I judged the NFTE Quarter Final competition at a local San Francisco high school today. NFTE is an organization that teaches entrepreneurship to students in high school and younger.
One of the pitches today was made by 9th grader Simran Pabla around a pilot program she's running at her school: A business called Ready4Rain, which offers umbrellas to students so they don't get wet when they're going from building to building between classes. You can see her full pitch to the judges here.
I was so impressed with her that I later interviewed her in the school's cafeteria. Here's a 9th grader who's currently running a pilot program for a startup concept she had. And she's not alone. Jocelyn Hernandez has sold over 20 of her custom iPhone cases at $40 each via her company, Functional Couture. And Mariana Ponce has sold over 100 of her Corny Cups at $2.50 each. In the past, I've done talks with Stanford MBAs, UVA McIntire business school students, and Georgetown MBAs and I consistently find that many of them are terrified to take the leap to becoming an entrepreneur by actually doing something, and not just talking about it. Consistently, high school or younger age kids are willing to take more risks than college students. It's almost like some switch gets flipped at some point in college that causes many students to stop seeing opportunities to be entrepreneurial, and become afraid to try jumping into the ones they do see.
The interview above with Simran is great, partly because she's so honest about her motivations. She simply saw an opportunity to solve a problem, and went for it. She has no mortgage to worry about. No kids to take care of. Nothing to keep her from simply jumping to solve the problem she saw in front of her. She just proves how simple it is to become an entrepreneur when it's what you really want to do.
So, kudos to Simran, Jocelyn, Mariana and their NFTE colleagues. I hope they never lose that risk-taking spirit. What may just seem to be a high school competition is actually an opportunity to effect massive change through entrepreneurism. The great thing about "creating something from nothing" is that nobody cares how old you are when you do it. There's no reason any of these ideas couldn't morph into huge, real businesses. All these kids need is the will to do it, and the means to try.
If you're interested in volunteering for NFTE (something I love to do), drop me a comment below and I'll introduce you to someone who can help you figure out how you can really add value to the program.
Hey Daniel, Steve from NFTE here. Thanks again for coming, and these great posts! I'll make sure they get to the students and have them shoot you a message or reply below their posts. Thanks again!
Steve, it was a pleasure. Very impressive group of kids. Who won the overall competition? (I had to leave early)
The afternoon session consisted of presentations in four rooms, and each room ended up with a winner. The remaining four now move on to our regional finals the night of June 6, with two moving on to the national event in NYC. We'd love for you to attend the June 6 event, let me know if you're interested.
Simran is one of the four still going. I'm sure she'd love to get more detailed feedback. I'll have her visit the site and start up with a comment.
That's great to hear! Yep I'll definitely give her more feedback over here: http://danielodio.com/community/ready-4-rain-simran-pablas-startup-pitch-at-nfte
Who were the other 3 moving on?
Could you also please forward the link above to Rad, Christina, Stu and Matt, the other judges in the room with me, so they could also give her additional feedback on that page?
Great, I also saw that Jocelyn replied under her post. Good stuff. The three other finalists are Juny from San Leandro (Clip-on Neckties), Fiona from San Leandro (Duct Tape Wallets), & Alex from San Jose (iPhone Repairs).
We should connect about what NFTE Bay Area has been trying to do with mentoring these past few years, how things went in our Yammer community this year, and the rules of the road we need to follow when it comes to student privacy. Happy to have that conversation in public, but unfortunately can't throw all info on here like we could if dealing with adults. Would love to have a dialogue about ways to make collaboration happen given our set of constraints.
Formal education is all about mass produced work force who goes to work on vision of someone else or public sector. It's basic psychology of brainwashing techniques. How most of people think after years of hearing "get good grades and then get a job"?
Awesome young girl and great story. I'm excited for what she'll do when she get's older.
One thing though: there is a difference between a 9th grader doing this and an MBA grad doing it. As someone who spent three years trying to build a startup years getting my MBA, the hardest part wasn't the idea or the enthusiasm or even the capability. It was the opportunity cost. As a tech MBA, I am a very marketable commodity and I can demand a very high salary. As a father, I have three additional lives that are dependent upon my income. I also graduated with over $100K in loans. That's something that 9th graders don't deal with. Don't get me wrong--there are many demands on their time (friends, extracurriculars, Justin Bieber concerts, etc), but it's nothing like the sacrifice of an adult with an MBA. I took little/no salary for much of the time, dug into savings to not only sustain the household but also bootstrap the startup until I took an angel round. That took professional courage on my part and incredible understanding on my wife's part. Even so, I waited seven years after graduation (to pay off the loans and build a small nest egg). While I wish I had this girl's attitude when I was 14, the MBA comparison is apples and oranges.
I agree with you re: oppty cost. The problem is that MBAs get themselves into situations where the oppty cost is artificially high. For example, the $100k in loans you mentioned.
It's not apples & oranges. Rather, it's an illustration of my entire point around the importance of jumping at opportunities when they present themselves.
There are two halves of the equation: opportunity cost (potential revenues) and obligations (required costs). The loans aren't opportunity cost, they're obligations (be it contrived or otherwise) and that's the second half of the equation--along with families, mortgages, etc. The opportunity cost is the amount of salary that you are forgoing in order to start your business. When I graduated 12 years ago, the average comp for my b-school classmates was $120K and I imagine it has gone up considerably in the years since (as opposed to a 9th grader, who gives up a minimum wage job). Couple in those obligations that MBAs often have and ignoring that potential revenue is difficult. Again, mad respect for the girl for doing what she did, but she doesn't give anything up by selling umbrellas.
Jumping at opportunities are great, but there is personal context for every decision. It's all part of your risk profile and situation. I tried starting one business before b-school and one years after b-school. While I was much more prepared in the second business and had a much better idea, there was a lot more at stake as well and that made it MUCH harder. Those Stanford MBAs already decided to go down the path that they did and they are looking at the equation in their current situation--that's why they have the fear. Not all of them do. I had lunch with a Stanford MBA last month who will be continuing with his startup after graduation--but that was made easier by his working wife and the fact that he had no kids. Obligations are lower, so no pressure to succeed right away, he had a high-paying job before school so he had a nest egg and didn't have the loans, and he can fall back on his Stanford MBA if he fails. Again, context is very important.
On a side note, for all the derision that the fabled MBA gets in the valley, I'd gladly take that $100K debt again. It was paid off in less than three years, my breadth of knowledge has increased greatly, the brand name of the MBA has opened doors and so has the alumni connections, and that first (yes corporate) job was an incredible experience that taught me so much. It gave me something to fall back on when I decided I couldn't keep going with my last startup. And I will likely start another company when I'm ready, but in the meantime, I am never short of options. But that's my preference and I works for me.
Oh this has turned into a very fun convo!
When I reference opportunity cost, I'm saying that an MBA needs to find a much larger perceived opportunity to move on it. Or to put it another way, "As an MBA, I'm making $150k per year, so my opportunity cost is what I'd lose by giving that salary up to try something unproven." Add in loans and any other related, continuing obligations that the MBA holder has to pay back. I think you agree on that point, so let's call that settled.
The problem is that the best billion dollar opportunities, by definition, look like bad ideas when you start them. If they didn't look like bad ideas, they would by definition already be tackled by someone else. (And if you don't agree with me on the points above, we should have that conversation over here).
So while you're making micro points that make sense, i.e:
"Couple in those obligations that MBAs often have and ignoring that potential revenue is difficult. Again, mad respect for the girl for doing what she did, but she doesn't give anything up by selling umbrellas."
you're also reinforcing my larger point of the entire blog: She didn't give anything up by selling umbrellas. And while "selling umbrellas" might not seem like a great business (it's actually a collaborative consumption model, so not "selling" exactly), it could actually be the next billion dollar exit. In fact, I'd argue that to the extent you think it's a bad idea, that means it's more of a candidate to be a huge opportunity. The worse the idea seems, the bigger the opportunity that it presents.
(I'm not saying all bad ideas are billion dollar exits, because the majority aren't. But just that to get into the "billion dollar plus exit" club, it has to seem like a bad idea to start).
So my point is entirely this: MBAs will always have a harder time getting to the billion dollar exits than those who "have nothing to lose," because they've put themselves into a situation where they can't act on the very seeds of huge ideas via the oppty cost baggage they're carrying around.
I agree with that last point--to a degree ;-). I think my focus is on the title of the post, which attempts to draw a parallel between the two leaps. It isn't really a leap for the girl.
I'd love to grab a beer sometime and chat about this (both the MBA theories and the billion dollar bad idea theory) further as we could probably go on forever about it. I'll even share my wealthy parent theory.:-)
Yeah I guess I'm really just using "leap" in a marketing way, to illustrate the dichotomy in meaning of the term between Simran's perspective and an MBAs perspective.
I'm always up for a beer with the MediaCamp crew.
As part of my efforts to foster entrepreneurism in the Metro DC area, I've gotten involved with a stellar organization called NFTE (the Network For for Teaching Entrepreneurship), which focuses on encouraging young people to be entrepreneurs (mostly high schoolers, I believe).
I recently visited Ms. Gloria Taylor's class at Eastern High School in Washington, DC (located in NorthEast DC) to talk to her students about what being an entrepreneur is all about.
NFTE has a textbook that teachers can follow and a course curriculum that spans the school year where the students create a business plan and compete in a competition. The winners then advance to regional and national levels.
By Leo Babauta
I often bad-mouth school, as if it's the most evil thing in the world. I should clarify that -- I think unschooling is a better method for us, and could be for many others, but people who are going to school or who are teaching in school are not doing a horrible job at all.
I have two kids who go to school, and in truth I think they're turning out great. There are lots of good things about school, and what's more, even if I don't agree with schooling in general, kids learn just as much (or more) outside of school as in school, so there are lots of opportunities to help your child learn and be an amazing person even if they're in school.
I also love teachers. My grandmother was a teacher for many years, along with one of my favorite aunts, my wife (and my ex-wife) and others who I think are truly tremendous human beings. Teachers are like saints. They deal with incredible difficulties and help children love reading and science and not hate math so much, and they reach out to troubled kids and they do their best to instill a passion for learning.