As small businesses proliferate and grow, more founders are working to instill the enterprise spirit in their offspring.
Perhaps the most compelling family-business narrative has long been about passing on an enterprise to the next generation. But with small-business startups proliferating, and frequently growing in step with the children of the founders, it is not just the enterprise but the spirit of enterprise — the desire to create a new one — that is being passed on to the next generation.
Some successful entrepreneurs are grooming their children to be chief executives of startups, sometimes starting as early as middle school.
At the Zietz dinner table in Boca Raton, Fla., the question “How was school today?” often comes after one of the children asks their father, Sam, about his day at work as the chief executive of TouchSuite.
How to raise entrepreneurial children
• Share the frustrations as well as the triumphs and show there will be hundreds of “no’s” for every “yes” — especially when raising money.
• When they get a “no,” encourage children to ask for feedback as to why they were turned down, and use that to improve the pitch.
• Let them get involved in the family business and try lots of different jobs — not just social media and app development, but customer-service and human-resources tasks — to see that small-business leaders need to be able to wear all the hats.
• Encourage them to find jobs outside the family business to see how other companies are run.
– Joanna Strober, founder and chief executive of Kurbo Health
The company, founded in 2003, offers financial and technological services for small businesses. By 2014, it had grown to $28 million in annual revenue. The children — Rachel, 14, Jordan, 13, and even 9-year-old Morgan — are genuinely interested in business developments, like TouchSuite’s recent acquisition of a Canadian company.
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The family’s favorite binge-viewing is a show Rachel started watching soon after her 10th birthday. With pride, Zietz recalled his young daughter announcing at the end of one entrepreneur’s pitch on “Shark Tank”:
“This guy is not getting an offer.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“Because he doesn’t even own his own IP,” she said, referring to intellectual property, and beating the “sharks” to the punch.
“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” said Zietz, 47, who explained he did so only after becoming a lawyer and specializing in tax law and deal-making. “In the ’80s it wasn’t cool to be an entrepreneur, like it is now. Back then, if you were an entrepreneur it was because you couldn’t get a job.” (Of course, that can sometimes be the case today.)
He affectionately called Rachel “a clone” of himself. “You could take Rachel and put her in any household in America — that girl would have been an entrepreneur. My son, on the other hand, would not be an entrepreneur. He’s off-the-charts bright, but he doesn’t have that entrepreneurial skill set in his DNA that Rachel has. But he’s growing up in my house, and that’s what we talk about.
“I treat the kids like adults and I talk to them as peers,” Zietz said. “I try to share everything I’ve learned over the years. The adage: If I knew then what I know now. I’m giving them the knowledge now, and they’re taking it and applying it.”
Indeed. Rachel projects that her startup, Gladiator Lacrosse, which began when she was 12, will this year top $1 million in sales of lacrosse goals and training rebounders, products she imports from China and sells online.
She presented her business plan at the end of a 30-week program offered by a local chapter of Young Entrepreneurs Academy, which operates some 113 programs in 38 states, including Washington.
Her brother, Jordan, who is already mastering app development, created a business called GameReef, to step into the open niche of renting video-game systems, rather than video games.
He, too, signed on for the after-school Young Entrepreneurs Academy program, which helps sixth- through 12th-graders identify their interests and skills; come up with an idea for a business; pitch that business to a panel, including local business owners; and open the enterprise with seed money awarded to the most promising business plans.
Gayle Jagel, founder and chief executive of the academy program based in Rochester, N.Y., said 50 percent of the student entrepreneurs were the children of entrepreneurs. And 50 percent are girls. Her advice on raising young company founders?
“First and foremost, help your kids identify their interests and passions, not yours,” Jagel said. “And don’t focus on the risks and the negatives, focus on the possible. Create an environment that allows for success. Ask a lot of questions to help them think how they might accomplish their idea. What would they need? Who could they ask for help?”
Additional advice comes from Joanna Strober, founder and chief executive of Kurbo Health, a mobile app to help teenagers and tweens manage their weight and make more healthful choices. She started the business a year ago in her Palo Alto, Calif., home, enlisting the help of her three children, ages 7 to 15.
She stresses the learning-by-osmosis principle of grooming young entrepreneurs: “There’s that old saying, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ ”
Her oldest child, Sarah, has caught the startup bug. She has already amassed thousands of followers and her first income-generating sponsors for her food Instagram, TasteslikeSF, which tags local restaurants and food trucks, displaying photos of recommended dishes.