Every entrepreneur has an origin story.
For many, this includes tales of the lemonade stand, or selling baseball cards.
I’m sure I sold lemonade at some point in my early entrepreneurial career but, I don’t remember it clearly. I vaguely remember ambitions of making my millions trading baseball, basketball and hockey cards but that idea came to me in my early teens and barely made it past a hobby.
What I love about entrepreneurial origin stories is not the early seeds of how industry titans were motivated to make untold riches. I miss how innocent it often is. I miss how much play and fun were vital parts of the process.
Today I want to share with you my earliest entrepreneurial memories. Even before lemonade or baseball cards, there were three ventures that I was sure to make me a star, or at the very least wealthy enough to buy extra butter crunch cookies at lunch.
My earliest entrepreneurial memory was a true hustle.
Sometime in the second or third grade, I got the amazing idea to wrap colorful pipe cleaners around pencils and sell them to other students.
Yes, you heard it right.
I planned to take what I had just learned in arts & crafts class, and start hustling other kids out of coins.
It didn’t make me millions but I do remember getting in trouble for taking so many pipe cleaners from class and for trying to sell school property to other students.
Mr. Robot (no, not that one)
Not long after my pipe cleaner pencils scheme, I remember coming upon an article in some kids magazine, like Highlights, about how to build a “robot.” The process included using a remote controlled car for movement, and placing a small trash can (upside down) on top for the body. You could then attach arms using vacuum cleaner hoses. Add a few googly eyes and you had a robot.
I hatched a plan. Radio Shack, here I come!
Not only would we build this robot, but we would improve it. We would place a walkie-talk inside of the body so that the robot could talk. Naturally, I would voice the robot and make funny jokes. You see, I was a hilarious child, at least in my own mind.
The plan was to build the robot and host neighborhood robot shows for all of the kids. Both parents and children would be amazed at the lifelike robot who would tell jokes. I had a real zinger where I’d call one of the kids a bozo.
Admission would be at least $10 which, at the time would’ve been more than a movie ticket. Once the show became a hit we would build more robots and take the show all over the country.
I spent weeks drawing robots, clipping ads from Sears and Radio Shack, and writing out ideas for shows.
Alas, I never got past dreaming about the idea, but I look back and wonder if that would’ve been my big break.
Showtime at my house
The disappointment of the robot show failing to happen sat with me for years. I knew that I was on to something BIG. Then, I found myself at an amusement park. It might’ve been Six Flags, it might’ve been Disney or Universal…I don’t recall. But I remember the product vividly: the Mopkins Puppet.
The Mopkins were a flash-in-the-pan sensation across theme parks.
- The legs were velcro so it would wrap around you.
- Your hand would move the mouth.
- A stick was attached to each arm of the puppet so you could have it wave, adjust its hat or sunglasses, or whatever else your imagination could come up with.
The Mopkins were going to allow me to finally launch my one boy act to the world…no robot assembly required.
All I had to do was learn ventriloquism.
I didn’t buy a Mopkin at that theme park, but it was on my Christmas and Hanukkah lists for several years after that.
I never got one.
Due to the legend of the Silicon Valley tech bro, we’ve come to see the origin story as something other than what it often is: playtime. All of my early entrepreneurial ventures had a few things in common:
- I wanted to entertain people
- I wanted to express myself creatively
- I wanted to build or create something with my own unique stamp on it
The money was always secondary because frankly, I was a kid, and money didn’t have much context for me yet.
If we’re going to glorify anything about the entrepreneur’s origin story, we should glorify the play, the goofiness, the passion, the creativity, and the emotional risk taking. I want to see more stories that are silly, and I want us to hold that up not as the beginnings of the capitalist’s dream, but perhaps the antidote to it.
So, now it’s your turn: what’s your entrepreneurial origin story. If you’re feeling brave enough, put it in the comments.