When I was a kid, I listened to a lot of conversations about business. 

Each night, after my dad would come home and settle in at the dinner table, he would relate his latest adventures at the office and tell stories about the characters who populated his working day.

Maybe I caught the bug from listening to my dad. Or maybe it was a book I read or movie I watched. Whatever the source of inspiration, I somehow -- at the age of 12 -- decided I wanted to start my own business.

One of the first ventures I launched was a fishing tournament I organized for the kids in my neighborhood. Whoever caught the largest fish, or the most fish by weight, would be declared the winner. 

I can't recall exactly how much I charged as the entry fee, but it was most likely in the $1 -- $2 range. I figured that wouldn't take a big bite out of their limited budgets.

That was my revenue source (even if I didn't know what to call it at the time).

The prize? A handful of fishing supplies: Plastic worms and other artificial lures and paraphernalia that fishermen use to attract fish to their hook.

At the time, I didn't think I was doing anything out of the ordinary. I was just trying my hand at something I thought might be fun and could earn me some extra spending cash. 

Here are some lessons I learned from that first attempt at launching a business:

1. How to start something (without worrying about failure)

When I started my business venture, I didn't worry about failure. I just plunged ahead and did things that I thought were interesting and fun. I didn't worry about the outcome. 

2. How to make a plan (and execute it)

I don't think I ever documented my "business plan" on paper, and I certainly didn't have the benefit of Powerpoint or Excel at the time (this was a year before my parents bought me my first computer, an Apple II+). But I did have a plan, even if it was all in my head. And I did execute it.

3. How to communicate a compelling value proposition

To entice the boys in my neighborhood to join me for the competition, I had to offer something in return: You pay me a small fee, I told them, and I'll give you the chance to win a prize. That was my value proposition -- and it apparently worked. 

4. How to get others to follow me

Until that fishing tournament, I had either fished with my family (which we did often, since my dad loved to fish), or I fished alone. I had never attempted to convince a group of kids to go fishing. But through this small and completely unintentional experiment in human behavior, I discovered the power of communicating a goal--or a vision--that could motivate people to take action. I persuaded others to follow me. 

5. How to build a brand

I can't recall how I thought of the name of my new "firm", but I do remember what I called it: Leibowitz Enterprises. It looked and sounded as important and business-like as anything I had seen out there in adult world that I grew up in.

And remember: This was way before the advent of LinkedIn and the whole professional networking and "personal branding" craze. Heck, the internet hadn't even been invented yet. I just took ownership of my name, combined it with a word that sounded like I meant business, and opened shop.

6. How to appreciate the value of money

I thought I knew what money was until I realized just how difficult it was to earn it. To my 12-year-old self, money represented an inexhaustible supply of green pieces of paper my parents gave me in exchange for toys, candy, and other essential items of childhood.

While I had done odd jobs in which I exchanged my labor for some quick cash, I had never attempted to earn money by offering a service that I created and delivered for a price. And that's when I began to truly understand just how hard it can be to earn money. 

So what was my profit on that first venture?

$1.00.

The value of the lessons learned? 

Priceless.

Published on: Mar 3, 2016