by Stella Fayman on October 29, 2012
My parents didn’t realize it, but they raised me to be an entrepreneur. Like many immigrant families, my family expected my path in life to be medical. However, I recently realized that my parents taught me some critical skills and values for entrepreneurship very early on. I hope to replicate these strategies with my kids some day, so if you have kids and you want to teach them important aspects of entrepreneurship, here’s what worked with me:
1) Pitching- Entrepreneurs have to pitch their ideas all. the. time. When I was 8 years old, I really, really wanted a Molly American Doll. This was before all of the American Girl Places existed. Back then, there were the American Girls books, and a catalogue sent to girls with wild imaginations who just needed a doll with whom to share their passions. I remember really connecting with Molly: she was the World War II doll, nerdy with frizzy hair and always trying to help her country. Back then, the cost of an American Doll was $80 (this was 1995). You could also buy the whole Molly wardrobe with all of her clothes and accessories for a measly $1000. A steal! (or so I thought). My parents, hardcore Russian immigrants, could not fathom why a doll would cost so much money. When we moved to America, we lived on $25/week.
However, instead of just dismissing my foolish passions. They gave me the opportunity to make my pitch: why would an American doll be worth $80 to buy. I remember preparing my pitch and trying to position the $1000 as a value buy (my birthday gift for 3 years!). I got up in the living room, stood up straight and proudly delivered a five minute pitch to my parents. Then they had the chance to ask follow up questions (sound familiar?). At the end, I eventually got the doll (with the compromise that I would learn to sew her clothes instead of buying the ridiculously expensive outfits). However, this pitch taught me the value of crafting a story to make investors (mom and dad) understand why they should invest.
2) Thinking Quickly- My father loves learning. Sometime around my 6th birthday, we started watching Jeopardy! together. Every day, he would tape the show, and we would compete against each other to see who knew the most random trivia, and who could guess it more quickly. At first, my dad would always win. However, as the years went on (we continued this daily tradition well into high school) I slowly started accumulating wins and eventually went on to become captain of my Scholastic Bowl team in high school. In addition to fostering a sense of intellectual curiosity, playing Jeopardy competitively every day taught me to think quickly. Sometimes even an educated guess made more quickly would win me a point. Being able to think on my feet has been an essential skill as an entrepreneur. I can do mental math quickly, come up with good questions instantly, and just generally be a step ahead. I very much attribute this to the repeated and committed Jeopardy games growing up.
3) Opportunities to Make Money- I was a lucky kid: my mom never expected me to do many chores beyond keeping my room clean (never happened). However, I was always given the opportunity to come up with ways to make money. I tried to explain that my friends got allowances from their parents, but my own parents saw no value in an allowance: who in the real world gets the same amount of money given to them each week for not doing much? (think Communism…my parents did!) So my parents, told me that if I wanted to make money to buy toys, I would have to hustle. They gave me $5 to wash the car and I subcontracted 3 neighborhood kids to wash it for $0.50 each. My lemonade stand consistly generated revenue. I created a cleaning service and priced household chores (you got a discount for buying multiple services). You get the idea: my parents instilled the value of looking for opportunities to make my own money.
For more resources on teaching kids to be entrepreneurs check out these 3 links: