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.