To College Or Not To College: 3 Education Strategies for Young Entrepreneurs

To College Or Not To College: 3 Education Strategies 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.

When our entrepreneurial son, Joshua, was 15 years old we were talking about engineering school. When he was 18, we all agreed that going to college was not the best route for him despite relatively high ACT scores, a high grade point average, being the Vice President of his class at Catholic High in Little Rock, AR, and having multiple college scholarship offers. If you’d have told me when he was 15 that he wouldn’t go to college right out of high school, I’d have said you were crazy. However, having researched college programs around the country and having some knowledge of the inner workings of our education system for high school and college, I believe there are some strategies that young entrepreneurs should consider:

  1. Set your priorities – When Joshua was in high school, we made business pursuits a priority equal to his formal education. His grades suffered a bit, but we were willing to accept that for him to pursue his entrepreneurial goals. Follow the traditional path of high school and college, but recognize that most entrepreneurial knowledge and skills development happens outside a classroom. Striking the right balance is challenging but it can be done. Be prepared for most people around you, especially educators and parents who believe in the traditional path for their kids, to not understand your choices. Traditional classrooms may be a good place to convey knowledge, but knowledge without application is limited to talking about concepts not putting them into action.
  2. Go to college, but focus on building your product/company – The college part of this balancing act is to attend part-time, to select an area of study that will be less challenging in which to get a degree, or to accept mediocre grades that will still permit achieving a degree. The part-time approach allows you to make progress toward a degree but at a slower pace. The strategies of majoring in a less challenging field of study or accepting lower grades just to get a college degree is a recognition that the real skills and knowledge acquired outside the classroom are of equal or greater value as a college degree. This is a bit of a hedging strategy in which one gains real world entrepreneurial experience while also meeting the requirement by most employers that requires a college degree. Use online sources to maximize your schedule flexibility.
  3. Delay college – Focus 100% on building a product and growing a company. The is the reverse of the traditional path whereby getting real world experience comes prior to formal education. Many colleges now offer a gap year to allow students who have been accepted to attend to delay their entry into college. While I like this concept, the timeline is controlled by the university. Building a company doesn’t follow a schedule. If college is your first priority, but you want to get a little real world experience before you go, work in someone else’s startup. If you are serious about your own startup, give yourself a time constraint for achieving a certain level of success. If those milestones are not met, then consider your other options. You can always go to college and you will likely be a more mature, focused student.

Joshua has chosen strategy #3. He’s been out of high school for two years and has not taken any college classes. The company made no progress for nine months due to involvement in a trademark legal dispute. Given that challenge, Joshua could have started college or taken classes. Instead, he used that time to design hardware complimentary to the company software and to investigate other market opportunities. If his entrepreneurial pursuits are successful, I’m not sure he will ever pursue a college degree. I do know this, if and when he does pursue more formal education, he will do it on his own terms.

THE TAKEAWAY: Make formal education work for you. If you are serious about entrepreneurship, develop a strategy, set priorities and timelines, maximize your schedule flexibility with online courses, and make it work. If you pursue a degree, it may take you longer than your classmates from high school. So what!! Don’t let that make you feel like you are behind. Your real world experience will win out in the the end. Besides, if any of them eventually start a business they will likely be in their late 30’s. You may have built several successful companies by then.

3 Keys To Good Communication In An Entrepreneurial Family

3 Keys To Good Communication In An Entrepreneurial Family

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 our entrepreneurial son, Joshua, and I became more intertwined in business, issues began to arise regarding our communication as a family. Joshua and I talked about business frequently. Those conversations began to replace family conversations about school, friends, and how things were going with others in the family. Compounding this issue was the fact that we were speaking the language of business, a foreign language to my wife, our daughter, and many of our friends and family. Joshua and I had unintentionally isolated ourselves from people we loved and the world around us. This was clearly not sustainable and we had to make some changes.

To separate the worlds of family and business, we took three clear steps. If you’re looking to smooth communications in your entrepreneurial family, here’s what we’d recommend, based on our own experiences.

1. Schedule business conversations.

Joshua and I found ourselves mixing many of our normal family conversations with business conversations. It all came to a head one day when I praised him for doing a great job at an investor pitch and then proceeded to chew him out for not picking up his room and getting his school work done. Those kinds of surprise twists and turns that could happen in almost any conversation put us both on edge.

Gwen – my wife and Joshua’s mom – was inadvertently thrust into the role of peace maker. At that point, we all knew we had to do something different. Joshua and I began to plan our business conversations just like any other business meeting. We did our best not to discuss business at other times and especially avoided talking about business during family meals or when we were around extended family and friends.

2. Educate those closest to you in the language of business.

If entrepreneurship is a major part of your life and who you are, you owe it to those closest to you to involve them in conversations about what you are doing.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t familiar with the language of business. Even if they have a traditional business background, they may not be familiar with the language of the startup community. This lack of a common language made Gwen, a great elementary school teacher, feel isolated from the entrepreneurial life. Had she and Joshua been working together on an education project, I would have had the same struggle. She felt embarrassed when she couldn’t explain to her friends and coworkers exactly what Joshua was doing. Joshua and I had to be intentional about involving Gwen in some of the casual business discussions that popped up in normal conversation. We also made sure that we either explained the terminology we were using or used more common terms to help Gwen be more engaged in what we were talking about.

Once we did a better job of involving her in the entrepreneurial life, she felt more comfortable talking to others about it and we found that she contributed great insight from time to time regarding people, relationships and communication. Her insight was, and still is, very valuable.

3. Provide routine updates.

In the fast paced world of a startup, events and transactions occurred daily about which Joshua and I neglected to inform his mom. There was no daily briefing so when she dipped into the startup world every few days she felt lost. “So when did that happen?” she would ask in frustration.

As if that trend was not enough to make a mother feel sad and out of touch, because Joshua and I spoke multiple times a day on business topics, I was also the parent that he informed about everything else that was going on with school, friends, where he was and where he was going. It was up to me to keep Gwen informed, and I did a poor job of this and, at times, still do.

This had the effect of putting a strain on the relationship between Joshua and his mother and also on my relationship with my wife. Not good. As the saying goes, “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Other than my relationship with God, my relationship with Gwen is the most important one in my life. If it’s bumpy, everything else just gets harder. That’s why, when we realized how this journey was changing all of our relationships, we made a point of doing a better job of involving everyone in routine updates on business and family matters.

THE TAKEAWAY – Many books have been written and studies done on how important good communication is to being successful in business. It is equally important with young entrepreneurs and their families. Raising an entrepreneur is a bit like running a startup company. It takes a team to be successful and if that team isn’t engaged and communicating with one another, the journey will be unpleasant and the odds of success will be significantly diminished.

3 Ways To Fight Isolation As A Young Entrepreneur

3 Ways To Fight Isolation As A Young Entrepreneur

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.

It sounds crazy that isolation would be a problem for entrepreneurs, right? How could this be when what many people believe about entrepreneurs is that they have a fun and exciting life, meet lots of interesting people, and are popular in the party scene. Those things can be true if you are successful. However, starting out as a teen entrepreneur can be quite different than that.

For Joshua, our teen entrepreneur, the year after high school was the worst. In high school, he was reasonably popular, elected Vice President of his senior class, and involved in typical high school things when he wasn’t working on business projects. After graduation, however, he found himself in no man’s land. His friends had all gone off to college and he was still living at home. He decided to pursue growing the company instead of attending college. In order to conserve investor’s cash, he wasn’t taking compensation from his company, so he couldn’t afford to move out. His company was in a trademark dispute with a large gaming company which caused their progress to grind to a halt while they were in legal limbo. His co-founders had another company to run, which was their primary focus. That’s a lot to handle at eighteen years old.

Joshua felt very isolated. He was gradually creeping into a dark place. He didn’t see his friends often. His peers in the entrepreneurial world were all at least ten years older than he was, and he felt he had little in common with them. His relationship with us, and especially me, was deteriorating. He didn’t want to be where he was, but he felt trapped.

What resources are out there to help with this?

  • School clubs – Involvement in clubs, either as a member or instructor, is a good way to interact and maybe even help others. Many young entrepreneurs I’ve met already know much more about business, product development and technology than the typical high school student in Junior Achievement or Future Business Leaders of America programs. If that is the case, ask the program director or sponsor about being an instructor for some of the topics. If there are no clubs like this in your school or area, start one.
  • State associations and maker spaces – There are a number of associations and networks that provide a forum for interaction with other young entrepreneurs. If you are in a highly populated area, odds are there is an association or maker space located near you as these entities have proliferated in recent years. If you are in a more rural area, search for regional or state organizations and get connected with them. The network has value.
  • National associations and networks – At the national level there are a number of associations and networks for young entrepreneurs, including Youth Biz, Young Entrepreneur Council, and Young Entrepreneur Academy.

In addition to the above, a good list of a dozen national and international organizations for teen and young adult entrepreneurs can be found in this Entrepreneur article, entitled, “12 Organizations Entrepreneurs Need to Join.” Also check out TeenBusiness, an informative website for teen entrepreneurs.

As we look back on our experience, as a young entrepreneur, Joshua was always a bit isolated from a normal teen life. While he was a likeable person with a good personality, his interests and priorities were different from his classmates. He wasn’t involved in many extracurricular activities, because most of his time outside class was spent working on his company or other products and projects. Once he stopped playing basketball and soccer, making things became his sport.

For Joshua, his situation improved when the legal matters were finally settled and he was able to move in with some of his high school classmates who were in college. That restored his sense of independence and the company could finally move forward again.

THE TAKEAWAY: Being a young entrepreneur can be exciting, but also lonely, at times. You are only alone if you want to be. Don’t let yourself become isolated when you are surrounded by resources. Reach out, get the support you need, and stay engaged.

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

14 Resources For Young Entrepreneurs In Arkansas

14 Resources For Young Entrepreneurs In Arkansas

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.

There was such interest in my previous post on how parents can help encourage their teens to pursue interest in STEM and entrepreneurial endeavors, that I decided to add some information to the partial list of programs mentioned in that post.

For young entrepreneurs in Arkansas, here is a list of 14 resources that can help bolster an interest in entrepreneurship and STEM subjects. Find one near you and engage in the programs or volunteer to help.

  1. Y.E.S. – The Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation, an affiliate of Arkansas Capital, created the Youth Entrepreneur Showcase (Y.E.S.) for Arkansas business plan competition in 2005 to introduce young Arkansans in grades 5-8 to the potential and opportunities of entrepreneurship.
  2. EAST – 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 the state.
  3. Arkansas Innovation Hub – Nonprofit organization with a maker space (lots of cool 3D printers, microprocessors, etc . . .) dedicated to talent and enterprise development in an environment where Arkansas entrepreneurs and innovators find support for success.
  4. Art Connection – A student art program located inside the Arkansas Innovation Hub
  5. Noble Impact – An education initiative that exposes students to relevant experiences and tools that enable them to navigate a world defined by uncertainty with an entrepreneurial skill set and a public service mindset.
  6. STEM Coalition – A statewide partnership of leaders from the corporate, education, government and community sectors which plans, encourages, coordinates and advocates policies, strategies, and programs supportive of excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teaching and learning in order to expand the economy of Arkansas and produce higher paying jobs. STEM Centers around the state may be found here.
  7. 100 Girls of Code – The mission of 100 Girls of Code is to achieve gender parity in STEM fields by introducing more young women to code and computer engineering at a young age. It seeks to inspire more girls to pursue a future in STEM. Check out the NWA Chapter.
  8. First Robotics – The mission of FIRST is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting Mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.
  9. Best Robotics – In these project-based STEM program students learn to analyze and solve problems utilizing the Engineering Design Process, which helps them develop technological literacy skills. Programs exist in Jonesboro, Harrison, Little Rock, and Fort Smith.
  10. Arkansas Out-of-School Network – A network of after school programs around the state. A few notables include:
  11. Lastly, the following four museums also foster content with a focus on STEM and learning by doing:

  12. Arts and Science and Kids Museums’ Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas (Pine Bluff)
  13. Museum of Discovery (Little Rock)
  14. Mid-America Science Museum (Hot Springs)
  15. Amazeum (Bentonville)

Do you know of a program in Arkansas that’s helping kids and teens follow their interests into STEM or entrepreneurship? If so, add it in the comments below!

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.

Is Accepting Failure Harmful To Young Entrepreneurs?

Is Accepting Failure Harmful To 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.

There have been many articles and blog posts in recent years addressing failure as part of the startup process. I’ve written about it myself. While failure is, to some degree, inevitable in entrepreneurial pursuits, as in life, it should never be expected or accepted as satisfactory.

Some people in the startup scene discuss failure as though it is required for future success. It sounds like we are telling inexperienced entrepreneurs that they need to get their first failure, or two, under their belts so they have something to talk about, and so their eventual story of success is even more compelling. Let me be clear, failure is not some startup merit badge. Startup failure is not a goal, it’s not a personal brand marketing strategy, and it’s not a required milestone for success.

For the purpose of this blog post, let’s clarify the context of the term “failure.” I’m talking about the ultimate failure of a product or failure of a company. Failure of a company becomes even more significant when it has been funded by friends, family, or fools — especially if those “fools” were local investors. When investments by locals go bad, many entrepreneurs may never get a second chance with those investors. If entrepreneurs have not developed a network of potential investors outside their local region, this could mean they will have to self-fund any future startup efforts.

Entrepreneurs must use every resource at their disposal to develop products and services that consumers want, and then build sustainable companies around those products. Failure is never a goal in this process. However, when small failures occur, and they will in the normal course of events, they are important because they give us an opportunity to learn. Failure is only a good thing if we squeeze all the learning out of it and then apply what we learned to improve performance and avoid mistakes in the future. In that regard, failure can serve as fuel for the fire of success.

THE TAKEAWAY: While small failures are a normal part of the entrepreneurial learning process and should be embraced as a potential learning opportunity, we should never expect it, accept it as inevitable, or become comfortable with it. Finally, I agree with the idea that “people don’t fail, businesses do.” In my opinion, people can fail, but we do so only when we quit making our best effort to succeed.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.