I have always said that one of the key requirements from a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem is the visibility of role models combined with the passing of the “mom test” wherein the average Mom sees entrepreneurship as a viable career choice. My son became an “entrepreneur” last year when he was six and I wanted to use his story as an example of how modern tools allow anyone with an idea to be a maker, an inventor.
Last winter, as my son was folding pieces of paper into a new contraption, he came up to me and proudly introduced me to Pocket Monsters…
He had conceived of a creature that folds itself into a discreet paper square but, when needed, “unleashes the power” and unfolds into a dragon-like creature. They were rudimentary, held together by tape and put together by the hands of a six year old, but they were HIS invention. This was the first stage that enabled his path to entrepreneurship: His creativity and ability to “make.”
My wife joked from the other room “You should sell those online!” In most households that probably would have been the end of Pocket Monsters. In our openly geeky and digital-centric home, I asked my son to hold up Pocket Monster while I snapped a picture. Literally ten minutes later and with the help of TicTail, I had set up an online store for him with full Stripe and Paypal integration and a dedicated URL (pocketmonsters.tictail.com). Tictail provided the second milestone on his path: An easy, affordable and seamless platform to bring the idea to a market. The App Store of Google Play could have been similar equivalents forother types of products.
I posted a link on Facebook with a wishful request for at least one of my friends to buy one to prove to him that, even at 6, he too could create something from nothing and sell it online.
And then it took off… Luckily (?) an issue with my PayPal account limited the total number of confirmed orders to 15. They came from San Francisco and Germany, London and New York, El Salvador and LA. These were mostly friends, but also friends in social media whom I had only met once or twice before. My Facebook page (and my helpful friends who were willing to part with their money) provided him with his marketing channel and Tictail closed the loop by integrating payments from across the world into a 2-click transaction.
I sat him down and explained that all of these people were giving him REAL money and in return expecting REAL Pocket Monsters. That he had an obligation to them to build them and ship them. That responsibility energized him even more…
Our kitchen table was a supply chain assembly line: Strips of paper, strands of tape, lists of addresses, colored envelopes.
During the winter school break he would build one or two each night, amazingly remembering the exact process for the folds and the exact angle for the scary teeth that have Pocket Monster his power.
Facebook also became his customer feedback channel with friends posting their excitement at receiving their Pocket Monster or their order being placed. It became his way to (digitally) hear the “voice of the customer.”
I had unconsciously “padded” the shipping price a tad and now felt a bit uncomfortable with all the money flowing into our bank accounts for the shipping of a piece of paper… So I offered him a deal: He could keep all the money from the actual product, but needed to donate most of the profits from the shipping costs to a charity. He agreed, and ended up choosing Children with Cancer.
In a few weeks he built each Pocket Monster, wrote out the envelope by name and shipped them out. He now has over £85 to his name (which he has yet to spend, despite temptations from the magazine aisle every week). Most importantly, he self-identifies as an “inventor” and “business owner.” By age 6 he was able to realize that with the tools available to us all today, he could create a business and be the master of his own destiny (He booked over £125 which to someone at 6 is huge!).
We continue to talk about what happens to Pocket Monsters next (he has mapped out a roadmap that seems to go through 2018 with a new version released every year and is already working on the 2015 and 2016 releases).
As his Angel/Dad we have strategy discussions on whether he should scale out production by hiring his friends to help build them for a fee, or sending out DIY versions of Pocket Monster. As a product-centric founder he continues to argue that only he should create each one as only HE knows how to build them to his expectation of what Pocket Monster should be!
I talked to him about finding someone to help us turn Pocket Monster into a CAD design to allow for 3D printing. The look he gave me is akin to what I can only imagine Steve Jobs would have looked like if someone had suggested he outsource the iPhone to a Chinese ODM. How dare I…
But apart from the parental pride that Pocket Monsters has provided, the point of sharing it today was to make us all realize that we have the tools to make their young minds fly…that we have the ability to instill, from an early age, the belief that there are no limits to what they can create, no reasons why they should not try…and that there are people (even if they happen to be their parents friends) who are willing to exchange real-LEGO-buying-money in return for the fruit of that creation.
Etsy, Tictail, Amazon marketplaces…all of these are storefronts for creativity. He doesn’t know how to code, but already understands that technology serves as a tool of enablement. He doesn’t know product design, but already has pride in the quality of each fold. He doesn’t understand the 4Ps of marketing but grasped the power of that Facebook post. What he does have is money in the bank, a sense of pride, an ambitious roadmap and the right to call himself an “inventor.”
My 6 year old became an entrepreneur…and yours can be one too.