4th Grade Enterprise
I was 9 years old the first time I bit into the sweet fruit of capitalism. In 4th grade I had everything going for me: I was one of my teacher's favorites, regularly picked in the top 3 for soccer games at recess, and my mom was a lunch lady so I always got extra cafeteria food.
My best friend from that year was Aric Dang and he hasn't changed in 20 years. He has given me the shirt off his back more times than I can count and is the best friend everyone needs. But nice guys often get taken advantage of.
One day Aric showed up to school with a handful of these strange-looking jelly snacks:
Aric's parents are originally from Vietnam and a lot of their food, including these treats, came from this Vietnamese market on the other side of town. Aric asked if I wanted to try some, but I was a classic chicken nugget kind of guy, so I declined. Some of the other kids in class got a taste though, and the foreign snacks became an instant local success.
Each day Aric would bring more snacks to school and each day he'd give most of them away. He's so nice that sometimes he'd give them away before getting any for himself! He couldn't say No to anyone.
This was my cue to step in.
I told him he needed to charge money for his treats, but his 9 year old innocence had no idea what I meant. Purely out of frustration, I took the reigns and told him, "give me the snacks and I'll show you."
Ironically, he couldn't say No to me either, so I took the inventory and sold them all in a few hours for a quarter apiece. We split the profits 50-50 and started feeling like real business tycoons.
Sales were off the charts in that first week and it was time to think more strategically about our business. By experimentation, we learned we could get an extra 50 cents if people thought we were running out of supply. We also started charging more for the popular flavors.
The buzz around our product was high and we were on fire. But then, things took a turn.
I don't remember exactly what happened but our teacher somehow caught us dealing jellies to classmates and banned our business on the spot. Apparently running a mini-enterprise on school grounds wasn’t allowed.
Shut down as we were picking up steam.
Peer Pressures of Entrepreneurship
Most people would hear that story and think that I was destined to be an entrepreneur. I saw an opportunity in my 4th grade class and literally turned it into profit.
But I disagree.
When I look back at my story two decades later, all I see is a kid looking out for his best friend.
This is an important distinction, as I'm constantly feeling pressure to become an entrepreneur and I’m not entirely sure why.
To be fair, much of this pressure comes from my own desire to keep up with the best in the business. Any time someone I know starts a business or gets praise from the media (i.e. InvestmentNews’ 40 under 40), a little birdie tells me, "you could do that."
It doesn't help that there's a new wave of celebrity entrepreneurs and instagram influencers like Gary Vee, Grant Cardone, and others peacocking on their platform telling me to quit my day job.
It creeps its way into my marriage too. My wife and I are both financial planners and we always get asked "when" we are going to start our own business (don't even get me started on the 'baby' conversations).
I get it though. Starting your own business is one of those quintessential American ideals that has led so many people to wealth and success. I should be flattered my peers are effectively nominating me for such a path.
Know Thyself: The Accidental Entrepreneur
One of my financial planning clients is a major banking executive who is basically in charge of making their global website friendlier. To excel at this, he needs to understand what makes people tick. One of his favorite tools for understanding people is the Enneagram Test, a program that helps reveal your personality type.
He had me take the test and guessed that I would be the "Investigator," mainly because I'm an all-encompassing problem solver for him.
But he was wrong. My results scored me as the "Helper."
For him, I do investigate. But for others, I empower or challenge. It all depends what I believe they need. And I have to remember that how I help my peers today might look different than how I help them tomorrow.
In 4th grade, I helped Aric stand up for himself and made a little money as a byproduct. I was an accidental entrepreneur, but more importantly a full-time friend.
And as I cross over into my 30's, knowing myself will be more important as I deal with new challenges and pressures. If that leads to becoming an entrepreneur one day, great. But I’m totally comfortable on my current path and love hitting huge milestones with my team.
Quid Pro Quo
To this day, I have no memory of what those little jelly snacks tasted like, nor do I know how much money we actually made together.
None of that matters.
All I’ve ever cared about is helping those who matter, just as the people in my life have been there for me.