Last year, I surveyed more than 100 successful entrepreneurs about their childhoods. The single experience most had in common? They worked as kids, and ran little businesses--like lemonade stands. (Just ask my Inc.com colleague, Gary Vaynerchuk, who says he did the same thing.)
Seriously, what's more American than a kid with a summer lemonade stand?
That's why the Internet reacted with disgust to the recent story (told in a viral Facebook post) of a grown man who tried to intimidate a 13-year-old California girl running a lemonade stand.
Jasmine LaRoche, who lives with her family in a gated community in Discovery Bay, California, set up her lemonade stand near the community's entrance. A "grumpy" neighbor didn't like that, LaRoche's father, Richard, told me, so he threatened her, and pretended to call the police on her for not having a business permit.
What grown person does that to a 13-year-old? And, do you even need a business permit for a lemonade stand? (Apparently not, because when police later did arrive, their response was simply to buy some lemonade.)
LaRoche told the story in the private Facebook group for their community (calling the man "sad and pathetic"). A local TV reporter saw it, and the next thing they knew, Richard and Jasmine were being interviewed for newspapers and riding a limousine to a television studio to appear on Fox News Channel.
Lessons to learn
Nearly all of the comments on the various Facebook posts supported Jasmine, as you might expect, recognizing that a 13-year-old kid who runs a business in the face of a grownup's opposition might have a future ahead of her. So if you're a parent whose kid wants to do something similar this summer--and they can avoid grumpy neighbors--what can you do to maximize the experience for them?
J.J. Ramberg, author of the kids' entrepreneurship book, The Startup Club (she's also the founder of Goodshop and host of MSNBC's Your Business), recently offered advice for parents on how to ensure their kids learn good, long-term lessons when running a summer lemonade stand. Here's what she had to say:
1. Make them pay for the lemons.
"A lot of parents miss a valuable teaching moment when their kids start their first business," Ramberg said. "My sister and I have a rule -- never pass a lemonade stand without buying something. But, I always ask the kids, no matter the age, what are your expenses for this stand. About half of them can answer it. So, bring your kids to the market with you and have them hand over the money to the cashier and then write down how much they've spent on supplies."
2. Put them in charge of pricing.
"Once they have their expenses down, go through some simple math with them to help them figure out how much to charge for the lemonade. This can also be coupled with a conversation on how much people are willing to spend on it. This can turn into a quick and fun lesson on profit and loss," she said.
Ramberg suggests also making sure that the kids make at least some money, even if it means sneaking a few dollars to potential customers yourself. At least the first time out, you want them to have a positive, profitable experience.
3. Encourage them to spend some time on marketing.
"Instead of just letting your child quickly make a sign, frame the process as sales and marketing. You can ask them to look at the signs around your neighborhood and ask which ones stand out the most and why," she suggests.
It's an easy way to get them to start to understand that messaging is as important as the product itself. (Even better if they can take advantage of an unfortunate incident, like Jasmine, and create a social media moment out of it!)
4. Help them divide the profits.
"Like with any business, chances are not everyone is going to work the same amount. So, have your kids think through everyone's role and what percentage of the profits they each deserve," she suggests.
This is a good lesson in being paid for the actual work that you do and in leadership. And, I'll add one more takeaway:
5. No matter what happens, have fun.
For example, Jasmine doesn't exactly seem scarred by her episode (to put it lightly). After the story got out, she reorganized her stand closer to home, and sold a lot more lemonade than she would have if the whole encounter had never happened.
Plus, she got to ride in a limousine and be on television. What 13-year-old wouldn't think that was pretty cool? Looks like she was having fun to me, anyway.