What If Your Parents Have No Entrepreneurial Experience?

What If Your Parents Have No Entrepreneurial Experience?

Entrepreneurship Parenting Preparation

Neither of my parents were entrepreneurs.  Both were raised during the Great Depression and never attended college.  My mom ran our house.  Dad worked in a foundry, sold candy, had a thirty-year career as a civil servant at a military installation, served as our small town’s first mayor and continued his mostly unpaid service in that position for sixteen of the next twenty years.  He has an elementary school, a community service award and the snack bar at a water park named after him.  How many people can say they have a bar named after them!  So what could my parents, particularly my dad, teach me about entrepreneurship?

The answer is “plenty”, although I didn’t know it at the time.  Despite never starting or running his own business, dad’s work ethic, ability to engage and motivate people, willingness to try new things and risk failure (if you think starting a business is tough, try incorporating and running a city), team building, never ending thirst for knowledge, problem solving ability, and focus on the customer (citizens) were all entrepreneurial traits.  Dad was old school.  I don’t recall him ever actually trying to teach me any of these things.  He taught by doing and providing examples.  The rest was up to me.  We have a fancy name for this now – experiential, project based learning.  What my dad would have called “gettin’ stuff done”.

In addition to these traits, my dad was married to my mom for forty-five years and raised us three kids with her.  He never left the house without giving her a kiss and I can’t recall him ever missing an event, mostly sports related, that I was involved in.  He treated people that worked for him with respect.  He didn’t take himself too seriously and was known to wear a dress or bathing suit with makeup and a wig (womanless beauty pageant) to raise money at a school or church charity event.  So let’s add ability to pick a great co-founder, loyalty, work-life balance, respect for others, community service, and a sense of humor to the list of entrepreneurial traits.

My dad helped found a city, but not a startup.  He scaled some fish, but never a company.  He made plenty of deals, but not with investors.  He taught me most everything I needed to know to run a startup and help others do so successfully, without ever doing it himself.  I only hope that I can have a similar impact on Joshua, our young entrepreneur. It is not lost on me that my dad’s legacy lives on in me and hopefully in our kids.  What a blessing it was to have my dad in my life.  He was my role model and mentor and I think of him every day.

THE TAKEAWAY:  For all you young entrepreneurs who, like me, had a father in your life that has helped you develop your skills and knowledge, even if indirectly, I urge you to make sure they know what a positive impact they’ve had on you and how thankful you are for them.  This also goes for those of you who were blessed with strong mothers who served as both mother and father.  For parents who see entrepreneurial traits in your kids but feel you don’t have the entrepreneurial experience to help them, sharing your time and helping them access resources that will help them will have a significant, positive impact on their development.

3 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Need to Test Their Limits

3 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Need to Test Their Limits

Inspiration Parenting Startup Grind

This past Father’s Day I received a card from our entrepreneur son, Joshua, with a hand written note inside.  It was a very nice, heart felt note and in part of it he thanked me for challenging him.  I’ve told him on more than one occasion that if he could survive me, he’d be OK.  When he was younger, he didn’t appreciate what that meant as much as he does now.  When he was 17 the ARK Challenge business accelerator tested his limits . . . and he stood up to the challenge.  Fourteen hour days, a high level of competition, countless deadlines, multiple failures, and constant learning.  Why is it important that entrepreneurs routinely test their limits?

  1. We must routinely test our mental toughness, our physical endurance and our ability to perform under pressure. – We will be tested to our limits many times in our quest for success.  We will have to deal with the stress of running out of money, product issues with a deadline looming, firing people (sometimes even our co-founders), and our loved ones needing our attention when we cannot give it.  Will better planning, strong leadership, and hiring the right people help us avoid stress and tough decisions?  Yes, but we have no control over many factors that can cause our company to spin wildly out of control and create challenges.  It’s all about being prepared to handle whatever comes our way.
  2. We should test our limits in controlled environments –  I test my mental toughness and physical endurance five times per week in the gym.  I try to embrace the stress of deadlines and finalizing deals.  I also have quiet time and practice my faith as a form of meditation.  I do it because I need to know that I have the mental toughness, physical endurance, and confidence to deal with any challenge.  As entrepreneurs we also must be self-aware and assess our own performance in pressure packed, challenging situations.
  3. Gather data on our own performance – While we may not be able to do it in the heat of the moment, we need to assess what happened after the fact and ask ourselves and others how we performed.  We have to be brutally honest in these assessments to identify what we did well and where we need work.  Once identified, we can pinpoint strategies for improvement and to make us better prepared.  Knowing we are prepared to handle whatever comes will give us the confidence to embrace stress and challenges.

THE TAKE AWAY:  The Boy and Girl Scouts got it right with their moto of BE PREPARED.  It takes all we have to be successful entrepreneurs.  With the odds of success already stacked against us, we must do everything we can, that is moral and legal, to gain an advantage.  Most things we can do are pretty basic and just as important in our daily routine as our most important meetings or product deadlines.  Even if you don’t like doing it, push yourself to be organized, plan ahead, exercise, eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water, practice quiet meditation, and be thankful for your many gifts and opportunities every day.  A positive attitude and confidence may be our best tools for dealing with adversity.

Entrepreneurial Lessons from a Non-Entrepreneurial Father

Entrepreneurial Lessons from a Non-Entrepreneurial Father

Inspiration Mentorship Parenting

My father wasn’t an entrepreneur.  He was raised during the Great Depression, never attended college, worked in a foundry, sold candy, had a thirty-year career as a civil servant at a military installation, served as our small town’s first mayor and continued his mostly unpaid service in that position for sixteen of the next twenty years.  He has an elementary school, a community service award and the snack bar at a water park named after him.  How many people can say they have a bar named after them!  So what could this guy teach me about entrepreneurship?

The answer is “plenty”, although I didn’t know it at the time.  Despite never starting or running his own business, his work ethic, ability to engage and motivate people, willingness to try new things and risk failure (if you think starting a business is tough, try incorporating and running a city), team building, never ending thirst for knowledge, problem solving ability, and focus on the customer (citizens) were all entrepreneurial traits.  Dad was old school.  I don’t recall him ever actually trying to teach me any of these things.  He taught by doing and providing examples.  The rest was up to me.  We have a fancy name for this now – experiential, project based learning.  What my dad would have called “gettin’ stuff done”.

In addition to these traits, my dad was married to my mom for forty-five years and raised us three kids with her.  He never left the house without giving her a kiss and I can’t recall him ever missing an event, mostly sports related, that I was involved in.  He treated people that worked for him with respect.  He didn’t take himself too seriously and was known to dress in a bathing suit or a dress with makeup and wig (womanless beauty pageant) for a school or church charity event.  So let’s add ability to pick a great co-founder, loyalty, work-life balance, respect for others, community service, and a sense of humor to the list of entrepreneurial traits.

My dad helped found a city, but not a startup.  He scaled some fish, but never a company.  He made plenty of deals, but not with investors.  He taught me most everything I needed to know to run a startup and help others do so successfully, without ever doing it himself.  I only hope that I can have a similar impact on Joshua, our young entrepreneur. It is not lost on me that my dad’s legacy lives on in me and hopefully in our kids.  What a blessing it was to have my dad in my life.  He was my role model and mentor and I think of him every day, and especially on Father’s Day.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY DAD!!  Love you.

THE TAKEAWAY:  For all you young entrepreneurs who, like me, had a father in your life that has helped you develop your skills and knowledge, even if indirectly, I urge you to make sure they know what a positive impact they’ve had on you and how thankful you are for them.  For those of you who were blessed with strong mothers who served as both mother and father, do something very special for her on Father’s Day as well.  These moms deserve two holidays!

4 Things That Baby Chics and Young Entrepreneurs Have in Common

4 Things That Baby Chics and Young Entrepreneurs Have in Common

Failure Inspiration Parenting

I’m a process oriented guy by nature. I believe that there are actually only a few basic processes in the world and that we simply use those basic processes in a multitude of applications from scientific discovery, to solving engineering challenges, to developing employees.  Unless you grew up on a farm with chickens, one of the processes that you may not know much about is the early stage of life for a baby chicken.  I find it interesting that the process of a baby chic escaping its shell is similar to the development process for  young entrepreneurs.

According to a host of forums and information sources on hatching chics (yes, there are discussion forums for such topics) chicks are fully capable of breaking out of their shells with the egg tooth on the top of their beaks… it is what they were designed for!  There is no owner’s manual or set of instructions.  They’re wired to survive.  Humans are wired for survival as well.  As if survival and growth for all humans isn’t challenging enough, the path for young entrepreneurs can be even more challenging.

What can we learn from the similarities of the first hours of life for baby chics and the early years of life for young entrepreneurs?

  1. The Process Takes Time – While it can take chics from hours to all day to hatch, it takes young entrepreneurs years to develop. The comparison is a bit like the concept of dog years.  For the novice chicken farmer these hours can seem like an eternity and can be filled with concern about the chic’s survival.  Similarly, for young entrepreneurs and their parents, gaining the skills and knowledge to be an entrepreneur takes years of persistent effort.
  1. Be Patient and Only Help When Necessary – For the chicken farmer, patience and the discipline to not help the baby chic break out of their shell unless it is absolutely necessary are key to the chic’s survival. While there are techniques for helping the chic break out of its own shell, helping the chic too much will undermine the intent of the natural process.  It is the same with young entrepreneurs.  They must be given the time and freedom to figure things out on their own.  Like the baby chics, they were born with the capacity to be independent but we have to give them the opportunity.  Like the chicken farmer, we can help soften the shell just a little so they can peck their way out.  However, if we peel away the shell for them, they will not survive long term.
  1. The Struggle is Necessary for Near Term Survival – In the hatching process, baby chics gradually build lung capacity and physical strength. Both of which are required for the chic to endure the long hours and effort it takes to peck its way out of the shell.  Young entrepreneurs also need to struggle through many small challenges early in their development.  Dealing with these struggles early on will force them to build their knowledge and skills to solve problems and give them confidence in their ability to handle diversity.
  1. The Struggle is Necessary for Long Term Survival – The ability of baby chics to survive the hatching process is a key to their long term survival. As challenging as the hatching process was for them, the challenges of survival outside the shell are far greater.  The life of an entrepreneur is similar.  Building knowledge, skill and confidence early on will prepare the young entrepreneur for the greater challenges ahead.  These challenges are not limited to business but also include relationships, physical and mental health, and living a balanced life.

THE TAKEAWAY – The saying that “nothing worth doing in life is easy” was never truer than when describing the entrepreneurial life.  It is simultaneously incredibly challenging and amazingly rewarding.  It must be earned by years of knowledge acquisition, skills development, doing and learning, and sprinkled with periodic disappointment and failure.  If it were easy, anyone could do it, and entrepreneurs aren’t just anyone.

2.5 Keys to Balancing the Roles of Parent and Business Advisor

2.5 Keys to Balancing the Roles of Parent and Business Advisor

Communication Parenting Relationships

The challenge of being both a parent and business advisor to a young entrepreneur is formidable.  Keeping the parent-child relationship and the business advisor-entrepreneur relationships separated was, at least for us, a major challenge.

We always viewed our jobs as parents as that of teachers, spiritual guides, counselors, confidantes and disciplinarians.  Our parenting style is a very hands-on, values and rules oriented, sometimes in-your-face approach.  While we welcomed hearing the opinions of our kids most of the time, ultimately, we tried to guide them in learning how to make good decisions on their own and made those decisions for them when necessary, usually much to their displeasure.  However, being a business advisor was a completely different kind of relationship with Joshua, our young entrepreneur.  I saw my role as helping to educate, advise and connect.  I didn’t do things for him and I didn’t make business decisions.  In my view, that was part of his learning process.  He needed to own what he was doing.  It was on him to educate himself about product development and business, and somehow balance all that with school.  It was a test of his passion and his drive to succeed.  It was the only way I knew to prepare him for the challenges of an entrepreneurial life.  He had to succeed or fail on his own merits.

Here are some of the things we did to make it all work:

1.  We kept our business and family conversations separate – We learned the hard way that we needed to do this. Joshua and I found ourselves mixing many of our normal family conversations with business discussions.  The stress this put on our relationship resulted in some rather heated interactions.  Gwen, my wife and Joshua’s mom, was inadvertently thrust into the roles of referee and peace maker.  We all knew we had to do something different and Joshua and I began to plan our business conversations just like any other business meeting.  We did our best not to discuss business at other times especially family meals or when we were around extended family and friends.  

2.  My business advisor role was confined to educating, questioning, advising and connecting – I don’t believe I ever told Joshua what business decisions to make. I did the best I could to help him figure it out by understanding his options and the potential outcomes.  Most of the time he sorted it out and made a sound decision.  He learned to make decisions without all the information he really needed.  He also learned to own the outcomes of his bad decisions.

2.5  You have to watch them fail – This fits closely with #2 and it was a tough one.  To allow your child, excuse me – my business advisee, to make a bad decision that you know will have a negative impact on him is one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do.  The parent side of me wanted to nurture him and step in to take over before it all went south.  Unfortunately, failure is part of learning and is sometimes the only way to get the really important lessons in life.  As a teenager, Joshua was also trying to carve out his own place in the world and be independent.  He thought he knew more than he did sometimes.  Teenage naiveté and an entrepreneurial ego are not always a good combination. My philosophy was that it is okay for young entrepreneurs to hit the ground once in a while.  My job as an advisor was to make sure he hit the ground hard enough to get his attention, and hopefully learn how not to make the same mistake twice, but not so hard that he didn’t want to get up and try again.  Hard to watch and hard to manage but I’m convinced that this is the only way certain young entrepreneurs will learn some of life’s most important lessons.  Always having a soft landing doesn’t teach us much.

THE TAKEAWAY – It is impossible to completely separate the roles of parent and business advisor with a young entrepreneur.  However, with a bit a structure, strategy and everyone understanding their role, it can be managed successfully.  There were times when I felt I was too tough on Joshua.  I told him once that “if he survived me he would be prepared for just about anything life might throw at him”.  I guess you’ll have to ask him how it all turned out.

3 Keys to Good Communication in an Entrepreneurial Family

3 Keys to Good Communication in an Entrepreneurial Family

Communication Parenting Relationships

As our entrepreneurial son, Joshua, and I became more intertwined in business, issues began to arise regarding our communication as a family.  Joshua and I talked about business frequently.  Those conversations began to replace family conversations about school, friends, and how things were going with others in the family.  Compounding this issue was the fact that we were speaking the language of business, a foreign language to my wife, our daughter, and many of our friends and family.  Joshua and I had unintentionally isolated ourselves from people we loved and the world around us.  This was clearly not sustainable and we had to make some changes.

This is what we did:

  1. Schedule business conversations – Joshua and I found ourselves mixing many of our normal family conversations with business conversations. It all came to a head one day when I praised him for doing a great job at an investor pitch and then proceeded to chew him out for not picking up his room and getting his school work done.  Those kinds of surprise twists and turns that could happen in almost any conversation put us both on edge.  Gwen, my wife and Joshua’s mom, was inadvertently thrust into the role of peace maker.  At that point, we all knew we had to do something different.  Joshua and I began to plan our business conversations just like any other business meeting.  We did our best not to discuss business at other times and especially avoided talking about business during family meals or when we were around extended family and friends.
  1. Educate those closest to you in the language of business – If entrepreneurship is a major part of your life and who you are, you owe it to those closest to you to involve them in conversations about what you are doing. Unfortunately, most people aren’t familiar with the language of business.  Even if they have a traditional business background, they may not be familiar with the language of the startup community.  This lack of a common language made Gwen, a great elementary school teacher, feel isolated from the entrepreneurial life.  Had she and Joshua been working together on an education project, I would have had the same struggle.   She felt embarrassed when she couldn’t explain to her friends and coworkers exactly what Joshua was doing.  Joshua and I had to be intentional about involving Gwen in some of the casual business discussions that popped up in normal conversation.  We also made sure that we either explained the terminology we were using or used more common terms to help Gwen be more engaged in what we were talking about.   Once we did a better job of involving her in the entrepreneurial life, she felt more comfortable talking to others about it and we found that she contributed great insight from time to time regarding people, relationships and communication.  Her insight was, and still is, very valuable.
  1. Provide routine updates – In the fast paced world of a startup, events and transactions occurred daily about which Joshua and I neglected to inform his mom.  There was no daily briefing so when she dipped into the startup world every few days she felt lost. “So when did that happen” she would ask in frustration.  As if that trend was not enough to make a mother feel sad and out of touch, because Joshua and I spoke multiple times a day on business topics, I was also the parent that he informed about everything else that was going on with school, friends, where he was and where he was going.  It was up to me to keep Gwen informed and I did a poor job of this and, at times, still do.  This had the effect of putting a strain on the relationship between Joshua and his mother and also on my relationship with my wife.  Not good.  As the saying goes, “if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”.  Other than my relationship with God, my relationship with Gwen is the most important one in my life.  If it’s bumpy, everything else just gets harder.  That’s why, when we realized how this journey was changing all of our relationships, we made a point of doing a better job of involving everyone in routine updates on business and family matters.

THE TAKEAWAY – Many books have been written and studies done on how important good communication is to being successful in business.  It is equally important with young entrepreneurs and their families.  Raising an entrepreneur is a bit like running a startup company.  It takes a team to be successful and if that team isn’t engaged and communicating with one another, the journey will be unpleasant and the odds of success will be significantly diminished.

How do parents know if their teen has entrepreneurial traits? If so, what now?

How do parents know if their teen has entrepreneurial traits? If so, what now?

Parenting

Parents: Have you noticed any of these traits in your teens:  Lack of interest in school;  A messy room; Drawers and closets littered with a variety of electronic and small engine parts;  Spending far more spare time on the computer in his/her room than outside playing or with friends;  Staying up too late, doesn’t want to get up in the morning, tired much of the time;  Generally mischievous behavior?  Also, have you noticed burn marks where it appears a small explosion may have occurred, electricity outages, or parts missing from appliances, lawn equipment and furniture? Do some of your extension cords and tools seem to be missing?

As a parent, these appear to be signs of trouble that require some serious discipline, counseling, juvenile detention or a twelve step program.  OR, you could have a young entrepreneur on your hands.  Please don’t misunderstand, these could, in fact, be signs of a teen headed for serious trouble.  They could also be signs of a restless teenager, bored with the system, who is trying to find an outlet for their creativity, curiosity, and product ideas.  

While the signs look pretty similar, the actions parents take in these situations are pretty important.  Parents can attempt to shut down this behavior with disciplinary action, let the behavior go after several unsuccessful attempts to stop it, or direct their teen to people and programs that will give them a somewhat structured outlet for their creativity, product development ideas and curiosity.  Our son was disassembling his Happy Meals at age 8.  Luckily, my wife didn’t make him stop.  Turns out he was just trying to figure out how they worked.

Here in central Arkansas, there are a variety of locations and programs where youth can experiment with ideas and develop skills in math, science, electronics, microprocessors, coding, app development, robotics, project management and entrepreneurship.  A partial list includes Y.E.S. , EAST, Innovation Hub, Art Connection, Noble Impact, STEM Coalition, 100 Girls of Code, First Robotics, Best Robotics, Arts and Science and Children’s Museums, and a variety of local after school programs that may have technology initiatives.  There are similar programs in Northwest Arkansas.  Many of these programs serve youth outside their region.  The EAST program, a project based learning program that teaches kids coding, video production, how to use design and GPS mapping software, and develop websites is already in 200+ schools around our state and in a handful of schools in other states.  100 Girls of Code has had events in a variety of regions.  All of these programs are underwritten by grants, public funding and private donors and investors so their cost is free or close to free.  Part of my mission is to use communication technology to bring this content to every corner of our state.  So many of these programs have sprung up around the country in the past five years that there is likely one near you.  Find it and get plugged in.

If you are a parent, or a teen for that matter, who wants access to these programs, use the links in this post to contact these programs.  If there isn’t one near you, talk to them about how you can access their services or figure out how you can start a program or club in your area.  Be a local Champion!  The power of like-minded people coming together to create a community is critical in these endeavors.  A local group of parents and teens makes it easier to carpool to after school activities, purchase project kits, materials and equipment, and discuss potential community projects and product development.  Many of these programs started with a parent or group of parents and teens who decided to start something in their area.

THE TAKEAWAY: As we go through our daily lives, usually at 100 MPH with our hair on fire, it is easy to believe that we are alone in dealing with challenges and we tend to seek remedies that are swift and immediate to alleviate what we perceive to be a problem.  This tends to blind us to the resources all around us that can put us on a path of turning a problem situation into a positive outlet for growth and change.  While it is certainly possible that some of the traits noted above are, in fact, signs of a serious problem that requires immediate attention and discipline, these signs may also be indicators of a need for a constructive outlet for creative and design skills.  As parents it is our job to figure out which one it is and do something about it!

Investor, Adviser, Mentor, Dad

Investor, Adviser, Mentor, Dad

Parenting

The relationship with our son, a teen entrepreneur, is  . . . well . . . complicated.  Our relationship with him is not only complex, but ever changing.  Over the years my role has morphed from traditional dad to investor, business adviser, and mentor.

Early on we noticed Joshua’s intense curiosity for understanding spatial relationships, electronics, coding, and business concepts.  To my amazement in some cases, he understood concepts that I didn’t teach him specifically and he wasn’t taught in school.  At that stage, my dad job was fairly traditional.  His mom, Gwen, and I were guidance counselors, disciplinarians, coaches, chauffeurs, spiritual guides, teachers, explorers, and part time benevolent dictators.  As it became more and more clear that Joshua was on a non-traditional path for his age, my relationship with him became more prominent.   To this point his mom, a fantastic elementary teacher, was his greatest influence regarding essential life skills like relationship building, etiquette and manners, girlfriends, organization and faith formation.  I served as male role model and athletic coach.   Gwen and I both provided character development and shared the role of benevolent dictator.   I was the one with more specific knowledge of business concepts.  He needed more of the business knowledge that I could offer beginning about age 15.  It was a changing of the guard, in a sense, and that change had an impact on all of us, both positive and negative.

Gwen struggled, and still does a bit, with how her relationship with Joshua changed.  Some of this change would have happened anyway as a young man seeking independence tries to distance himself from his parents.  Compounding that natural evolution was the fact that much of our family conversations were about business language and concepts that were initially foreign to my wife.  If she and Joshua had been working on an education project, I would have had the same challenge.  To make this situation even more challenging, in the fast paced world of a startup, events and transactions occurred daily about which Joshua and I neglected to inform his mom.  There was no daily briefing so when she dipped into the startup world every few days she felt lost because she didn’t know what was going on.  As though that trend was not enough to make a mother feel sad and out of touch, because Joshua and I spoke multiple times a day on business topics, I was also the parent that he informed about everything else that was going on with school, friends, where he was and where he was going.  It was up to me to keep Gwen informed and I did a poor job of this and, at times, still do.  This had the effect of putting a strain, not only on the relationship between Joshua and his mother, but also on my relationship with Gwen.  Not good.  If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

Other than my relationship with God, my relationship with Gwen is the most important one in my life.  If it’s bumpy, everything else just gets harder.  That’s why, when we realized how this journey was changing all of our relationships, we made a point of doing a better job of involving everyone in daily communications.  We have also helped Gwen learn the language and concepts of business so that she has a better understanding and can contribute to our startup conversations.

Lesson learned:  Go out of your way to involve both parents, extended family and friends in this journey and help the young entrepreneur to be sensitive to the evolution and complexity of these relationships.

Raising a Young Entrepreneur—Are We Doing This Right?

Raising a Young Entrepreneur—Are We Doing This Right?

Parenting

Raising a young entrepreneur is challenging.  Being a parent is challenging enough.  Compounding that challenge by helping guide your teenage son as he builds a startup tech company takes those typical challenges to a whole new level.  The lines get blurred trying to separate the parent/teen relationship from the CEO/mentor relationship.  To add even more complication, now that the company has some funding, I serve as an underpaid consultant for my son’s company.  He can fire me!!!  But I can ground him.  It’s a weird balance of power.  Underlying all the complexity, the disagreements about business strategy, the questions about how much to push him, the constant balancing act between family, school and business, is a foundation of faith and love that we hope will help us make good decisions and keep us grounded.

We welcome you on this journey with us.  We hope you learn some things along the way that will help you and the young entrepreneur wannabe in your family.  We look forward to your feedback because  we are definitely flying the plane while we are building it.  One thing is for sure, this isn’t your ordinary plane ride and we aren’t exactly sure of our destination.  Passengers, please buckle your seatbelts.  Peanuts anyone?