Entrepreneurs and 20-something startup millionaires are the new definitions of success. These bright sparks are the 28-year-old (or younger) founders of Spotify, Airbnb, LivingSocial, Dropbox, Facebook and Tumblr, which is a rather hard act to follow. Meanwhile, some of us are still debating whether three-ply toilet paper is an unnecessary extravagance or pondering the best way to fake a sick day either side of a public holiday.
After wasting hours despising myself for not founding a multi-million dollar company by age 24, I realised that I’d already been there and done that. Well, of sorts. I had merely forgotten I was an entrepreneur because I hadn’t made the Fortune 500 list. My forgotten years of pioneering business ventures have taught me a few morals. Admittedly, such morals were mostly learned the hard way.
On fearless pursuits
When I was six years old, I started my first enterprise. It was about as real as it gets: I employed children to reduce my labour costs, I sold junk disguised as seemingly ‘quirky’ items, and I bullied vulnerable people into purchasing my overpriced crap. I owned a shop, or more specifically, I dragged a plastic table and a chair onto the side of the road, loaned from my head office, the Wendy house.
I stole digestive biscuits from the cupboard and wrote ‘£1 each’ signs, possibly made from recycled utility bills. I found some car keys, a pair of goggles, a stack of CDs and some cushions that also appeared to be popular and in demand items. I forced my younger sister and my vulnerable neighbours into minding the stall while I went about the managerial tasks and director’s duties back at the Wendy house. Directorship mostly involved eating the stock and making private phone calls on my calculator.
Alas, given my tyrant-like managerial style, I had a few issues with staff retention and product accountability. Fortunately, my low overheads kept me in the green until I was reported and forced into liquidation. I did learn the importance of handling stock in trade vigilantly and providing quality products to customers. These were lessons I applied to my next business pursuit, unfortunately.
On hard lessons
My second entrepreneurial venture was as a playground brothel madam. I developed a knack for pinning boys down in the cloakroom until they agreed to be my boyfriend and do as I said. I would then allow my friends to ‘borrow’ one of my boyfriends for a small fee of sweets or cutely shaped pencil erasers. Human trafficking is an abhorrent, albeit lucrative trade.
While being a playground bully turned brothel madam was a relatively enterprising business, I realised that sweets and erasers did not make me happy. I soon stopped getting invited to birthday parties and found myself being sent to sit in the corner of the classroom most lunchtimes. Fortunately, this led me to learn a new skill, the power of the humble apology. It was certainly the long way around realising how not to win friends and influence people. It remains to be an important reminder that how we treat others ultimately determines our success, as well as how we spend our lunch times.
On using your resources
Children often find creative ways of getting what they want. My sister was an exemplary and managed it without being a ruthlessly insensitive six-year-old entrepreneur. She had been smart enough to learn from my mistakes. She obtained great treasures and riches through her habit of permanently borrowing her friend’s toys and writing her name on them with a big black marker pen. Her innocent charisma enchanted her friends into willingly gifting their belongings to her. When the parent’s of these local disciples started to wonder where their children’s Tamagotchis, book bags and beanie babies were going.
My parents felt compelled to fork out a small fortune to replace an entire classroom’s worth of vandalised items that my mother later discovered under my sister’s bed. The school newsletter dedicated an entire page to the importance of parents naming their child’s rightful belongings. I’m sure she realised she’d need to do a better job of swearing her friends to secrecy for next time.
Although, we will never know what hard lessons she could have learned from that scandal as the school forgot it to more tragic occurrences. Snowy, the classroom hamster, was eaten by a dog during the school holidays. Nobody gave a shit about the book bags then, Snowy was gone. A lucky escape for the whimsical entrepreneur who demonstrated the value in using your connections to achieve a mutually beneficial trade, in theory amicably. Friends gave her gifts, she showed her appreciation, and they were left drunk on feelings of charitability.
I gradually forgot about my morally flexible entrepreneurial talents and world domination plans. Over time, surrounding environments (and the law) shroud visions with pragmatic realism. ‘A touch of reality’ can be the gatekeeper of dreams. That’s not to say we should exploit the vulnerable, trample over the innocent or thieve our way to getting our visions off the ground. But surely, it can’t be as hard as everyone makes out. The biggest barriers to achievement are excuses.
It’s also interesting how juvenile and seemingly innocent actions can perfectly depict society’s harsh realities. Although there is a softer side to learned lessons from childhood ventures: never trust your charismatic sister to keep your trade secrets.