portable Kodak camera. After downloading the pictures, it didn’t take him long to discover the power supply by completing an electronic circuit with his finger. That got his attention!

He spent much of his free time from about 11 years old until now researching electronics, learning how to code, building printed circuit boards, and learning how to do things on YouTube and Instructibles. One of his first projects was a phone charging dock with speakers made out of a cardboard box and some salvaged parts from other electronics (pictured at right).

Joshua Moody iPhone Speaker Dock
A smartphone speaker dock Joshua built out of salvaged electronic parts and a cardboard box at age 10 or 11.
He learned how to “jail break” iPhones (a hack that overrides the built-in limitations of the phone and allows for greater customization) in his early teens and sold his services to his classmates. When we discovered he was doing this, which was followed by a discussion of why it was a bad idea, I asked him how much he charged and how he knew how to price it. He replied that his pricing varied a little bit because he charged an amount that made it worth it for him, but also that his classmates could afford without having to ask their parents for the money and run the risk of being told “no”. I knew then that we had an entrepreneur on our hands; Joshua was 13 when I finally made the connection.

The point here is that I’ve owned and led startup companies, and work with startup businesses and entrepreneurs almost daily in my consulting practice, and yet, I didn’t see the signs of Joshua having entrepreneurial traits for quite some time. I didn’t know what to look for. This realization is one of the reasons I now write and speak on this subject.

If one of our kids displayed extraordinary talent in athletics, art, music, or had a high level of intelligence at an early age, those signs would be obvious to us and we’d likely seek out programs, teachers and coaches to nurture those gifts. With young, potential entrepreneurs, those talents are far more subtle and more difficult to identify. Joshua’s dismantling of Happy Meals, cameras, and phones could have been considered destructive behavior, and watching “how to” videos on the Internet a waste of time. Turns out, he was educating himself.

Here are some signs that you may have a young entrepreneur on your hands:

  1. Curiosity about how things work.
  2. Seeing problems and solutions. Seeing the world differently – Noticing things others don’t. (Caution: This can also lead to strong opinions, fierce independence and significant confidence. This all sounds good until, as a parent, you have to manage and direct it. I’ve always told my wife that our kids having good communication skills when they were young was cute until they became teenagers and used it as a weapon against us. Some days I think we should have never encouraged them to speak.)
  3. Maturing problem solving skills. Are you witnessing a pattern of problem solving that evolves into dealing with more and more complex issues as your child matures?
  4. The willingness to use their free time to research how things work, to understand new technologies, and to teach themselves how to do things.
  5. A sense of economics and the value of things.
  6. A personality that allows them to pitch their ideas and get others interested in buying their products or services or helping with developing the solution.

As challenging as all these signs may appear to be, the one thing we don’t want to do as parents is to stifle the creativity and innovative thinking of our kids. The system will do enough of that.