[Originally posted on The Wall Street Journal June 13th 2013]
I’ve had the unique experience of being an entrepreneur for the majority of my life, even before co-founding NativeX. I launched my first e-marketing site with my brothers when I was 16 and never looked back. A lot of the wisdom that helped get me where I am today came from my father and stepfather—both of whom have entrepreneurial backgrounds in some regard. As such, I’m honored to pass on some of those same lessons to my own kids.
Entrepreneurship is a viable career path. One of the first lessons in becoming a successful entrepreneur is recognizing that it’s actually possible. I’m shocked by the amount of talented and driven people going through life without considering entrepreneurship as a viable option. Uncertainty, fear, and high rates of failure end the journey for many before it’s even started.
In Minnesota, for instance, we’re lucky to have a wide array of Fortune 500 companies like 3M Co., General Mills Inc., and Target Corp. Most young people here are force-fed the notion that success means doing well in school before getting a job at one of these giants. My kids, on the other hand, will have lemonade stands as soon as they’re strong enough to squeeze the lemons. I will drive home the point that there are opportunities out there besides working for someone else. To accept this, there are a few more lessons they need to understand.
Embrace failure and fail upwards. My father’s greatest hobby is nature photography, but it was always unclear how he would convert that content into a business. He tried creating a website for his photos, but it soon ran aground; he was more into art for the sake of art. Yet having tested the waters of website-building for his photography, my father was then able to successfully build out a business using his professional skills as a safety engineer. A popular “safety blog” is now one of his primary sources of income. Similarly, my brother and I have had our share of failed initiatives pivot, over time, into successful businesses.
Anticipate potholes before you run them over. Growing up, my stepfather was another entrepreneurial influence in our household. He was a software developer, but early in his career ran an automotive repair business. He was often telling us about potentially critical things that could have put us out of business. I didn’t even think about paying my taxes when I was a teenage entrepreneur until my step-dad brought it up.
Provide encouragement. Once you know what to do, focus! Work toward being the best at that, and accept that you can’t do it all. You’ll need the help of a team or partners for the other challenges that might take up your time.
Additionally, entrepreneurs-in-training should be open to new ideas and fields of thought. As a kid, I wanted to grow up to become a computer scientist. Though that didn’t pan out, the heavy encouragement I received around math, science and technology wasn’t lost on me. That education shaped my thinking, allowing me to identify opportunities overlooked by others. To that end, I’m encouraging my kids to develop these logical skills. My seven-year old daughter loves dance and will be going to dance camp this summer, but I also have her signed up for a Web-development camp.