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. 😉

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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