How to Help Your Child Become a Kid Entrepreneur

posted: 07/05/16
by: Ashley Vazquez
Tom and Alina
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Tom and Alina

While some kids are busy on the playground, others dedicate their young lives to making the world a better place- through starting their own businesses. What do you do when your tiny tot tells you he or she wants to start a business? How do you know if it's actually do-able, or if being in charge of a business is even good for them? We spoke to two parents who helped take their children's ideas and turn them into successful a businesses with real world impact.

When Daniela Kelly's son Ryan was just 10 years old, he picked up a book about how to make homemade healthy dog treats for his rescue pup, Barkley. This grew into a business, Ry's Ruffery (formerly Ry's Barkery) which was featured on Shark Tank, and has since grown to be sold in pet stores nationwide.

Tom Morse helped his then 9-year-old daughter, Alina develop Zollipops- lollipops that are actually good for your teeth. Her invention has been tremendously successful and her healthy teeth crusade even got her a personal invitation to the white house.

Here are some lessons we learned from the people behind the scenes- the parents who help them, encourage them, and sometimes have to step in and make difficult decisions.

1. How does a parent know if their child's idea has potential?

Tom says "Nearly everything can be tested or surveyed. Ask questions. And ask more questions. You will never know if you don't try. Also, we learn more from failing, then we do from winning. Thomas Edison tried many times before coming up with the light bulb. Whether it is successful or not, you will learn and along the way you may find something better."

2. Why Entrepreneurship is great for kids:

Daniela says "Ryan has been a serial entrepreneur with small businesses ever since he was very young. He has learned more from the failures than from the successes. He's learned about business, he's learned about how to manage his finances, how resilient he is, how smart he is, and how to keep pushing forward no matter what."

Tom says "Teaching our children to survive, be independent and provide for themselves is our responsibility as parents. The world is competitive. Supporting their ideas and helping them answer questions helps them grow."

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3. No experience required. This is something that any parent can do.

While Tom's business background certainly helped in knowing how to navigate the process, you can help your child succeed even when you don't know the first thing about business.

Daniela says "I knew nothing about business and less about dog treats! However, we did a lot of research and learned while we built the business."

4. Be the person they can count on to help them get started.

The idea for Zollipops came when a bank teller offered Alina a lollipop, and she chose not to take it because she knew too much sugar was bad for her teeth. According to her dad, Alina said "Dad, why can't we make a sucker that is good for you?" Then nearly every day she asked, "Dad, when are we going to make those suckers." She asked over a hundred times."

When Daniela saw how much neighbors, friends, and the community loved Ryan's dog treats, she was sold on his business idea, and did everything she could to encourage him. "He asked me to loan him $200.00 to buy a table, two folding chairs, poster board, cellophane bags, stickers, business cards and labels."

5. Research, Research, Research

Tom says "Alina researched the ingredients. She spoke with her dentist and hygienist, went to stores and researched online to find the magic teeth cleaning ingredients. She discovered that tooth decay was the single greatest epidemic facing kids in America, according to the US Surgeon General. This became our Cause. She researched to find out what kinds of candy were most preferred by kids. She found out that kids really love lollipops."

After asking so many questions, it was finally time for Alina to get her hands dirty. Tom says "We made samples at home. We sourced facilities to help us produce and package a delicious quality product. We did approximately 18 plant trials and Alina had her friends and family taste and comment to perfect the flavors."

For Ry's Ruffery, Daniela says it took a while to figure out what worked, "We baked treats that were like cookies and they were great. We also found recipes for muffins, which sounded like a softer alternative to the hard cookies. They molded quickly and people let us know! We quickly changed the recipe to be able to bake the hard cookies in that flavor."

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6. Persistence is key.

Tom says "Having a great product is one thing, but getting on major retailer shelves takes time and there is really no such thing as an overnight success. It takes time and persistence. It is so important to listen to customers and consider and address their questions."

8. Sometimes people won't take Kid Businesses seriously.

Daniela says "We ran into A LOT of people that didn't take Ryan's business seriously! Some were his friends, some were mine, some were family members. We just kept working and paid no attention."

Tom says "Candy that cleans your teeth sounds unbelievable, and coming from a kid, some people did not take it seriously. However, once Alina explained how they work, and customers taste a Zollipops and see how their teeth feel smooth and clean after having one, they become believers fast."

9. Making time isn't always easy, but it will be worth it.

Daniela says "Ryan is the middle of three boys. While I was baking and spending the day at the events with Ryan, I had to find rides and things to do for my other two boys. They had busy sports schedules and needed rides and meals! Also, Ryan needed help with keeping up with demand because of his own school and sports schedule. My advice to families trying to overcome these obstacles is to find a way! It is so worth it! To invest in a child's interest in entrepreneurship helps them learn life skills that they would not learn otherwise."

10. Kids will have to make sacrifices.

Alina follows a strict schedule in order to make time for everything she wants to do. According to Tom, "Before and after school, Alina balances her time into thirds. One third, homework. One third, dance and playing with her sister and friends. And one third Zollipops. All of this has helped her learn how to balance and prioritize her time."

Daniela says "Keeping up with schoolwork is a challenge for Ryan. He misses school often, and when he travels there are often very early mornings and late nights. That said, there are things he is learning by having his business and public speaking that are above and beyond what he could ever learn in the classroom. Ryan is able to play lacrosse, but not hockey as his spring speaking schedule is a little lighter than the fall and winter."

11. Entrepreneurship will teach kids valuable lessons.

Tom believes Zollipops "is adding to a richer, fuller education. Through it, Alina has grown in many ways. She has become a stronger speaker, has learned how to prioritize and balance time, and has had the opportunity to meet some amazing people and travel all over the world. What 10 year old can say they were invited to the White House by the First Lady?"

The tradeoff hasn't always been easy for Daniela, but she believes the pros far outweigh the sacrifices.

She shares this anecdote: "Ryan had to give up certain things to be able to pursue his business. He always has the choice of what and how much he'd like to be involved in. It's hard as a parent, as part of the lesson is to follow through on a commitment, yet it's hard to hold a child accountable for an adult decision he made at age 11, not really understanding ALL that running a business requires. I always want him to love what he does and remain excited about it. He does an age appropriate amount of work and is learning a lot. The tradeoff for giving up hockey and weekends hanging out with his friends is that he gets to travel and meet some really interesting people! He said recently in a speech 'I didn't give up my childhood, I redefined it."

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12. Build a team- and know when to delegate to them.

Tom says having a team behind Zollipops helps reduce Alina's time requirements. He encourages parents of kid entrepreneurs to "build a team and seek out specialists to help you in marketing, PR, sales, production, accounting, etc. Business is a team sport."

Daniela says "Ryan is involved in the day to day decision making with Ry's Ruffery, the speaking events, and anything he can learn from. It's not the best use of his time to pack orders and answer the phone and email as it takes away from the little time he gets to himself."

13. Take a risk.

Daniela says "I would tell parents that aren't sure if their child's idea can be successful to let them try anyway! If it fails, so what? The success for us has not been measured in how much money he's made, but how much we've both learned and how fun and worthwhile the ride has been!"

Tom says "Many entrepreneurs young and old never take the first step. As parents we need to help and teach kids to take and manage risk, and not be scared to take a chance. If you can teach kids to understand and how to manage risk, it will carry with them throughout their entire life and they sky is the limit for what they could achieve."