You hear about famous basketball players shooting hoops in their neighborhood as little kids, you hear about Nobel Prize winners taking college physics courses in elementary school, and you hear about virtuosos born with a violin in their tiny hands. What about entrepreneurs?
When I look back at my life as a serial entrepreneur, I find that many of my successes had their roots in my childhood, and I have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to my upbringing, even with its challenges.
Here are some tips on how to raise a free-thinking entrepreneur, or create one in yourself:
- 1) Know that playing is serious business
- When I was little, I used to skip school and go to junk yards that had scrap military equipment to pick up electronics parts and gear. I had a lab in my room where I spent most of my time with my friends, and that kind of hands-on learning did a lot to stroke my interest in how things work and how to improve upon them. I’m not exactly advocating for truancy here, but let kids be tactile, encourage them to create rather than consume, and give them access to interesting materials and sources of inspiration. That creativity will serve them well throughout their lives.
- 2) Identify and encourage their strengths
- My grades in high school were so bad that I was voted the least likely to succeed. But I followed my passion and now have authored over 50 patents and exited over $3 billion. The best business advice I ever received was from my mother, who was a great independent thinker. She said “Find the one thing you are better than anyone else at and focus on that.” That’s exactly what I’ve done. It’s important to let kids know there are multiple ways to measure talent, and their success in life will be based on much more than grades alone.
- 3) Foster independent thinking
- Teach your kids to keep an open mind and not get locked into ideas or norms you get taught in school or in the workplace. Personally, I didn’t finish college and did not work for a big company, so I was free from the shackles most others have when it comes to original thinking and the willingness to challenge the status quo. Obviously it’s very possible to maintain independent thought in academic and enterprise environments, but that requires mindfulness and self-awareness, and children should be taught the difference between learning from/contributing to a community, and completely joining the hive mind.
- 4) Challenge conventional wisdom
- When you’re young, you often hear the following bad advice: “Wait your turn and pay your dues and things will just work out.” No, they don’t. The business world is not forgiving and does not leave opportunities open for long. I learned to seize the day and I lead by example. Challenging conventional wisdom also means listening to bright thinkers, regardless of their status. For example, the name of my company, Celsius, was thought up by an intern after the founders took turns coming up blank. The best ideas can come from the freshest eyes, so take your advice from more than just those higher in the pecking order than you.
- 5) Show them how to pick a diverse team
- It might be tempting to gravitate only toward friends or familiar faces, but in play and in business, having a range of voices on your team is essential for growth and success. I think one of the most important things in our company is that we have more women than men on the team, and we are careful to keep it that way. If we are planning a global revolution, we better include the group that makes up over 50% of the population!
- 6) Help them find and remember their roots
- I was born in the Ukraine, grew up in Israel, and eventually moved to the US. I’ve experienced many times how it feels to shift environments, to be the new kid, to start from scratch. I always have an eye on how what I do makes an impact. In my businesses, we always check that our new offerings do good before we do well, and we remember that 90% of the world’s population does not have the daily opportunities that most of us take for granted. We design our products with these people in mind. I did well in my career, but I do not forget where I came from as an immigrant.
- 7) Model making time for family
- My wife, Krissy Mashinksy, also has a big career as president of the Urban Outfitters/Anthropologie/Free People global wholesale group. We both motivate each other and support each other with our careers and work-life balance. It’s always a challenge to coordinate time with family or joint travel, but when you put each other as a priority, it allows you to resolve a lot of issues quickly. Our six kids have learned to be very independent with such busy parents, just like I was, which is a positive side effect.
- 8) Show them how to rest, and how to start fresh
- My best ideas come after a good night’s rest or a nap. I usually write myself a note or email at the end of each day with the most important things I have to do the next morning… and most of the time I laugh at how irrelevant they are when the next day comes. It’s important to show kids this side of business as well. You need to rest and live to fight another day, and you need to be willing to change directions when you find a better path.
My company, Celsius, arranges peer-to-peer crypto lending, generating income for our community of users worldwide. Most of these users are located in countries where there is almost no opportunity to generate a return on capital.
By remembering your upbringing, your story, and your unique pain points, you can identify how you can make the biggest impact on the world and do the most good. That begins with kids, and it begins with parents. It isn’t college degrees or grades that define a successful business person, rather it’s the tenacity to fight to improve a situation or meet a need you alone identify, using your particular talents and drawing on the wisdom of the voices around you.