How to Raise Your Kids to Be Entrepreneurs
If you're reading this article, chances are you're either an entrepreneur or someone who aspires to be one. At the very least, you're intrigued and impressed by the aspirations of entrepreneurship. And while we don't think that entrepreneurship necessarily has to have anything to do with starting and running a business--it's more about the pursuit of opportunity wherever it lies, regardless of what resources you control at the outset--you probably evaluate entrepreneurs in some way based on the success of the start-ups they've launched.
Of course you would. And if you value the ideals of entrepreneurship, chances are you wouldn't mind your kids growing up to become entrepreneurs. In other words, if you can't grow up to become Bill Gates, it's not so bad to be his entrepreneurial father William H. Gates, Sr.
We've had the chance to know, teach, and interview hundreds upon hundreds of successful entrepreneurs over the last decade. And at times we've had the chance to ask them what they think it was about their upbringing that enabled them in the end to pursue the entrepreneurial life. There were many replies, of course, but we identified a few commonalities. If you want to grow your kids into entrepreneurs, be sure that you...
1. Encourage them to have diverse career experiences.
Change is the only constant. It's a lesson that many of the top entrepreneurs we talked with learned early in life. Their jobs never became their identities, because they had held many different jobs. From the Hollywood producer who had been in the public storage business to the Internet pioneer who had been a Navy flight officer, we found one entrepreneur after another for whom taking the plunge with a start-up wasn't such a dramatic move, simply because he or she had been through many other plunges before.
2. Encourage them to have diverse academic experiences.
It's a common fallacy among non-entrepreneurs that in order to succeed with a new business, you have to be the most knowledgeable player in an industry. But that's not the case at all. What you need instead, is a unique insight that helps you identify a customer need, develop a compelling value proposition, and bring your product to market.
What does that have to do with academic experiences? Simple. The more diverse they are, the more likely you are to have been exposed to customer needs and to develop insights.
3. Play sports, especially those that demand tenacity.
People who run marathons or compete in triathlons probably are tenacious and stay motivated even when external encouragement or rewards don't come easily. It's hard to find a better description of the personal characteristics necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur.
4. Buffer them from too much anxiety.
One entrepreneur we know well grew up watching his father's significant business success. What he never knew about was how many times his father nearly lost everything.
"My dad initially struggled for the first couple years," he told us, "but I had no idea."
It wasn't until years later, when he read a newspaper article about his father, that he learned how close he'd come to calling it quits and taking a job as a shoe salesman or working in a 7-Eleven. "I had no idea my dad was thinking about these things [because] he had to put food on the table."
5. Teach them to embrace luck.
At the same time, Lady Luck gets a vote in the success or failure of any entrepreneurial venture. So if you can teach your kids to embrace the idea of uncertain outcomes, they're probably more likely to succeed in a world full of variables.
"There's a tremendous amount of luck that determines how successful you'll be," one entrepreneur told us. "But if you're oriented to be the sort of person who's proactive and learns to manage your fear, I think you're going to be successful. I don't think being lucky brings success; it just influences the magnitude."
JON BURGSTONE | Columnist | Professor, UC Berkeley
Jon Burgstone was co-founder of SupplierMarket, acquired by Ariba for $1.1B. He now teaches at Berkeley, where he helped launch the Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology. He is co-author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship.
BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist
Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.