Business lessons for kids

Holidays and bedtime stories can be an opportunity to nurture children's instinctive entrepreneurialism, says Faisal Butt.

by Faisal Butt
Last Updated: 26 Sep 2017

Boisterous and unruly. Infinitely curious and serially risk-taking. They do first, ask for permission later. They’re always pushing boundaries, have abysmally poor hygiene, and are constantly in need of more and more cash. Children (ha – I had you fooled) are innately entrepreneurial. Why is this spirit muffled and muted as they grow older? The way I see it, every child is born a ‘million dollar baby’ with millionaire potential, and then for one reason or another their can-do entrepreneurial mojo is tempered out of them. Something’s gotta change.

Venice Beach Surprise

It may be that I inhaled too much California air this summer, but I’ve returned with a new-found mission to nurture this raw entrepreneurial instinct in my two little ones, Jasmine (eight and a half) and Noah (four).

While staying at a ramshackle Venice beach-hut we had found on airbnb, my wife discovered a children’s comic book version of ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ on the host’s dusty bookshelf. I had enjoyed the wealth creation classic by Robert Kiyosaki in my early twenties when first embarking on my journey to make it in the business world. 

But this version was different and distinctly Californian. Using slang like ‘dudes and dudettes’ in a dialogue between the turtle and mouse protagonists, the cartoon strip broke down assets and liabilities with surprisingly clarity. The author’s core mantra that ‘by investing, you create wealth and can achieve financial freedom’, narrated by a bunch of colourful comic book characters, was read to the kids each night as a bedtime story.  

Santa Monica Beach Games

Feeling inspired, the next day I thought I’d try to kindle the entrepreneurial spirit in my daughter Jasmine (nicknamed ‘J’) without spoiling the summer holiday mood. The subject had to be approached delicately, so as to not to appear like ‘work’. So we decided to head over to nearby Santa Monica and rent a tandem bike, with me in front and J in the back.

In roasting 30 degree weather, at the full mercy of the Californian sun, J soon stared to whimper about hot it was. A problem identified, I was quick to try to get her to start thinking about solutions – business solutions that is. Thinking fast and wanting to capitalise on the opportunity while the short window was open, I invented a little business game on the spot. I call it ‘Spot an Opportunity’.

‘What would you love to have with you in this roasting heat?’ I asked. 

‘Ice lollies’, replied J excitedly.

‘Ahhh…did you notice nobody’s selling them on the boardwalk?’ I continued.

‘That’s interesting…’ commented J.

‘Looks like a business opportunity to me.’

‘How much do you think we could sell them for, Dad?’ Asked J.

She was hooked.

‘Aha, the more important question is ‘how much could we buy them for in bulk’ as the profit is in the purchase.’

What’s profit?’ Asked J.

This was going exactly as planned. She was curious and eager to learn about business and no longer dwelling on our sweat drenched t-shirts. In Socratic question-and-answer fashion, as we continued cycling north toward Malibu, the conversation moved on to gross profits, cost of sales, and net profits. It was a mini MBA in a box (or on a tandem, rather), and it was fun. 

Rebel Girls

The next day, we strolled down nearby Abbot Kinney Blvd, one of West LA’s hipper streets, dotted with California chic cafes and local designer boutiques. Stumbling on an independent book shop, I walked in to see if I could be so fortunate as to find another book to inspire the little ones.

For J, I found ‘Rebel Girls’, a children’s book about the brave, risk-taking women of our society from Florence Nightingale to the Williams sisters to Rosa Parks. For Noah (let’s call him ‘N’), I found ‘What do Grownups do All Day’, a beautifully illustrated book about the different careers that grown-ups pursue to get him thinking (at the tender age of four …I know) about his future. I couldn’t hide my frustration, however, that being an ‘entrepreneur’ wasn’t even an option in this otherwise perfect little book. 

Final Thoughts

As I start my journey of educating my children on entrepreneurship, business fundamentals, and personal finance (all of which are intertwined, in my view), I’ve become woefully aware of the lamentable lack of educational material, products, and activities that instil business knowledge in children, from toddlers up to teens.

Practicing what I preach, I’m not too going to dwell on the problem. What I’ve realised is that nurturing a ‘million dollar baby’ starts with values, not objects. So I’ve started with creating our own family value system, which draws from the best of the values found from the Rockefellers to the Zuckerbergs.  

The Butt family value system starts with the newly-formed slogan (now dutifully memorised by both J and N):

‘We are an "I can" family. The words "I can’t" don’t exist in our family vocabulary.’

Faisal Butt is CEO of Spire Ventures and founder chairman of Pi Labs.

Image credit: Rochelle Hartman/Flickr

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