One of the concepts I stress to hope-to-be entrepreneurs is that they’re best off starting something, anything, and learning from there. Today, one of the fastest things to start is an online store on eBay/Amazon/Etsy. Even though it’s turnkey, there are so many things to learn: inventory, shipping, taxes, SEO, advertising, gross margins/cost of goods sold, etc. Doing something is a forced learning experience that will help inform if you enjoy it or not, as well as spark new ideas. The best way to find a great idea is to work on any idea first.
Personally, I’ve been starting businesses my entire life. Here are a few I did as a kid before I could be a full-time entrepreneur:
- Hamster Breeding
One day I was talking to the local pet store owner about the dwarf hamster I had and he offered to buy any babies from me for $1. Well, the next thing you know I had dozens of them in my room at home and I was raising hamsters as a little business. Quickly, I realized the limitations and the amount of effort required for little payoff. The business lasted six months.
- Shareware Apps
After a friend gave me the book “Teach Yourself C in 21 Days” in 8th grade, I was hooked on computer programming. I built a number of shareware apps and sold them on AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy. This was a great lesson in dreaming up new product ideas and bringing little apps to market. Customers didn’t even know I was in high school! The business lasted three years and I sold hundreds of copies.
- Flea Market Dealer
Back in the 90s there was a program known as the Columbia House BMG Music Club where you’d get a certain number of music CDs for a penny followed by monthly CDs at normal prices. Well, I signed everyone in my family up for the promo pricing at both the home and office addresses amassing hundreds of CDs. I’d then cancel the accounts and not continue the monthly program. Finally, to sell them, I’d rent dealer tables at the local flea market and sell the CDs for $5 each making hundreds of dollars of profit. This business helped me look for arbitrage opportunities. The business lasted one year and three trips to the flea market.
- Sports Cards Dealer
Sports cards were always a personal passion of mine as far back as I can remember. I would obsess over the prices in the Beckett magazine every month and memorize them all, especially the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie card. One day, I realized that I could buy cards online for the hottest players in my area (Atlanta Braves stars like Chipper Jones) at half the cost of the local sports card stores using Newsgroups (think Reddit) and eBay. Well, I bought as many cards as I could afford and then became a dealer doing shows in Tallahassee, Pensacola, and Jacksonville. The online to offline arbitrage was a homerun. The business lasted two years.
- Website Development
My final childhood business was building websites for local companies first in my hometown and then in college. This was the ultimate gateway business as I learned web development which lead to a number of “real” startups. I’d charge $1,000 for a site and marvel that I’d make $50/hour doing something I really enjoyed. The business lasted three years.
While I’ve always loved entrepreneurship, these small endeavors early on set the foundation for a lifelong pursuit of startups and company building.
Starting on an idea — especially something simple — is the best entrepreneurial training possible. There’s no perfect idea and too many people use searching for an idea as an excuse. Just like with anything new, the sooner you start doing, the sooner you start learning. Start now.