When my boys were 3 and 7, they attended their first MicroConf. I know, conferences aren’t really a place for kids. But there is no way to explain Rob’s “job” better than them seeing the huge room full of founders gathered together to talk about how to grow their businesses. “Your dad built this” – it was a incredible moment to help them concretely understand what their parents do all day.
Kids growing up in households with entrepreneur parents have a unique advantage. They have a front row seat to the entrepreneurial life and, if supported well, can learn essential founder skills right at the beginning. Kids in founder families can get first-hand “training” that isn’t available to others.
We all want happy, well-rounded kids who are set up to contribute positively to society. Maybe our kids will found companies, maybe they will take a different path. Either way, how can we equip them with the skills and experiences that can help them optimize their options.
Every family has a different approach to conversations about money and work. My recommendation is to have those conversations early and often. However, more important, and more foundational to your child’s development is the decision to parent in a way that nurtures entrepreneurship from a young age.
Nurture entrepreneurial traits
Your kids might not grasp “entrepreneurship” as such while they are quite young, but they can understand basic concepts that are proven traits among entrepreneurs.
- Customer service
- Handling rejection/failure
As a parent, you’re the first role model your child has, so simply modeling entrepreneurial traits yourself goes a long way to nurturing them in a child. You can teach specific lessons that are age-appropriate, or in line with your child’s level of comprehension.
MIT Entrepreneurship lecturer, Cameron Herold gave a TED talk on raising kids to be entrepreneurs. He argues that it’s a matter of both nature and nurture, describing how he was groomed from a young age to embrace entrepreneurship.
As a young child, he was always encouraged to find ways to earn money without “getting a job.” This spurred several childhood business ventures and lessons, such as:
- Learning how to sell (he went door-to-door in many cases).
- Learning about the power of recurring revenue (it made more sense to mow someone’s lawn every week and get paid, than to always be looking for new customers).
- How to market his products (as a young adult, he sold wineskins on the premise that “you can hide them in your shorts and get alcohol into sports games”).
- How to make more money in less time. (While friends were getting paid $10 to carry golf bags around the course for 5 hours, he discovered that he could get paid $1 every time he carried someone’s bag up a particular hill, making more money in much less time).
Let’s look more closely at some of the specific traits to nurture when teaching lessons about entrepreneurship:
Introduce risk and reward concepts
Entrepreneurship brings with it a lot of risk in the hopes that it will pay off in the end. One thing that has been a common issue among many parents is the desire to remove or buffer risk for their kids. There’s a natural instinct to want to protect our kids, but this can actually be detrimental to their development as a human (much more so as an entrepreneur or leader).
Dr. Tim Elmore, a leadership expert and best-selling author, describes sheltering kids from risk as “damaging” parenting behavior. Kids who have been overly protected from risk can develop traits such as arrogance, entitlement, and low self-esteem.
Additionally, a tendency to swoop in “to the rescue” too quickly can remove the need for kids to navigate hardships or solve problems on their own.
It’s hard, but we must let our kids lose sometimes. We must let them struggle.
Talk openly about risk. You can talk about how lower risk tends to be associated with lower potential reward. Getting a job and working for a paycheck is an easier option, but the rewards are limited. A bigger risk such as starting your own business might fail, but it also might produce a bigger, better reward.
Integrate conversations about risk and potential reward into your daily conversations- strategy games are an easy activity to concretize this conversation. Talk to your kids about past mistakes of your own, along with risks you have taken and the rewards those risks did or didn’t yield. Talk about your motivations and what you were able to learn. As appropriate, you might even let them in on things you are doing in your business right now.Talk to kids about the concepts of risk and reward #entrepreneurship Click To Tweet
Teach money management
Whether your kids turn out to be entrepreneurs or prefer to take up paid employment, they will always benefit from being taught good money management skills.
As entrepreneurs, making the revenue is often the easy part, it’s managing the expense column and ensuring that you’re investing in the right things that proves to be trickier. A whopping 82% of small businesses that fail do so because of cash flow issues.
Kids as young as six are able to grasp concepts of budgeting, including putting money aside for savings or investments. As they get older, you can talk about things like how you make budgeting decisions and how you invest for your business and for future plans.
Glen Kurlander of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management advices:
“If you want your kids to learn the necessity of budgeting, saving and making choices about money, give them an allowance and don’t bail them out if they run out of money in the middle of the week,” Kurlander says. “If you emphasize to your children the importance of giving back, engage in philanthropic or community activity and find ways to enable your kids to participate in giving.”
Talk to your kids, but find ways to help them walk that talk.
As a note on allowances, there is often debate as to the merit of them at all. One solution from Cameron Herold is to encourage kids to walk around the house and find things that need doing. His kids then come back to him and they negotiate what will be paid for the task. This way they’re encouraged to actively think about making money, rather than the “regular paycheck” mentality.
Nurture strengths and passions
Look for the strengths and passions in your kids and seek to nurture them. In his TED talk, Cameron Herold talks about his experiences as a kid. He always showed a passion for speaking and energizing a room, and yet; “no one said get him a speaking coach, instead they got me tutoring for things I suck at.”
The traditional school system often seems to put a lot of emphasis on remediating weaknesses rather than building on current strengths, so be an advocate for your child in that sense. How can you encourage those things that they’ve shown an aptitude for?
Passion is a huge trigger in most entrepreneurs. When you love something, you tend to work hard for it. This same trait can be nurtured in our kids, and can help them to develop grit and tenacity, essential to entrepreneurs.
Talk to kids about commitment and hold them to it. If they’ve stated a passion for soccer, then have them commit to the season, no excuses. It takes perseverance to nurture a passion and there will be hard days – it’s important that they understand this too.
Embrace challenges and model resilience
Entrepreneurs are problem-solvers and creative thinkers. Rather than shying away from a challenge, they embrace it and look for ways to deal with it. At the same time, they understand that failure is a possible result, but they don’t use that as an excuse to stop trying.
Shawn Shultz encourages creativity by presenting his kids with problems to solve. If they come across poor products or services, he always asks his kids how they could be made better.
“I’m hoping this ongoing lesson allows them to realize that successful businesses can be built simply by doing better and refusing to accept the status quo as the only option,” Schulze said. “I want to train their minds to always see the possibility of a better mousetrap.
Even as we evaluate these products with our children, it’s important to also teach professional respect and courtesy. By focusing on ways to improve, children are positively oriented around solutions rather than simply picking on faults.”
As is appropriate, you might want to share challenges you have in your own business with your kids. It’s important that they see you embracing challenges and showing resilience through the process.
Your kids are in a uniquely privileged position, in entrepreneurial households with direct access to experienced role models. While not every kid is going to want to be an entrepreneur, in your household, they can at least learn from experience that there is another option rather than “get a good job.”
Talk to your kids about what you do and why you do it. Be a role model for what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Importantly, nurture those key traits in your kids. Even if they choose a completely different path, those skills will set them up to have and make good choices.
Realistically, that’s all we want, right? Happy kids who have the tools to strike their own path.