What I learned from a bunch of middle school kids

This morning, I spoke about entrepreneurship and investing to about 100 kids ages 11-14 in a jam-packed room at Centennial Middle School. I can honestly say it was incredibly fun and rewarding.

I talked for about 10 minutes about how entrepreneurship is really a life choice, and how entrepreneurs “do stuff” and wantrepreneurs talk about doing stuff. I spent a little bit of time talking about the companies I have started and the 100 or so that I’ve now invested in. And then something very surprising happened.

I was peppered, no bombarded, with about 25 interesting, insightful questions in rapid fire fashion. Here’s a sampling of the questions that I remember.

What was the worst investment you ever made? (answer: I’ve made several bad ones – some financially bad and some emotionally bad)

How much money will you make every year? (answer: I have no idea, it varies every year depending on company performance)

If you were going to start a company today, what would it do? (answer: you had to be there!)

How do you decide how much a company is worth when you invest in it? (answer: market conditions and my crystal ball)

What three traits do you look for in great entrepreneurs? (answer: street smarts, passion, and commitment)

Do you go looking for companies to invest in, or do they come looking for you? (Joke answer: go into the hall and hold up money, and see if people come looking for you or if you have to go looking for them. Real answer: Both!)

What’s the difference when you’re investing in a startup vs one that is farther along? (answer: startups are usually cheaper and riskier)

I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the questions and also by the blunt and direct nature of them. There was genuine curiosity that was palpable. These kids wanted to understand more about entrepreneurship. They were excited by it. About 2/3 of the room identified themselves as entrepreneurs when I asked them to raise their hands. I take this to mean that all of them thought of themselves this way, but 1/3 of them were not bothering to raise their hands. Of those, about half said they were actually practicing entrepreneurship today. Of course, this led to me tell stories of selling now-and-laters out of my locker in eighth grade.

Jimmy Calano was there and he remarked that these questions were better than many of the questions you hear after a lecture on a college campus. I’d tend to agree. It was simply stunning. It felt to me like at least half of these kids were going to go on to start companies in their lives. That’s 50 companies in the first generation from these students. 5-10 of these are probably going to be wildly successful. And if I inspired even one of those kids to consider a life of entrepreneurship, then I am proud to have done so. To the kids I met today, I cannot wait to see what you do. And I know that you will “do stuff.” I hope you come back to comment on this blog post in 5 or 10 years. πŸ˜‰

This has really energized me. I’ve been fired up all day. If anybody else wants me to come speak with kids this age about the path of entrepreneurship, I sure hope you’ll ask.

So what did I learn from a bunch of middle school kids? I learned that more of us need to give back and encourage young people to consider a life of entrepreneurship as an option for them. And I learned that it’s up to us, not just the teachers (who are amazing), to help them see this option.

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  • Jealous of you man. That sounds like a lot of fun. Entrepreneurship must be much more popular among young people today.. no one gave a shit about it when I was in school hah..

    I think this is a really good sign though. Entrepreneurs drive innovation and competition in this world and we need as many of them as we can get.

  • Well done Dave, well done.

  • Just curious.
    Were they aware of the fact that you were coming to meet them beforehand especially their teacher? πŸ™‚

  • Yes, they knew I was coming, but the teacher said he only told them to come with questions. None of them were reading off of notes, and the pattern and pace of the hands going up was clearly not each person having one prepared question. These were very spontaneous. It surprised me too!

  • How long before you noticed the “Kick Me” sign on your back? Or, did it say, “Pitch Me?”

    Must have been a great afternoon. Treat them with respect and give them hope and they’ll do the same for you.

  • I force my way into my kids classes every year to expose them to the opptys out there. I explain startups and more importantly, how they can turn their ideas into businesses. I actually got in trouble with the teacher once because one kid said he knew nothing about about website building. I told him to use elance or guru to source help.

    It is our responsibility to educate our kids and their friends about all the avenues to biz creation out there.

  • Awesome.

    And it makes me wonder how many of us entrepreneurs share that same story of selling candy out of our lockers in school.

    [Side note to candypreneurs: Cash money only!]

  • Andrew Pettit

    Thank you David Cohen for coming and talking to us. Our teacher Mr. Fieger E-mailed is the blog and it was really fun to read.

  • Lindey H.

    Hi! I was home sick today, so I missed hearing you talk to us at school. All of us in Mr. Feiger’s classes asked those questions because we ARE going to open our own businesses!

    Every student gets to earn their own money from the products that they make, and we had to go through so many steps to get our companies open that now, we all talk like little business people! πŸ™‚ All of us had to come up with about ten questions to ask our future customers about what products they would buy, and then we had to go to the Boulder Farmer’s market and really ask them! We then had to convert our answers into inferences and implications about our customers, and we are now at the step of coming up with our company ideas. We can work with one other partner, or we can do them alone. I’m working with a peer and we plan to go along the lines of baked goods.

    I wish that I had been there to hear you talk to our classes, and I hope that you had fun talking to all of my friends and Mr. Feiger. He really did send us a link to this page, which is why I am responding to your blog right now! Thanks for reading this unusually long response!

  • Rachel S.

    I really liked hearing you talk today in class. You taught me so much about how to become a great entrepreneur.
    Thank you so much!

  • Osha C.P

    Thank you Mr. Cohen for coming to talk to our classes today! It was a great experience and I walked out of that classroom feeling very inspired! I must admit, I’m not sure the entreprenuership path is for me, but you’ve helped me feel more confident then ever in starting up a business with my friend. Thank you so much!

  • Nancy K

    Thank you soooooo much for coming to talk to our class. The things that you said were really helpful.

    Thanks again!

  • Gabriela B

    Thanks so, so much for coming to our class! You have made me a lot more excited to start my business and become an entrepreneur! I love that you wrote a blog about us! Thanks!

  • Madeline G

    Hi! I was one of the students in the class that you talked to today. I just wanted to say that I think that I speak for all of the students that you inspired today when I say that we really appreciated the effort that you put into answering our questions. Thanks again!
    Madeline G

    PS. Thank you also for the kind words that you posted on this blog about us!

  • David Cohen

    Thanks for all your comments!

  • Payton Sessions

    Hi! I was also in Mr. Feiger’s class today.
    You should expect me to be writing on this blog again in the next 15 years (as a billionaire, of course πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ ) saying how you have inspired me to become an entrepeneur and how successful I have become because of that.
    Thanks so much for coming to our class today and teaching us things that will really be important later in our lives (which is more than Geometry can do!).

    Payton Sessions

  • Great story David and would love to talk to them. Gives me the idea that perhaps I should volunteer to do that at my daughter’s school.

    Kids are incredible. I was in a meeting a couple of years ago with a potential partner and had brought my 9 year old daughter along. about 15 minutes into the meeting she politely asked what we were trying to get across to the other company. She thought about my answer for a bit and then wrote down what I should tell the other company on a piece of paper and slid it across the desk to me. Here’s the blog entry I wrote on it.


    huge world changing things can be accomplished with passion, persistence, confidence

  • I think that a round of applause should also go to Mr. Feiger – great job on encouraging and educating young minds – and having the initiative tap the community for great resources like David. Kids rock – and so do their teachers.

  • hterrecat

    One of my questions were on there! I wuz the person who asked “How much money do you make per year!” I feel specail!

  • Maya J

    Thank you so much for coming to our class…I used to think business was really boring, but maybe it’s not as bad as I thought!


  • Otis F

    Thank you so much for coming to our class, it’s people like you who make me want to go to school. Before you came I thought of business and entrepreneurship as a boring bureaucratic thing adults do. Now I know that it can be as creative and as exciting as I want. Thanks to you I now know that age, should not stop an entrepreneur. Expect to see the next Apple on the market in about 15 years.

  • Reading the comments from these kids is the most inspiring thing, ever. There is hope! πŸ™‚

    Nice work David. Kids, stay on top of it. You’re getting an incredibly valuable head start – you’re learning lessons that colleges have a difficult time teaching to people much older than you.

  • What an incredible experience. Thanks for sharing, David. Kudos to Mr. Feiger for facilitating it (I agree, Nicole! teachers rock!).

    And to the kids… I love reading your commentsβ€”I can hear the passion and excitement y’all have. And I can totally relate to the sentiments of, “I thought business was boring.”

    It took me a looooong time to figure out that it’s not… it can be whatever you want it to be. The world is open and full of possibility. Enjoy the challenges and kick some @ss out there, will ya? We need you. πŸ™‚