How do you raise 1.2 million dollars in only a couple years? Just ask nine-year-old social good superhero and entrepreneurial powerhouse Dylan Siegel. At age six, the then-to-be author, philanthropist, merchandiser, chocolate connoisseur, and all around boss got it in his head that he would raise some money for his best friend's rare disease by writing a book. Per his own creativity, Dylan's effort quickly turned into a seven-figure fundraising collection of bracelets, hair ties, Hershey's chocolate bars and books while sparking a global movement of kids and families creating their own ways to do the same.
When I interviewed Dylan and his dad Dan on Innovation Crush, we enjoyed some chocolate, and talked about everything from dealing with the press to schoolwork, parental support, public speaking, creating a global movement and everything in between.
Here are a few takeaways from the conversation:
1. Find a reason bigger than yourself.
Dylan decided to write and sell a book in effort to raise money for his friend Jonah's disease, Glycogen Storage Disease (GSD) Type Ib, affecting literally one in a million. Today Dylan is fluent in all things GSD, intelligently spewing facts about how children born with this disease lack the liver enzyme that turns glycogen into glucose, rendering them unable to regulate their blood sugar levels. Untreated, their blood sugar can drop dangerously low, resulting in severe hypoglycemia, seizures, and even death.
One evening Dylan had the idea to write a book, and the next morning he threw a finished, full-color manuscript called "Chocolate Bar" on his parents bed, ready for publishing. We may not all have the audacious goal of curing a rare disease, but somewhere in the heap of ideas we pursue, lay an opportunity to find deeper meanings for the dreams we have and goals we set accomplish them.
2. Publicly declare your goal.
After selling his first couple hundred books at a school-organized give back day, Dylan was brought up on stage to be honored for his effort. When a school leader asked him what he wanted to do next, he blurted "I want to raise a million dollars!"
You can just see the coffee flying from his parents' mouths in the back of the room as the words "million" and "dollars" left Dylan's lips. But remembering Dylan's relentless pursuit of writing the book, they knew Dylan wasn't messing around. Since that surprise announcement, he's been interviewed by Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams, People Magazine, and even . lil' old me
When we start to tell other people about our dreams, we create a certain level of public expectation. Yes, we may open the door to ridicule or failure or haters, but we also open the door to supporters, and resources, and an amplified personal sense of accountability. Most importantly, we unknowingly give permission to others to pursue their own great ideas as well.
3. Use the resources closest to you.
Luckily for Dylan, his dad worked in marketing, and they also had a family friend who owned a printing business. So when the idea to publish "Chocolate Bar" was born, some brain power and production resources were very nearby. Whether internally at a large corporation, or our baby steps as first-time entrepreneurs, it's easy for us to feel like we're burdening our friends, colleagues and others with our cockamamie, head-in-the-clouds business ideas. We feel like we need to go "out there" to journey into the wild alone in order to get stuff done. But with some good story telling (highlighting the bigger-than-yourself piece), some practical business thinking, and a winning smile, we allow ourselves to be surprised and delighted at how many people actually want to help us. This is how movements are born--a few excited and interested people heading in the same direction, each pulling in an idea or resource of his/her own along the way.
Think D-Money was all about books? Well you're wrong! Over the time that Dylan raised his millions, he created branded wristbands, hair ties, phone covers, t-shirts, and more ... and even signed a deal with Hershey's. 30,000 books sold all over the world, and a suite of products to boot (he also discusses his brilliant vision for a mobile app during the interview), and "Chocolate Bar" is officially a viable brand of its own. Keep in mind, though, that he wouldn't have gotten there without the laser focus and attention to detail on his original vision--writing a book. Without a good book, and a good personal story behind it, the other opportunities might not have panned out the same way.
5. Stay a kid.
Dylan's now nine years old. He loves video games. His parents stay on him about his grades. He plays sports. He has siblings and chores and friends, and the list goes on. Every day we have the opportunity--and the obligation, quite frankly--to see the world with a child-like naiveté. Remember all the ridiculous things you'd do as a kid, with no (common) sense of the danger or consequences you could face? And look, you turned out alright! Dylan obviously did not know the all the how's of what's he wanted to accomplish, nor was he thinking about what he did or didn't have to see it through. He just went for it.
Go for it.
Listen to the full interview below: