Home » Cameron Herold: Let’s raise kids to be entrepreneurs (Transcript)

Cameron Herold: Let’s raise kids to be entrepreneurs (Transcript)

Cameron Herold

Cameron Herold – TED Talk TRANSCRIPT

I would be willing to bet. I’m the dumbest guy in the room, because I couldn’t get through school; I struggled with school.

But I knew at a very early age that I loved money, I loved business and I loved this entrepreneurial thing. I was raised to be an entrepreneur.

What I’ve been really passionate about ever since — and I’ve never spoken about this ever, until now — so this is the first time anyone’s heard it, except my wife, three days ago.

She said, “What are you talking about?” I told her that I think we miss an opportunity to find these kids who have the entrepreneurial traits, and to groom them or show them that being an entrepreneur is actually a cool thing. It’s not something that is a bad thing and is vilified, which is what happens in a lot of society.

Kids, when we grow up, have dreams, and we have passions, and we have visions, and somehow we get those things crushed. We get told that we need to study harder or be more focused or get a tutor.

My parents got me a tutor in French, and I still suck in French. Two years ago, I was the highest-rated lecturer at MIT’s Entrepreneurial Master’s Program. It was a speaking event in front of groups of entrepreneurs from around the world. When I was in grade two, I won a citywide speaking competition, but nobody had ever said, “Hey, this kid’s a good speaker. He can’t focus, but he loves walking around and getting people energized.”

No one said, “Get him a coach in speaking.” They said, get me a tutor in what I suck at.

So as kids show these traits — and we need to start looking for them — I think we should be raising kids to be entrepreneurs instead of lawyers. Unfortunately, the school system is grooming this world to say, “Let’s be a lawyer,” or, “Let’s be a doctor.” We’re missing that opportunity, because no one ever says, “Hey, be an entrepreneur.”

Entrepreneurs are people — we have a lot of them in this room — who have ideas and passions or see these needs in the world and decide to stand up and do it. And we put everything on the line to make that stuff happen. We have the ability to get the groups of people around us that want to build that dream with us.

And I think if we could get kids to embrace the idea at a young age, of being entrepreneurial, we could change everything in the world that’s a problem today. Every problem out there, somebody has the idea for.

And as a young kid, nobody can say it can’t happen, because you’re too dumb to realize that you couldn’t figure it out. I think we have an obligation as parents and a society to start teaching our kids to fish instead of giving them the fish — the old parable: “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

If we can teach our kids to be entrepreneurial, the ones that show the traits to be, like we teach the ones who have science gifts to go on in science, what if we saw the ones with entrepreneurial traits and taught them to be entrepreneurs? We could have these kids spreading businesses instead of waiting for government handouts.

What we do is teach our kids the things they shouldn’t do: don’t hit; don’t bite; don’t swear. Right now we teach our kids to go after really good jobs; the school system teaches them to go after things like being a doctor and being a lawyer and being an accountant and a dentist and a teacher and a pilot.

And the media says it’s really cool if we could go out and be a model or a singer or a sports hero like Luongo or Crosby. Our MBA programs do not teach kids to be entrepreneurs. The reason I avoided an MBA program, other than that I didn’t get into any, since I had a 61% average out of high school, then a 61% average at the only school in Canada that accepted me, Carlton, is that our MBA programs don’t teach kids to be entrepreneurs. They teach them to work in corporations.

So who’s starting these companies? It’s these random few people. Even in popular literature, the only book I’ve ever found — and this should be on all your reading lists — the only book I’ve ever found that makes the entrepreneur a hero is “Atlas Shrugged.” Everything else in the world looks at entrepreneurs and says we’re bad people.

I look at even my family. Both my grandfathers and my dad were entrepreneurs. My brother, sister and I, all three of us own companies as well. We all decided to start these things because it’s the only place we fit. We didn’t fit in normal work; we couldn’t work for somebody else, we’re stubborn and we have all these other traits. But kids could be entrepreneurs as well.

I’m a big part of a couple organizations called the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and the Young Presidents’ Organization. I just came back from speaking in Barcelona at the YPO global conference. And everyone I met over there who’s an entrepreneur struggled with school. I have 18 out of the 19 signs of attention deficit disorder diagnosed. So this thing right here is freaking me out.

It’s probably why I’m a bit panicked, other than all the caffeine I’ve had and the sugar. But this is really creepy for an entrepreneur. Attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder. Do you know that bipolar disorder is nicknamed the CEO disease? Ted Turner’s got it. Steve Jobs has it. All three of the founders of Netscape had it. I could go on and on Kids — you can see these signs in kids. And we’re giving them Ritalin and saying, “Don’t be an entrepreneurial type. Fit into this other system and try to become a student.”

Sorry, entrepreneurs aren’t students. We fast-track. We figure out the game. I stole essays. I cheated on exams. I hired kids to do my accounting assignments in university for 13 consecutive assignments.

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But as an entrepreneur, you don’t do accounting, you hire accountants. So I just figured that out earlier. At least I can admit I cheated in university; most of you won’t. I’m also quoted — and I told the person who wrote the textbook — I’m now quoted in that exact same university textbook in every Canadian university and college studies — in managerial accounting, I’m chapter eight.

I open up chapter eight, talking about budgeting. I told the author, after they did my interview, that I cheated in that same course. She thought it was too funny to not include it. But kids, you can see these signs in them. The definition of entrepreneur is “a person who organizes, operates and assumes the risk of a business venture.”

That doesn’t mean you have to go to an MBA program, or that you have to get through school. It just means that those few things have to feel right in your gut. We’ve heard, “Is it nurture or is it nature?” Right? Is it thing one or thing two? What is it? Well, I don’t think it’s either. I think it can be both. I was groomed as an entrepreneur.

When I was growing up as a young kid, I had no choice, because I was taught at a very early age, when my dad realized I didn’t fit into everything else that was being taught to me in school, that he could teach me to figure out business at an early age. He groomed us, the three of us, to hate the thought of having a job and to love the fact of creating companies where we could employ other people.

My first business venture: I was seven years old, in Winnipeg. I was in my bedroom with one of those long extension cords, calling all the dry cleaners in Winnipeg to find out how much they’d pay me for coat hangers. And my mom came into the room and said, “Where are you going to get the hangers to sell to the dry cleaners?” And I said, “Let’s go look in the basement.”

We went down to the basement, and I opened up this cupboard. There was about 1,000 hangers that I’d collected, because, when I told her I was going out to play, I was going door to door in the neighborhood to collect hangers to put in the basement, because I saw her a few weeks before that — you could get paid, they used to pay two cents per coat hanger.

So I was like, well, there’s all kinds of hangers, so I’ll just go get them. I knew she wouldn’t want me to get them, so I just did it anyway. And I learned that you could actually negotiate with people. This one guy offered me three cents and I got him up to three and a half.

I even knew at seven years old that I could get a fractional percent of a cent, and people would pay it, because it multiplied up. At seven years old I figured it out I got three and a half cents for 1,000 hangers. I sold license plate protectors door to door.

My dad actually made me go find someone who would sell me them at wholesale. At nine years old, I walked around in the city of Sudbury selling license-plate protectors door to door. And I remember this one customer so vividly — I also did some other stuff with these clients, I sold newspapers, and he wouldn’t buy a newspaper from me, ever. But I was convinced I was going to get him to buy a license-plate protector. And he’s like, “We don’t need one.”

I said, “But you’ve got two cars.” Remember, I’m nine years old. I’m like, “You have two cars and they don’t have license-plate protectors. And this car has one license plate that’s all crumpled up.” He said, “That’s my wife’s car.”

I said, “Why don’t we test one on her car and see if it lasts longer?” So I knew there were two cars with two license plates on each. If I couldn’t sell all four, I could at least get one. I learned that at a young age I did comic book arbitrage. When I was about 10 years old, I sold comic books out of our cottage on Georgian Bay.

I would go biking up to the end of the beach, buy all the comics from the poor kids, then go back to the other end of the beach to sell them to the rich kids. It was obvious to me: buy low, sell high. You’ve got this demand over here that has money. Don’t try to sell to the poor kids; they don’t have cash. The rich people do. Obvious, right? It’s like a recession.

So there’s a recession. There’s still $13 trillion circulating in the US economy. Go get some of that. I learned that at a young age.

I also learned, don’t reveal your source: I got beat up after four weeks of this, because one of the rich kids found out where I was buying my comics, and didn’t like that he was paying more. I was forced to get a paper route at 10 years old. I didn’t want a paper route, but my dad said, “That’s your next business.” Not only did he get me one, but I had to get two. He wanted me to hire someone to deliver half the papers, which I did.

Then I realized: collecting tips is how you made all the money. So I’d collect tips and get payment. I would collect for the papers — he could just deliver them. Because then I realized I could make money. By this point, I was definitely not going to be an employee.

My dad owned an automotive and industrial repair shop. He had all these old automotive parts lying around. They had this old brass and copper. I asked what he did with it, and he said he just throws it out. I said, “Wouldn’t somebody pay for that?”

And he goes, “Maybe.”

Remember: at 10 years old, 34 years ago, I saw opportunity in this stuff, I saw there was money in garbage. And I collected it from the automotive shops in the area on my bicycle. Then my dad would drive me on Saturdays to a scrap metal recycler where I got paid. And I thought that was kind of cool.

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Strangely enough, 30 years later, we’re building 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and making money off that, too.

I built these little pincushions when I was 11 years old in Cubs. We made these pincushions for our moms for Mother’s Day out of wooden clothespins — when we used to hang clothes on clotheslines outside. And you’d make these chairs. And I had these little pillows that I would sew up. And you could stuff pins in them.

Because people used to sew and they needed a pincushion. But I realized you had to have options, so I spray-painted a whole bunch of them brown, so when I went to the door, it wasn’t, “Do you want to buy one?” It was, “Which color would you like?”

I’m 10 years old; you’re not going to say no, especially if you have two options, the brown one or the clear one. So I learned that lesson at a young age. I learned that manual labor really sucks. Right, like cutting lawns is brutal.

But because I had to cut lawns all summer for all of our neighbors and get paid to do that, I realized that recurring revenue from one client is amazing, that if I land this client once, and every week I get paid by that person, that’s way better than trying to sell one clothespin thing to one person, because you can’t sell them more.

So I love that recurring revenue model. I started to learn at a young age. Remember, I was being groomed to do this. I was not allowed to have jobs. I would go to the golf course and caddy for people, but I realized there was this one hill on our golf course, the 13th hole, that had this huge hill, and people could never get their bags up it.

So I’d sit there in a lawn chair and carry for all the people who didn’t have caddies. I’d carry their golf bags to the top; they’d pay me a dollar, while my friends worked for hours hauling some guy’s bag around for 10 bucks. I’m like, “That’s stupid. You have to work for five hours. That doesn’t make sense.

Figure out a way to make more money faster. Every week, I’d go to the corner store and buy all these pops. Then I’d deliver them to these 70-year-old women playing bridge. They’d give me their orders for the following week. I’d deliver pop and charge twice. I had this captured market.

You didn’t need contracts, you just needed to have a supply and demand and this audience who bought into you. These women weren’t going to go to anybody else because they liked me, and I kind of figured it out. I went and got golf balls from golf courses. But everybody else was looking in the bush and looking in the ditches for golf balls. I’m like, screw that.

They’re in the pond. And nobody’s going into the pond. So I’d go into the ponds and crawl around and pick them up with my toes, just pick them up with both feet. You can’t do it onstage. You get the golf balls, throw them in your bathing suit trunks and when you’re done, you’ve got a couple hundred of them.

But the problem is, people didn’t want all the golf balls. So I just packaged them. I’m like 12, right? I packaged them up three ways. I had the Pinnacles, DDHs and the really cool ones. Those sold for two dollars each.

Then I had the good ones that didn’t look crappy: 50 cents each. And then I’d sell 50 at a time of all the crappy ones. And they could use those for practice balls. I sold sunglasses when I was in school, to all the kids in high school. This is what really kind of gets everybody hating you, because you’re trying to extract money from all your friends all the time.

But it paid the bills. So I sold lots and lots of sunglasses. Then when the school shut me down — they called me into the office and told me I couldn’t do it — I went to the gas stations and sold lots of them to the gas stations and had the gas stations sell them to their customers. That was cool because then, I had retail outlets. I think I was 14.

Then I paid my entire way through first year of university at Carlton by selling wineskins door to door. You know you can hold a 40-ounce bottle of rum and two bottles of coke in a wineskin? So what, right? But you know what? Stuff that down your shorts when you go to a football game, you can get booze in for free. Everybody bought them. Supply, demand, big opportunity. I also branded it, so I sold them for five times the normal cost.

It had our university logo on it. You know, we teach our kids and we buy them games, but why don’t we get them games, if they’re entrepreneurial kids, that nurture the traits you need to be entrepreneurs? Why don’t you teach them not to waste money?

I remember being told to walk out into the middle of a street in Banff, Alberta. I’d thrown a penny out in the street, and my dad said, “Go pick it up. I work too damn hard for my money. I’m not going to see you waste a penny.” I remember that lesson to this day.

Allowances teach kids the wrong habits. Allowances, by nature, are teaching kids to think about a job. An entrepreneur doesn’t expect a regular paycheck. Allowance is breeding kids at a young age to expect a regular paycheck.

That’s wrong, for me, if you want to raise entrepreneurs. What I do with my kids, nine and seven, is teach them to walk around the house and the yard, looking for stuff that needs to get done. Come and tell me what it is. Or I’ll say, “Here’s what I need done.” And then, you know what we do? We negotiate.

They go around looking for what it is, then we negotiate what they’ll get paid. They don’t have a regular check, but they have opportunities to find more stuff, and learn the skill of negotiating and of finding opportunities. You breed that kind of stuff. Each of my kids has two piggy banks. Fifty percent of all the money they earn goes in their house account, 50 percent goes in their toy account.

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The toy account, they spend on whatever they want. The 50 percent in their house account, every six months, goes to the bank they walk up with me. Every year, all the money in the bank goes to their broker. Both my nine- and seven-year-olds have a stockbroker already.

I’m teaching them to force that savings habit. It drives me crazy that 30-year-olds are saying, “Maybe I’ll start contributing to my RSP now.” Shit, you’ve missed 25 years. You can teach those habits to young kids, when they don’t even feel the pain yet. Don’t read bedtime stories every night — maybe four nights of the week, and three nights, have them tell stories.

Why don’t you sit down with kids and give them four items, a red shirt, a blue tie, a kangaroo and a laptop, and have them tell a story about those four things? My kids do that all the time. It teaches them to sell, teaches them creativity, teaches them to think on their feet. Do that kind of stuff, have fun with it.

Get kids to stand up in front of groups and talk, even if it’s just in front of their friends, and do plays and have speeches. Those are entrepreneurial traits you want to be nurturing. Show kids what bad customers or bad employees look like. Show them grumpy employees.

When you see grumpy customer service, point it out. Say, “By the way, that guy is a crappy employee.” And say, “These are good ones.”

If you go into a restaurant and have bad customer service, show them what bad customer service looks like. We have all these lessons in front of us, but we don’t take those opportunities; we teach kids to get a tutor.

Imagine if you actually took all the kids’ junk in the house right now, all the toys they outgrew two years ago and said, “Why don’t we sell some of this on Craigslist and Kijiji?” And they actually sell it and learn how to find scammers when offers come in. They can come into your account or a sub account or whatever. But teach them how to fix the price, guess the price, pull up the photos.

Teach them how to do that kind of stuff and make money. Then 50 percent goes in their house account, 50 percent in their toy account. My kids love this stuff. Some of the entrepreneurial traits you’ve got to nurture in kids: attainment, tenacity, leadership, introspection, interdependence, values. All these traits, you can find in young kids, and you can help nurture them.

Look for that kind of stuff. There’s two traits I want you to also look out for that we don’t get out of their system. Don’t medicate kids for attention deficit disorder unless it is really, really freaking bad. The same with the whole things on mania and stress and depression, unless it is so clinically brutal, man Bipolar disorder is nicknamed “the CEO disease.”

When Steve Jurvetson, Jim Clark and Jim Barksdale have all got it, and they built Netscape — imagine if they were given Ritalin. We wouldn’t have that stuff, right? Al Gore really would have had to invented the Internet.

These are the skills we should be teaching in the classroom, as well as everything else. I’m not saying don’t get kids to want to be lawyers. But how about getting entrepreneurship to be ranked right up there with the rest of them? Because there’s huge opportunities in that.

I want to close with a quick video that was done by one of the companies I mentor. These guys, Grasshopper. It’s about kids. It’s about entrepreneurship. Hopefully, this inspires you to take what you’ve heard from me and do something with it to change the world.

Video clip: 

“And you thought you could do anything?” You still can. Because a lot of what we consider impossible is easy to overcome. Because in case you haven’t noticed, we live in a place where one individual can make a difference. Want proof? Just look at the people who built our country: Our parents, grandparents, our aunts, uncles. They were immigrants, newcomers ready to make their mark. Maybe they came with very little or perhaps they didn’t own anything except for a single brilliant idea. These people were thinkers, doers, innovators until they came up with the name entrepreneurs. They change the way we think about what is possible.

They have a clear vision of how life can be better for all of us, even when times are tough. Right now, it’s hard to see when our view is cluttered with obstacles. But turbulence creates opportunities for success, achievement, and pushes us to discover new ways of doing things. So what opportunities will you go after and why? If you’re an entrepreneur you know that risk isn’t the reward. No. The rewards are driving innovation, changing people’s lives, creating jobs, fueling growth and making a better world.

Entrepreneurs are everywhere. They run small businesses that support our economy, design tools to help you stay connected with friends, family and colleagues. And they’re finding new ways of helping to solve society’s oldest problems. Do you know an entrepreneur? Entrepreneurs can be anyone. Even you. So seize the opportunity to create the job you always wanted. Help heal the economy. Make a difference. Take your business to new heights, but most importantly, remember when you were a kid, when everything was within your reach, and then say to yourself quietly, but with determination: it still is.

Thank you very much for having me.