Joel Holland was a natural-born entrepreneur--or was he? He had a passion for selling from the start. At the age of three, he started by taking gravel from neighbors' driveways and selling pebbles back to its original owner. To this day, Joel still wonders if his father slipped the neighbors dollar bills so the little merchant felt like he made a sale. When Joel wanted to sell knickknacks from their home, his father helped negotiate with local store owners so his son could set up his table in front of their shops. Once the family moved to a home next to a golf course, Joel began collecting lost golf balls and selling them back to the golfers. His father backed him when the golf course took his little red wagon filled with golf balls. During each of his ventures, Joel's parents were behind him every step of the way, developing this child into the "self-made" millionaire he is today. Joel created a film stock-footage company called VideoBlocks, eventually selling half of it for $10 million.
No entrepreneur is an island. The book Raising an Entrepreneur: 10 Rules for Nurturing Risk Takers, Problem Solvers, and Change Makers by Margot Machol Bisnow is a great primer for parents, managers, and mentors about supporting entrepreneurs and social change agents. It lays out a roadmap for those of us who want to develop initiative and risk-taking in those we care about.
This extraordinary book offers 50 examples of great parenting and mentoring from a woman who should know. She's a widely admired thought leader in Washington D.C. and the parent of two remarkable entrepreneurs, one a musician, Austin Bisnow, and the other, Elliott Bisnow, who founded Summit Series when he was only 22. It's since grown into the country's preeminent venue for young entrepreneurs, artists, activists, non-profit founders, scientists, and other leaders to discuss significant world issues.
The principles Margot Machol Bisnow shares are not just for the entrepreneurial child, but also for parents who want to inspire their children to become confident, self-directed and independent. Three of the insightful principles in the book are:
1. Follow Your Child
Every child at some point comes up with a silly, out-of-the-box idea. What if you followed that idea and provided opportunities so your child could build confidence in their own initiative and effort by helping them turn that idea into a reality? A common theme in the stories of entrepreneurs is parents who encouraged their child's dream, whatever that might be. Supportive parents teach children that their imagination matters and should be resourced, even though it's unlikely that those activities will become a future career. The benefit is that the child learns how to practice perseverance in the face of a challenge, and following their passion gives them a positive incentive to develop grit, determination, and dedication to hard work. Showing initiative and commitment are critical skills kids need to become future leaders, and it takes practice to learn how to make choices. Although they supported their children, they also pushed them to think for themselves and make their own decisions.
This is what children are lacking when parents make all the choices for a kid and obsess over the need for the child to conform or "look good."
Bisnow's book reveals how many parents used hard-earned savings to provide their children the tools they needed to be excellent at their passion, spawning confidence and stick-to-itiveness. These entrepreneurial parents listened carefully to what made their child truly happy, and looked actively for opportunities to bridge between dreams and reality.
2. Teach Them to Fail
Although supportive, our start-up coaching parents didn't prevent their young founders from failure. In fact, they cheered opportunities for their kids to stretch themselves and fail. These teachable moments spurred reassurance that the loss was not the end of the world but an opportunity to improve. When kids realize that there are some things worth losing and others that require greater resolve to win, the stage is set for developing an ability to prioritize. Parents who helped their children strategize and compete found that their kids were more resilient and persistent when things inevitably don't work out on the first try. As parents, we know how hard it is to see your child fail. It takes willpower to step back and let them work it through themselves. But as they say, "It builds character."
Bisnow thinks "it's ironic that perhaps the one thing we did that turned out to be the most useful in shaping our son was something we didn't do: we didn't know enough about tennis to give him guidance in the one area that consumed his life when he was growing up," she smiled. "But we promoted him every step of the way even though it would not be his future profession. Consequently, he took ownership of his choices-whether he won or lost-and he blossomed into the amazing entrepreneur he is today."
Her son, Elliott, agrees, adding how remarkable it was that his parents supported a passion that was his, not theirs. "I learned to trust my own convictions and the value of grit. They gave me the freedom to mess things up, to lose match after match, and to take full ownership of my tennis, while never wavering in their total belief in me."
3. Inspire a Sense of Service
"Find a need and fill it" is all about learning to be of service to others. Demonstrating and applauding opportunities to volunteer celebrates how the child can have impact on others, generating confidence. We all want to have impact; it's habit-forming to feel we made a difference, and it's empowering to start young on that lifelong addiction.
Parenting is the ultimate entrepreneurial act. You can't go into the experience knowing how it will end and there is no magic formula. It's a leap of faith. Like an entrepreneur, you have days you are a great parent and those where you could have done better, but overall you keep searching for that spark of ingenuity that unleashes their greatest ability and creativity. The next generation of entrepreneurs don't have to become Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg--or anyone other than the best possible version of themselves--to have an enormous impact on our world.