What made you want to start a business? Was it your dream to improve the world? Solve a nagging problem? Make some extra cash? Be your own boss? Whatever it was, it didn’t happen without ambition, consistent and dedicated. For Kayla, my ten year old neighbor, it was purchasing a new ukulele. That simple. I found this neatly typed note on my door last Friday when I returned home from work:
“Hi! I’m Kayla Carson; I’m ten and need money for a new ukulele. I am a hard worker, and will work for any price that you think is worth my work. I will do most odd jobs, including dog walking, window washing, house cleaning (eg. sweeping, dusting, mirror cleaning). I will need you to loan me the supplies for your individual jobs though. Working for you would be great, my goal is to earn about $60 for the ukulele that I want.”
And the resounding response in the neighborhood, “Hired!” She makes it look so easy.
Kayla thought it would take a week to make $10 and had therefore forecast six weeks of work. Little did she know that she would earn $93 by 3pm on Sunday, a 90% increase from her plan in way less time. Not bad for a newcomer to the starup world. But that’s not all. Kayla had strongly impressed her first four clients, placed an order for her ukulele, and decided that even though she’d met her original goal, she would keep working.
“I am too young to get a real job,” she explained. “But I like to get to know people and help them, and now I can buy other things.” Her new goal is to purchase a watch so she can keep track of her even busier schedule. In addition to ukulele lessons, Kayla is learning the piano and drums, dancing, participating in Lego Robotics, and now she has this job.
“But what if the business continues to grow?” I asked her.
“Well, I would get friends to help me, and we would collaborate, and we could split the money,” she explained. “I know I can handle twice as much work by myself, but no more than that.”
So, you Startups out there, what can we learn from this 70-pound bundle of ambition and determination? A ton. According to Nick Hughes, who posted in Mashable, there are five distinct traits a successful founder must possess. How does our little Kayla do?
- Activators find ways to simply get things started and make things happen. Kayla wanted a ukulele, and she wanted to help people. That’s all it took. Little did she know all of her customers would be busy homeowners who could use this type of affordable service.
- Adaptability is a trait found in people who can go with the flow, and knowing things might change, they are still committed to solving the problem. Kayla is a busy kid, and she was hit with unexpected and enthusiastic response to her flier. In between her family obligations, she negotiated with each client and showed up right on time. And she has her back up plan.
- Strategy allows you to quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues, to know how to define the market, position the product, see the bigger, and smaller, picture. While it may have been unintentional, Kayla completed a successful market analysis: she had to stay in the neighborhood travelling only as far as she could walk, she knew what service she could offer, and knew she was too young and inexperienced to set a price – yet. After speaking with the first few neighbors that responded, she quickly realized there was a problem bigger than hers, people needed her, just as much as she needed a ukulele. And now she knows how much we’ll pay.
- Discipline allows you to establish routine and structure and is essential to moving a business forward. Discipline is what forces a founder to fill the calendar with customer based tasks. What is Kayla’s next purchase? A watch. She already knows that in order to manage her busy life, and successful business, she will have to be punctual. She seems to have discipline nipped in the bud.
- Focus is always found in the person who can take a direction, follow through, and make the corrections necessary to stay on track. They prioritize, then act. Kayla has a plan for future growth, a plan for investing future income, and already knows she likes walking dogs the best.
And finally, I’d like to add courage to this list. I asked her, “Was it scary putting 30 fliers on the door at strangers’ homes?”
“Yeah,” she responded. “I’m kind of shy at first, and it made me nervous.” Did it stop her? Obviously not.
“And when you grow up?” I asked.
“I want to be an astronaut,” she said easily, getting ready to go to her next job.
“Okay, so next Sunday, 2pm,” I asked.
“Coolio,” she hollered over her shoulder. And she flew out the door, off to the next star.