Are you a fan of TED or TEDx talks? Cameron has attended the main five day TED event since 2010. This is mainly because his TEDx talk, “Let’s Raise Kids to be Entrepreneurs” went viral in 2009, and has now had over two and a half million views online. Today’s episode is a rebroadcast of that 2009 TEDx talk. During the presentation Cameron reveals that a child who is bored in school, failing classes, at odds with peers might actually be an entrepreneur in the making. He makes the case for parenting and education that helps would-be entrepreneurs flourish – as kids and as adults.
In This Episode You’ll Learn:
- Why we should be raising kids to be entrepreneurs instead of lawyers.
- Why entrepreneurs aren’t the best students.
- The importance of teaching kids to negotiate and discover opportunities.
Get Cameron’s latest book: The Second in Command – Unleash the Power of Your COO
Subscribe to our YouTube channel – Second in Command Podcast on YouTube
Get Cameron’s online course: Invest In Your Leaders
Are you a fan of TED or TEDx Talks? I’ve attended the main five-day TED since 2010. The reason I get to attend is because my TEDx talk, Let’s Raise Kids to be Entrepreneurs went viral in 2009. It’s now had over 2.5 million views online. I hope you enjoy this talk as much as I enjoyed giving it.
I’d be willing to bet that I’m the dumbest guy in the room because I couldn’t get through school. I struggled with school, but what I knew at a very early age was that I loved money. I loved this entrepreneurial thing and I was raised to be an entrepreneur. What I’ve been passionate about ever since is this, and I’ve never spoken about this ever until now.
This is the first time anyone’s ever heard it except my wife. She said, “What are you talking about?” I told her, “We miss an opportunity to find these kids who have the entrepreneurial traits and to groom them or show them that being an entrepreneur is a cool thing.” It’s not something that is a bad thing and is vilified, which is what happens in a lot of society. Kids, when we grow up, have dreams and we have passions. We have visions, and somehow, we get those things crushed. We get told that we need to study harder, be more focused, or get a tutor.
My parents got me a tutor in French and I still suck in French. A few years ago, I was the highest-rated lecturer at MIT’s Entrepreneurial Master’s Program, and it was a speaking event in front of groups of entrepreneurs from around the world. When I was in grade two, I won a citywide speaking competition but nobody had ever said, “This kid’s a good speaker. He can’t focus but he loves walking around and getting people energized.” No one had said, “Get him a coach in speaking.” They said, “Get me a tutor in what I suck at.”
As kids show these traits, we need to start looking for them. We should be raising kids to be entrepreneurs instead of lawyers. Unfortunately, the school system is grooming the world to say, “Let’s be a lawyer or doctor,” and we’re missing that opportunity because no one ever says, “Be an entrepreneur.” Entrepreneurs are people who have these ideas, these passions, or see these needs in the world, and we decide to stand up and do it.
We put everything on the line to make that stuff happen. Also, we have the ability to get those groups of people around us and want to build that dream with us. If we could get kids to embrace the idea at a young age of being entrepreneurial, we could change everything in the world that is a problem now. Every problem that’s out there, somebody has an idea for.
As a young kid, nobody can say it can’t happen because you’re too dumb to realize that you couldn’t figure it out. We have an obligation as parents and as a society to start teaching our kids to fish instead of giving them fish. The old parable, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man a fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
If we can teach our kids to become entrepreneurial, the ones that show those traits to be like we teach the ones who have science gifts to go on in science, what about if we saw the ones who had entrepreneurial traits and taught them to be entrepreneurs? We could have all these kids spreading businesses instead of waiting for government handouts.
What we do is sit and teach our kids all the things they shouldn’t do. Don’t hit, don’t bite, and don’t swear. We teach our kids to go after really good jobs, and the school system teaches them to go after things like being a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, a dentist, a teacher, and a pilot. The media says that it’s cool if we could go out and be a model, singer, or sports hero like Luongo or Crosby.
Our MBA programs do not teach kids to be entrepreneurs. The reason that I avoided an MBA program, other than the fact that I couldn’t get into any because I had a 61% average out of high school and then a 61% average at the only school in Canada that accepted me, Carleton. Our MBA programs teach kids to go work in corporations so who’s starting these companies? It’s these random few people.
Even in popular literature, the only book I’ve ever found that makes the entrepreneur into the hero is Atlas Shrugged. Everything else in the world tends to look at entrepreneurs and say that we’re bad people. I look at even my family, both my grandfathers were entrepreneurs. My dad was an entrepreneur. Both my brother and sister and I, all three of us own companies as well.
We all decided to start these things because it’s the only place we fit. We didn’t fit in the normal work. We couldn’t work for somebody else because we’re too stubborn and we have all these other traits, but kids could be entrepreneurs as well. I’m a big part of a couple of organizations globally called the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and the Young Presidents’ Organization. I came back from speaking in Barcelona at the YPO Global Conference.
Everyone that I met over there who was an entrepreneur struggled with school. I have 18 out of the 19 signs of attention deficit disorder diagnosed. This thing right here is freaking me out. It’s probably why I’m a little bit panicked right now other than all the caffeine that I’ve had and the sugar, but this is creepy for an entrepreneur.
Attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder, do you know that bipolar disorder is nicknamed the CEO disease? Ted Turner’s got it. Steve Jobs has it. All three of the founders of Netscape had it. I go on and on. You can see these signs in kids and what we’re doing is we’re giving them Ritalin and saying, “Don’t be an entrepreneurial type. Fit into this other system and try to become a student.”
I’m sorry. Entrepreneurs aren’t students. We fast track. We figure out the game. I stole essays. I cheated on exams. I hired kids to do my accounting assignments in university for thirteen consecutive assignments but as an entrepreneur, you don’t do accounting. You hire accountants. I figured that out earlier. At least, I can admit I cheated in university. Most of you won’t.
I’ve told the person who wrote the textbook, I’m now quoted in that exact same university textbook in every Canadian university and college studies in Managerial Accounting. I’m in chapter eight. I open up chapter eight talking about budgeting and I told the author after they did my interview that I cheated in that same course and she thought it was too funny to not include it anyway. With kids, you can see these signs in them.
The definition of an entrepreneur is a person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk of a business venture. That doesn’t mean you have to go to an MBA program. It doesn’t mean you have to get through school. It means that those few things have to feel right in your gut. We’ve heard those things about, is it nurture or is it nature? Is it Thing 1 or Thing 2? What is it? I don’t think it’s either. I think it can be both.
I was groomed as an entrepreneur. When I was growing up as a young kid, I had no choice because I was taught at a very early young age. When my dad realized I wasn’t going to fit into everything else that was being taught to me in school, he could teach me to figure out business at an early age. He groomed the three of us to hate the thought of having a job and to love the fact of creating companies where we could employ other people.
My first little business venture, I was seven years old. I was in Winnipeg and I was lying in my bedroom with one of those long extension cords and I was calling all of the dry cleaners in Winnipeg to find out how much would the dry cleaners pay me for coat hangers. My mom came into the room and she said, “Where are you going to get the coat hangers to sell to the dry cleaners?” I said, “Let’s go and look in the basement.”
We went down to the basement and I opened up this cupboard and there were about 1,000 coat hangers that I’d collected because when I told her I was going out to play with the kids, I was going door to door in the neighborhood to collect coat hangers to put in the basement to sell. They used to pay you $0.02 per coat hanger. I was like, “There are all kinds of coat hangers so I’ll just go get them.” I knew she wouldn’t want me to go get them so I did it anyway.
I learned that you could negotiate with people. This one person offered me $0.03 and I got him up to $0.035. I even knew at a seven-year-old age that I could get a fractional percent of a cent and people would pay that because it multiplied up. At seven years old, I figured out I got $0.035 for 1,000 coat hangers. I sold license plate protectors door to door. My dad made me go find someone who had sold me these things at wholesale and at nine years old, I walked around in the city of Sudbury selling license plate protectors door-to-door to houses.
I remember this one customer so vividly. I also did some other stuff with these clients. I sold newspapers, and he wouldn’t buy a newspaper from me ever but I was convinced I was going to get him to buy a license plate protector. He’s like, “We don’t need one.” Remember, I’m nine years old. I’m like, “You have two cars and they don’t have license plate protectors.” He said, “I know.”
I said, “This car here’s got one license plate that’s all crumpled up.” He said, “That’s my wife’s car.” I said, “Why don’t we test one on the front of your wife’s car and see if it lasts longer?” I knew there were two cars with two license plates on each. If I couldn’t sell all four, I could at least get one. I learned that at a young age.
I did comic book arbitrage. When I was about ten years old, I sold comic books at our cottage on Georgian Bay and I would go biking up to the end of the beach and buy all the comics from the poor kids. I would then go back to the other end of the beach and sell them to the rich kids but it was obvious to me. Buy low, sell high. You got this demand over here that has money. Don’t try to sell to the poor kids. They don’t have cash. The rich people do. Go get some.
That’s obvious. It’s like a recession. There’s a recession. There’s still $13 trillion circulating in the US economy. Go get some of that. I learned that at a young age. I also learned don’t reveal your source because I got beat up after about four weeks of doing this because one of the rich kids found out where I was buying my comics from and he didn’t like the fact he was paying a lot more.
I was forced to get a paper route at ten years old. I didn’t want a paper route but at ten, my dad said, “That’s going to be your next business.” Not only would he get me 1, but I had to get 2 and then he wanted me to hire someone to deliver half the papers, which I did. I realized that collecting tips was where you made all the money. I would collect the tips and get payment.
I would go and collect all the papers. He could deliver them because then I realized I could make money. By this point, I was not going to be an employee. My dad owned an automotive and industrial repair shop and he had all these old automotive parts lying around and they had this old brass and copper. I asked him what he did with it and he said he throws it out.
I said, “Wouldn’t somebody pay you for that?” He goes, “Maybe.” Many years ago, I saw an opportunity in this stuff. I saw there was money in the garbage and I was collecting it from all the automotive shops in the area on my bicycle. My dad would drive me on Saturdays to a scrap metal recycler where I got paid. I thought that was cool.
Strangely enough, many years later, we’re building 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and making money off that too. I built these little pin cushions when I was eleven years old in Cubs and we made these pin cushions for our moms for Mother’s Day. You made these pin cushions out of wooden clothes pins. We used to hang clothes on clotheslines outside and you’d make these chairs and I had these little pillows that I would sew up and you could stuff pins in them because people used to sew and they needed a pin cushion.
However, what I realized was that you had to have options. I spray-painted a whole bunch of them brown and then when I went to the door, it wasn’t, “Do you want to buy one?” It was like, “Which color would you like?” I’m ten years old. You’re not going to say no to me, especially if you have two options. You have the brown one or the clear one. I learned that lesson at a young age.
I learned that manual labor sucks. Cutting lawns is brutal but because I had to cut lawns all summer for all of our neighbors and get paid to do that, I realized that recurring revenue from one client is amazing. If I land this client once and every week, I get paid by that person, that’s way better than trying to sell one clothespin thing to one person because you can’t sell them more.
I love that recurring revenue model I started to learn at a young age. Remember, I was being groomed to do this. I was not allowed to have jobs. I would caddie. I’d go to the golf course and caddie for people but I realized that there was this one hill on our golf course, the 13th hole that had this huge hill, and people could never get their bags up at.
I would sit there with a lawn chair and carry up all the people who didn’t have caddies. I would carry their golf bags up to the top and they’d pay me $1. Meanwhile, my friends were working for five hours to haul some guy’s bag around and get paid $10. I’m like, “That’s stupid.” It’s because you have to work for five hours. That doesn’t make any sense. You figure out a way to make more money faster.
Every week, I would go to the corner store and buy all these pops and I would go up and deliver them to these 70-year-old women playing bridge. They’d give me their orders for the following week. I’d deliver pop and I’d charge twice. I had this captured market. You didn’t need contracts. You needed to have a supply and demand and this audience you bought into. These women weren’t going to go to anybody else because they liked me and I figured it out.
I went and got golf balls from golf courses but everybody else was like, “Lucky looking in the bush and looking in the ditches for golf balls.” I’m like, “Screw that. They’re all in the pond,” and nobody’s going into the pond. I would go into the ponds, crawl around, and pick them up with my toes. I pick them up with both feet. You get the golf balls and then you throw them in your bathing suit trunks. When you’re done, you got a couple hundred of them.
However, the problem is that people didn’t want all the golf balls so I packaged them. I’m twelve. I packaged them up three ways. I had the Pinnacles and DDHs and the cool ones back then. Those sold for $2 each and then I had all the good ones that didn’t look crappy. They were $0.50 each and then I’d sell 50 at a time of all the crappy ones and they could use those for practice balls.
I sold sunglasses when I was in school to all the kids in high school. This is what gets everybody hating you because you’re trying to extract money from all your friends all the time but it paid the bills. I sold lots and lots of sunglasses and then when the school shut me down, the school called me into the office and told me I couldn’t do it.
I went to the gas stations and I sold lots of them to the gas stations and had the gas stations sell them to their customers. That was cool because then I had retail outlets and I was fourteen. I paid my entire way through my first-year university at Carleton by selling wineskins door-to-door. Do you know that you can hold a 40-ounce bottle of rum and two bottles of coke in a wineskin? So what?
However, when you stuff that down your shorts when you go into a football game, you can get booze in for free. Everybody bought them. Supply and demand, a big opportunity. I also branded it. I sold them for five times the normal cost. I had our university logo on it. We teach our kids and we buy them games, but why don’t we get them games that nurture the traits that you need to be entrepreneurs? Why don’t you teach them not to waste money?
I remember being told to walk out into the middle of a street in Banff Alberta because I’d thrown a penny out in the street and my dad said, “Go pick it up.” He said, “I worked too damn hard for my money. I’m not going to see you ever waste a penny.” I remember that lesson to this day. Allowances teach kids the wrong habits. Allowances by nature are teaching kids to think about a job. An entrepreneur doesn’t expect a regular paycheck.
Allowance is breeding kids at a young age to expect a regular paycheck. That’s wrong, for me, if you want to raise entrepreneurs. What I do with my kids now is teach them to walk around the house in the yard looking for stuff that needs to get done. Come to me and tell me what it is or I’ll come to them and say, “Here’s what I need to be done.” Do you know what we do? We negotiate. They go around looking for what it is, but then we negotiate on what they’re going to get paid. They don’t have a regular check, but they have more opportunities to find more stuff and they learn the skill of negotiating. They learn the skill of finding opportunities as well.
You breed that kind of stuff. Each of my kids has two piggy banks. 50% of all the money that they earn or get gifted, 50% goes into their house account, and 50% goes into their toy account. Anything in their toy account, they can spend on whatever they want. The 50% that goes into their house account every six months goes to the bank. They walk up with me. Every year, all the money in the bank goes to their broker. Both my kids have a stockbroker.
However, I’m teaching them to force that savings habit. It drives me crazy that 30-year-olds are saying, “Maybe I’ll start contributing to my IRSP now.” You’ve missed 25 years. You can teach those habits to young kids when they don’t even feel the pain yet. Don’t read them bedtime stories every night. Maybe 4 nights out of the week read them bedtime stories, and 3 nights of the week have them tell stories.
Why don’t you sit down with kids and give them four items like a red shirt, a blue tie, a kangaroo, and a laptop and have them tell a story about those four things? My kids do that all the time. It teaches them to sell. It teaches them creativity. It teaches them to think on their feet. Do that kind of stuff and have fun with it. Get kids to stand up in front of groups and talk. Even if it’s just standing up in front of friends and doing plays and speeches. Those are entrepreneurial traits that you want to be nurturing.
Show the kids what bad customers or bad employees look like. Show them the grumpy employees. When you see grumpy customer service, point that out to them. You say, “By the way, that guy’s a crappy employee,” and say, “These ones are good ones.” If you go into a restaurant and you have bad customer service, show them what bad customer service looks like.
We have all these lessons in front of us but we don’t take those opportunities. We teach kids to go get a tutor. Imagine if you took all the kids’ junk that’s in the house right now, all the toys that they have outgrown years ago, and said, “Why don’t we start selling some of this on Craigslist and Kijiji?” They can sell it and learn how to find scammers when they get email offers come in. They can come into your account or a subaccount or whatever, but teach them how to fix the price.
Guess the price. Pull up the logos or the photos. Teach them how to do that stuff and make money. Of the money they get, 50% goes into their house account, and 50% goes into their toy account. My kids love this stuff. Some of the entrepreneurial traits that you got to nurture in kids are attainment, tenacity, leadership, introspection, interdependence, and values. All these traits, you can find in young kids and you can help nurture them. Look for that stuff.
There are two traits that I want you to also look out for that we don’t get out of their system. Don’t medicate kids for attention deficit disorder unless it is freaking bad. It’s the same with the whole thing on mania, stress, and depression unless it is so clinically brutal. Bipolar disorder is nicknamed the CEO disease. When Steve Jurvetson, Jim Clark, and Jim Barksdale have all got it and they built Netscape, imagine if they were given Rita
Al Gore would have had to have invented the internet. These skills are the skills that we should be teaching in the classroom as well as everything else. I’m not saying don’t get kids to want to be lawyers, but how about getting entrepreneurship to be ranked right up there with the rest of them as well because there are huge opportunities in that?