This is the first part in an ongoing series where I talk about my history in business, starting all the way back when I was a child to now, my mid-forties. I already wrote part “zero” right here, so you should read that first if you haven’t yet to get some context.

Here we go, part one…

As I talk about in my primary book, I was raised in a financially strapped, lower-middle-class family. My dad, a psychologist, worked for the state government with a low income, and then later started his own counseling business, still at very low income when I was younger. He supported five children, of which I was the oldest, plus my mom, a stay-at-home wife. (Back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, low income men could actually do that. Today it’s impossible because of our slowly collapsing currency and economy.)

Things were very tight. All of us kids wore cheap hand-me-down clothing, we ate the cheapest food my mom could buy at the grocery store, and we virtually never went out to eat at restaurants, even fast food ones. My childhood was spent asking my mom for certain toys and listening to her complain that she couldn’t afford it, even if the toy I wanted was just two dollars.

I quickly determined that if I wanted money, I was going to have to get it myself, since clearly my parents weren’t going to do it. (Many years later, my dad would indeed become financially successful with his business, but I was already moved out of the house by then.)

The first business I remember starting was when I was eight years old. It was selling newspapers about whales and sharks to the other kids in my class. Whales and sharks were cool to little kids, myself included. I would get big stacks of newspapers either for free (some of them were free!) or for 10 cents each, using pennies and other scraps my parents would give me for my allowance.

I would call up all the kids in my class the evening before and let them know I was going to sell these newspapers to them the very next morning, in class, right after the pledge of allegiance, and to ensure that their parents would give them some change to bring to school so they could buy my newspapers.

The next day, I would sell all or most of the newspapers I brought to class at 25 cents each, a 150% profit (or infinite profit when they were free). I would come home with over a handful of shiny quarters, which back in 1980 was a decent amount of money for a kid.

I would run home, run into my room, lock my door to keep my younger siblings out, and pour all the quarters into a small pile in my bed. Then I would just lay on my bed, staring at them. It was about five dollars in quarters, more money than I had ever seen in my life. It was so exciting! And so… easy! It would have taken me an entire year of begging my mother to give me five dollars, and yet here it was, after just one day of work.

I knew that if I made this money, I could make more.

Thus motivated, I proceeded to do all kinds of things in order to make money, like:

– I continued to sell different kinds of fun newspapers to the kids in my class.

– I secretly sold bubble gum to the kids on the playground like some kind of kid drug dealer (gum was not allowed in my Catholic school). I would just buy packs of gum at the store for 25 cents, unwrap it, then sell each piece for 10-25 cents each, easily quadrupling or quintupling my money.

– At age 9 or 10, I started going around my neighborhood selling Christmas cards to all the moms. I would sell them in September, deliver them in November, and make as much as $100(!) in profit once the orders were fulfilled.

– Later, as I got bigger, I started mowing lawns for various people in the neighborhood, and later this became moving construction debris on residential sites for local contractors. Sometimes I would make as much as $50 a day. Again, this was a shitload of money for a kid in the 80’s, or at least it felt like it to me at the time.

– Then I started babysitting kids on my street. Babysitting was considered a job for girls, but I wanted money so I didn’t care. I did that for many years.

– Finally, at age 10, after what seemed like years of begging, I got my first computer for my birthday, a $40 TI-99/4A my parents could barely afford. I immediately got to work on it, playing games, learning BASIC, and learning how to type fast. A few years later, I convinced my dad to let me do data entry at his small business and to pay me hourly, which he reluctantly agreed to do after I begged him for six months. Being a stressed out Alpha Male 1.0, my dad fired me and re-hired me three different times for various mistakes I made, but I didn’t care… just as long as I was getting paid.

– By age 12 I was selling snacks and computer disks to all the hackers at local computer gatherings, where these guys would bring in their Commodore 64’s and Commodore Amigas and illegally hack-copy games so they could distribute them them to each other.

– At age 14 I was working for my local science center. Unfortunately, it was a volunteer job so there was no pay, but I knew that if I worked there for at least a year, it would look good on my resume. This way, I figured, the split second I turned 18, I could move out of my parent’s house and get my own place and own job without having to go to college. College seemed like huge a waste of time to me; I wanted to make money, not do fucking homework. Why do homework that won’t matter in a few years when I can instead work full-time, get paid, and improve my resume with real-life work experience?

As it turned out, I was right on all counts, but I’ll talk about that in the next installment.

18 Comments on “The Story of My History In Business – Part 1 – Kid Entrepreneur

  1. That’s a cool article! Looking forward to this series.

    This tendency is very common. When you grow up in a poor household you become more driven. And conversely, when you’re spoiled as a kid you tend to be lazier as an adult (see spoiled Millennials).

    Now I wonder how your siblings are. Do they have a similar work ethic? Are some of them successful entrepreneurs like you?

  2. Hey Caleb,

    I recall than in one of your old SublimeYourTime posts you said that you maintained a Life Manual that contained actionable information that you had read. Could you make it available for the readers?

  3. Looking foward to this series!! You were quite the entrepreneur since young age.

    The only business I remember doing when I was a child was selling a few pokemon stickers to some kids in elementary school, but it was only sporadically.

  4. Yep I never went to college and so far turned out great.  I took tech school classes in design, java, video editing, photography, marketing etc and got 2 associate degrees for a total cost of about $4k over 3 part time years of night classes.   Most important talent i learned was having a good portfolio and clients that I provided tons of value for.  I would go into small businesses and sell myself as their one man ad agency.  Eventually a startup hired me and moved me to California 9 years ago.  I’ve been advancing ever since.  Love working!

  5. Now I wonder how your siblings are. Do they have a similar work ethic? Are some of them successful entrepreneurs like you?

    Including one brother I didn’t grow up with, I have a total of five siblings. Of the five, one is a successful entrepreneur in terms of income, though with a lot of problems and chaos (one of my sisters), one is a moderately successful entrepreneur and partially retired (one of my brothers). All the rest or more or less normal in the financial regard.

    I recall than in one of your old SublimeYourTime posts you said that you maintained a Life Manual that contained actionable information that you had read. Could you make it available for the readers?

    Unlikely. The legal aspects may get me in trouble, and even if they didn’t, that document is worth thousands upon thousands of dollars… not something I would give away for free. (And if I charged money for it, again, there may be legal ramifications.)

    Love working!

    So do I!

  6. I was a kid coin collector.  There were several banks within biking distance.  I’d take my money and buy rolls of dimes, quarters or half dollars.  In the 70s/80s you could still find a few silver ones in each roll.  I’d carefully slide the copper clad ones back in the roll and sell them to the next bank.  It was pure profit, and since I thought I was doing something sneaky it was exciting.

    I still have a pretty large collection from those days.  So if money ever dies…

  7. Cool ideas!  I had lots of business ideas as a kid but didn’t usually make much money, or understand the profit side of things.

    I would call up all the kids in my class the evening before and let them know I was going to sell these newspapers to them the very next morning, 

    I remembering writing a newspaper when I was a kid and selling it, but could never figure out how to make copies (pre-Kinkos era).  I also had a lending library where I made money on late fees, which lasted until my Dad starting missing his magazines.  The lemonade stands never made enough money to warrant a 2nd day haha. And I did sell vegetables from the garden a few times to neighbors, though didn’t have enough vegetables to sell on a regular basis. And of course, I invested a lot of time and money in baseball cards!

    After getting to junior high, for some reason I don’t remember, I stopped working on business ideas – until after college, when my interest was reignited by get-rich, internet schemes and a desire for freedom.

     

  8. Hey BD do you have any advice for people that don’t have the same passion for business like you? I often hear from successful entrepreneurs how they started at a very young age. But what if you are not that passionate about this stuff and it feels more like a chore and means to an end. Sure I can do it but it’s a pain in the ass and I’m not as successful as I would be if I loved it like you do.

  9. I recall than in one of your old SublimeYourTime posts you said that you maintained a Life Manual that contained actionable information that you had read. 

    Yeah I remember that too. It was here: http://www.sublimeyourtime.com/2012/03/26/how-to-retain-the-information-you-read/

    When I read about the “life manual with the best parts of all the books I have read” I thought “wow, that is something I would certainly pay for”.

  10. Awesome read! The only thing similar that I did was auction off the school lunch that my parents made for me when I was in junior high. I made about $4-5 per day, good times. Spent most of it on video games and music. I bought a LOT of my favorite games and music I still listen to and play to this day.

    I didn’t have the epiphany of ditching college for work experience like you did however. Nah, I was sucked in to the high school of mentality of “the cool kids go to college. You want to be one of the cool kids, right? RIGHT??” Even had teachers and other school authorities saying that if you DON’T go to college after high school it increases the chance of you going to prison or something. Insanity, man. I questioned everything around me except that. Didn’t help that most of the hardcore punk bands I listened to had lead singers who got master’s degrees at 25 so I foolishly thought that I could be like them.

  11. Ahhh memories, I still have a fresh image of my first childhood business. I would sell handmade pictures, it was awesome, until a teacher in my grade thought that I was scamming other little kids. Apparently she tought that it was to early to learn the benefits of free markets, but not about shitty regulations.

  12. Hey BD do you have any advice for people that don’t have the same passion for business like you? I often hear from successful entrepreneurs how they started at a very young age. But what if you are not that passionate about this stuff and it feels more like a chore and means to an end.

    You have two choices:

    1. Set your goals accordingly; in other words, lower them. If you hate work and hate business (or don’t hate it but find it a tedious chore), then set your goals lower than you “think” they should be. Instead of thinking you need to make a six-figure income or make bazillions of dollars or whatever, just set a goal to make $75K a year, or even $70K, and just stop when you hit that. That’s not hard.

    2. Look inward and find something that does turn you on. Everyone has something. I know this can be hard for certain personality types though.

  13. AnonDude: given that you’re on this blog you’re likely already doing this but if not… I’ve found applying even THE most basic time management can work like magic when it comes to Just Getting Shit Done, especially shit that you don’t really feel great about doing. When you’re about to start on something, setting a timer for 45 minutes (sometimes 30 minutes if you really find the work a slog) makes even the most tedious task fly by, but it also encourages you not to sink too much time into pure recreation as well (either way, that time goes faaast).

    For me, in a weird way, this makes it so much easier to just get started on the not-fun stuff, and to make myself STOP before I overindulge on the leisure stuff. And it helps focus for EVERYTHING (I generally have awful focus so for me this is solid gold).

  14. Great stories man!  When I was a kid I would sell my old toys out in the front yard.  I would wait for garage sales to pop up on the block and then go hit people up as they came out to come check out my wares haha.  It worked most times too!

  15. Everyone has something. I know this can be hard for certain personality types though.

     

    Yeah..tell me about it. I have been struggling to find my true mission. I have a general idea and have made some progress recently but it’s still a bit unclear. Thanks for the advice and answering the comments here in general. Not everyone does that.

    AnonDude: given that you’re on this blog you’re likely already doing this but if not… 

    Thanks man. Yeah I am using a timer when I work and it does help to keep things focused. The problem is when you are not that passionate about what you do as a whole and are not just going through a lazy day or two. There is only so much time management can do for you if you don’t love what you do. That being said timers are awesome and I should definitely use them more on leisure stuff since I do tend to get carried away sometimes.

  16. I just remembered something else I did to make money as a kid. Because I was a latch key kid, I needed to learn how to cook for myself. My mother showed me how to make hamburgers, so after playing with the rest of the kids in my neighborhood, I would make hamburgers (only up to 2 at a time, this way my mother wouldn’t think I was up to something) and would sell them to kids for a dollar lol.

    Despite being in a (kind of) broken home, I liked my childhood and even most of my adolescence. It was high school and especially my 20s where everything started to suck.

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