When I was 8 years old, I started my first "business".
Have you watched cartoons where kids sell lemonade on the street in front of their house? Well, that was me in real life, I was one of those. My younger brother remembers that I used to tell him to go knock on our neighbors’ door to sell lemonade. He also says that I would always keep 99% of the money to myself and give him a “very low salary”. My mom says I never paid her back for the ingredients we used.
This was long ago; I was around 8 years old and my younger brother 6. We obviously did this just for fun. I guess I watched a movie, saw kids selling lemonade to their neighbors, and decided to do the same. I recently understood that’s basically where and when my entrepreneurship journey began, I want to say it was my first business even though my mom and my brother will totally disagree with me.
I can’t really remember when or how I discovered I liked money, but my mom always jokes around saying that if I could sell her, I would… just because I like selling everything. She has so many stories she could tell you about me trying to make money since I was a kid and all my crazy “business ideas”. I will share my top 6, keep in mind that I probably have more than 20 stories like this.
#1 Spicy Candies
We used to travel to Mexico often, and what I would do is ask my mom to buy not toys for me but spicy candy bags (the ones I couldn’t find in Guatemala) and later on I would sell them to my classmates back in elementary school. I had no expenses, only profit because my mom would obviously never charge me for those spicy candies bags she bought. The one in the photo was by far my favorite and the best seller.
#2 World Cup Pins
My mom used to have a small printing business and she had a friend that printed customized pins. The World Cup is a big deal in Latin America, even though I never had a thing for soccer, my younger brother did, we would collect those stickers with the soccer players’ faces and fill up the album together. That’s when a different business idea came to my mind!
I asked my mom’s friend to help me make customized pins with the flags of the most popular soccer teams, like Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, etc. They were super cute and cheap, and every single time they would be sold out in a matter of seconds. Students from every year would come to look for me and buy a pin. It was almost a trend to have one of those pins on your backpack back then. I was probably 10 years old.
#3 Friendship Bracelets
Later on, I learned to make bracelets, those handmade hippie-style kinds of bracelets. I would “advertise” them as “friendship bracelets” and some of my classmates would also buy those from me. They were “customized bracelets”, and my classmates would ask me for the colors and design they wanted. I would stay up all night long doing those. I guess I was around 11 years old.
#4 Cheat Papers (“chivos”)
As many of my close friends know I've always been terrible at math and numbers in general, I always needed a math tutor to come to my house to help me do my homework and study before exams. Actually, not only math but also chemistry, physics, accounting, statistics… every class that included numbers I struggled… A LOT.
The good thing is that I NEVER failed a class, ever. I am sure all my teachers still wonder how did I pass their classes… well, I am not too proud to admit that I cheated. I would type all those annoying formulas that they expected us to memorize, use Arial font size 5, print them, cut them and paste them behind my water bottle where the ingredients section was, sometimes I would hide the little paper under my long socks and try to see the formulas.
Once I shared my little dirty secret with my friends, guess what happened? They started buying those little papers from me! Our spoken “MOU” (Memorandum of understanding) was that if one of us was ever caught cheating they would never say it was me selling them or printing them. One of my friends (Esteban I hope you read this one day) was almost caught by our principal…. What did he do? He ate the tiny paper! We were probably 15 years old back then.
A photo that my friend Christopher sent me from one of the real cheat papers he still has at home, they really had all the information needed.
#5 My first job
When I was 14 years old, I got my first official job, my mom had to write a letter to the shop authorizing me to work because I was underage (the legal age is 18). It was a shop called “Maya Extreme”, it was a shop that sold longboards, surfboards, Crocs, brands like Roxy and Billabong. It was supposed to be only a winter vacation job but I did so many sales during Christmas time that my boss asked me if I wanted to work during the weekends because I was still in junior high, so the deal was to work every other weekend. A total of only 4 full days a month, the shop was 40min away from my house and my mom would drive me and pick me up … she never charged me for gas, thanks, mom!
Again, only profit and no expenses. I had a minimum salary but I would also get a commission from the sales I did, let me tell you... the commission I got back then was almost twice as much as the minimum salary I had. Surfboards and longboards aren’t cheap. I would work from 9 am to 8 pm Saturday and Sunday.
At such a young age I learned so many things. I was sometimes responsible for opening the store, going to the bank to deposit money, making sure the daily cashflow was correct at the end of the day, checking the new inventory, putting the price tag, plan events, come up with promotions and sales, FB advertising, you name it!
There was usually only one more person at the store with me, none of them lasted as long as I did so I had more responsibilities than them, I had to teach them how to do things. I worked there for 2 years until I decided to quit. I was 16 years old and it was my senior year of high school so all I wanted was to focus on school and spend enough time with my friends. Because I did miss a lot of parties and hangouts, while my friends were having fun or watching a movie over the weekend I decided to work. This experience was not a business but it definitely taught me the inside out of a real business.
When I was 15 I also discovered one of my biggest hobbies and passions: photography. I started taking photos of my friends that did longboarding, rock-climbing, and surfing, these were friends I met while I worked at “Maya Extreme”. Then I discovered documentary photography and I found out none of these made money.
Later on, I found out that what actually makes money is portrait photography. So, I started selling photography packages to my family members and did “photoshoots” for them. Friends of friends started hiring me as their wedding photographer, event photographer, and also as their photographer for “quinceañeras” (15-year-old parties). It was great money! I had to buy a good camera and a good lens, so this time (for the first time) I actually paid (half of the money) my mom back for the camera she bought me with my savings from “Maya Extreme”.
Entrepreneurship means different things to different people. For me, it means trying even though you are scared of failing. One of my favorite entrepreneur quotes says: “In business, you never lose, you either win or you learn”. I know I am one of the few lucky ones that had a supportive mom that taught me by letting me try new things, she taught me the value of money by never giving me money alone but by letting me experiment with different ways of making money. She probably doesn’t even know that she was just raising a crazy entrepreneur.
Unfortunately as we grow older the scarier failure seems, when we are kids everything is just a game, an experiment. If we manage to see business like this, then failure is not an excuse or a wall that will stop us from doing things we want to try. I hope that by reading this you realize that maybe you've stopped yourself from starting a cool business, starting just means trying!
Being an entrepreneur means finding solutions to problems, seeing a need, or creating something that people will like. Words that I underlined like: packages, salary, trend, promotions, sales, inventory, MOU, expenses, profit, innovation, cash flow, plan… are words that I learned when I was studying my MBA (Master's Degree in Business Administration). It is crazy to think that I was already doing all of those before turning 15 years old without even knowing.
So, if you happen to be a mom or a dad reading this, let your kids experiment as much as possible! Let them fail and teach them that money doesn’t come quick or easy. If I could recommend something else is to read "A makes has a plan" by Maye Musk’s biography (Elon Musk’s mom). She has three extremely successful children, they are all entrepreneurs and the only thing she did was support them with their crazy ideas during their teenage years. If you are not a mom or a dad yet, and unfortunately your parents were not as supportive as my mom you should also read the book.
Because I have so many more stories to tell, I will continue telling my stories in the next blogs. A bit of my life after high school, when I was 17 years old. How I ended up actually registering a “legit” company with real lawyers, accountants, and all of those when I was 23 years old. I had graduated from my MBA only a month before that and didn’t know what a "business model canvas" was. I've never had a “formal” job that lasted as long as the one at Maya Extreme when I was 14 years old, but I did 5 very short unpaid internships in 5 different countries and fields that taught me a whole new set of skills.