My dad made important health policy decisions for the federal government for 40 years. He rose to the role of a federal senior executive before he retired a couple of years ago. I always thought of him as an incredibly hard worker but not as a businessman. When some of his peers were headed to the golf course in the throes of retirement, he launched a second career running a small hobby farm, supporting my mom and her small business, and co-founded a non-profit organization providing educational support to children in Tanzania. Initially a surprise to all of us kids, in retrospect, none of us should have been shocked because he always had that internal hustle that doesn't just go away--even now when he's far away from the office.
I believe my dad is similar to a lot of men. A commitment to their families and communities drives them to focus and work hard. And, it's that sense of commitment that requires other things like stability and job security. For this reason, my guess is that there are many men out there who might be feeling unfulfilled in their 9-to-5 office jobs, but they worry about balancing the demands of entrepreneurship with family commitments. They dream of starting a business and being their own boss but don't know how to get started.
If you're one of those ambitious and talented dads that has thought about starting something new, these 4 dadpreneurs might just inspire you to take the leap. Here are their stories about what inspires them and what advice they'd offer to other dads thinking of starting a business.
Michael Barnett was dissatisfied with the lack of enrichment classes available to his two young children. So, he and his wife sought to create a play-based program that redefined early education and entertainment to include music, art, cooking, science, and dance classes. Michael did just that by founding Romp n' Roll, a modernized kids gym that offers a variety of fun and educational classes, camps and birthday parties. First seen on Shark Tank, there are now 85 international locations and eight open in the U.S.
What inspired you to start your business?
My kids! When my wife and I started the business 12 years ago, our children were participating in various enrichment classes but, as parents, we felt that we could create a business which offered a wider variety of classes at a higher quality than what was out there. We built our entire business from the perspective of what play-based education programs we wanted for our own kids.
Additionally, we realized that this is a type of business that would constantly be in demand--parents are never going to stop seeking out enrichment opportunities for their children. Our understanding and desire to improve upon this segment of the early education industry allowed us to perfect the intersection of education and entertainment with our concept, Romp n' Roll, which is a modernized kids gym that offers fun and educational classes, camps and birthday parties for children ages 3 months to 5 years. Our ultimate goal is to provide a well-designed curriculum that allows children to learn while they play, which is what we had always wanted to be available for our own children.
Paul Zane Pilzer is an economist, social entrepreneur, professor, public servant, and the New York Times bestselling author of 11 books. Pilzer has started and/or taken public six companies in K-12 education and health benefits with a market capitalization of approximately $1 billion. With his kids as the inspiration, he has now created Zaniac, an after-school Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education national franchise that uses peer-based learning to teach kids about science and technology through video games, LEGOs and other engaging ways to learn. The company has 10 campuses nationwide and plans for 50 by 2017.
How has being a dad impacted the way you've shaped Zaniac?
As an economist before I founded Zaniac, I was concerned about the market and the millions of people out there. The moment I became a father, every face suddenly got a name. In the past, I've built multiple education companies for millions of students. After having kids, I didn't care about anyone but my daughter and three sons. Everything we do at Zaniac is built toward the individual student, and it's because of my experience as a dad that made me realize each customer is a unique individual.
As a father of two under five-years-old, Brian Bodenski knew the struggles of trying to entertain and keep his children still during a haircut. It wasn't until he had enough of the squirming and tears that he entered a Snip-its salon, a 63-unit kids hair and entertainment concept with animated gadgets, games, and a character-filled environment. Bodenski now owns three salons in Ohio.
What advice would you offer to other dads out there who are thinking of starting a business?
There are a few things I would tell another dadpreneur. Number one, I would research and come up with 20 ideas before deciding on one that fits. I always give the rule of 20. When one of your ideas gets serious, really take the time to explore all aspects of the business. Talk to as many people as you can, whether that's current franchisees or corporate [personnel]. The next piece of advice I would give is just to do it. You always hear friends and family saying, "Yeah, I was going to open a Jimmy Johns but never did." If you don't follow through with your idea, someone else is going to. It's all about taking that leap of faith. Even though everything seems perfect, you sometimes cannot predict failure, but I can tell you that every successful person in this world had to take that chance to become successful. Lastly, surround yourself with good people. Even if we're talking about your attorney, financial advisor, manager, it doesn't matter. You will be more successful in your business if you are close to other driven people.
It was the kind of horrific incident that gives parents nightmares: Howard Berkowitz's son was found face-down in the water in their backyard pool. Thankfully, Howard was able to get to his son in time but the incident convinced him to look for a business that taught children not only swimming strokes but water survival. Howard invested in British Swim School, the pioneer of a non-traditional infant and toddler water safety program and now owns 10 locations.
How has fatherhood changed the focus in your career?
British Swim School gives me the opportunity to teach my kids the rewards of business, leadership skills, and accountability. As a father, I am able to make my children a part of this business and help them understand what it means to have integrity in what we're doing. At British Swim School, we are handed extreme responsibility, and I'm so thankful that my kids are alongside me to grow into the successful entrepreneurs I know they can be.
Any advice for the other dads and aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
Lead by example and have strong integrity and work ethic. Start a business that gives you the opportunity to teach your own children how to run the shop themselves. Setting your children up for success in life is one of the most important duties of fatherhood and, by opening your own business, you're creating a real-life learning opportunity for them.
Lastly, before investing in a new business venue, make sure the rewards are there. Having personal satisfaction that comes from your business is a feeling like none other, and you can't fake that. You shouldn't have to convince yourself to be passionate about the brand. At the end of the day, it should be something you resonate with.
When I think about my dad and my husband (father to my own three kids,) the thing I want most for them is the thing I want for all of us--a fulfilling life that includes the professional satisfaction that comes with knowing that you have a positive impact on your family, community, and the world. So, if you're one of those dads celebrating Father's Day and thinking about what's next in your career, reflect on these dad's stories and what might be possible in your life.