From tasks to start-ups … how young entrepreneurs really start...

Oct. 13, 2020

I have been running MyPocketSkill, the start-up focused on connecting young people, aged 13-19, with paid and volunteering opportunities, for the last 9 months. Our aim is to tool-up teens with real-life skills.

Then there is a host of other potential benefits, including helping with the career-discovering journey and enabling them to make connections with people outside of their immediate social circle. The latter in particularly is identified by The Careers and Enterprise Company as enhancing employment prospects. Young people should also be able to earn more per hour than in traditional, less flexible jobs, like shelf-stacking. And money is a great motivator.

What I find really rewarding though is coming across stories of how doing simple tasks like babysitting, lawn-mowing or a paper round can lead to much more and is sometimes instrumental in creating young entrepreneurs.

The Financial Times recently ran a series of articles, including 'The teenage summer jobs that shaped leaders' describing this particular journey. Amongst entrepreneurs who credit the ignition of their entrepreneurial spark to simple tasks they did as teenagers, are Kristo Käärmann (CEO and co-founder of TransferWise, a £bn London-based fintech company), Whitney Wolfe (founder and CEO of Bumble, a dating app, where women approach men) and Biz Stone (founder of Twitter), who has a great story of how he met his life-long mentor when mowing his lawn.

On a much smaller scale, we see the same with MyPocketSkill. Take Sam Wick, a young entrepreneur, who is on our platform and started a fashion business, Lemons and Limes, when he was 15. He initially did the paper round to earn some cash. That simple task gave him more confidence and importantly some start-up capital. He re-invested his proceeds into trading limited-edition fashion items such as trainers and t-shirts. Now aged 16, he is turning over 10s of thousands of pounds, partly trading, partly designing and selling combat trousers at £65 per pop and t-shirts, picturing lemons and limes, alongside studying for his A-levels. In his own words, whilst most of his peer group are just 'happy if someone buys them beer', he thinks big. Chatting to him, I observe how agile his mind is and how absolutely into everything he is. Indeed his plans now are grandiose but even he admits that it was not always the case and that it was the paper round that made him. But ultimately I notice how adept he is at problem-solving. Are entrepreneurs made or born?

My experience of delivering programmes for Young Enterprise also supports the theory that small jobs can be a stepping stone into creating a more entrepreneurial mindset. I would walk into the classroom and observe that in a typical group of young people, despite them self-selecting to take part, inevitably half would mess-about, while others would be very quiet. Then there would be one young person, brimming with ideas, who seemed to know exactly how to get things done: where to print that leaflet, which social media tool works best.

Typically, when you chat to them there is always a commonality. Either they had an exposure to a family business or a neighbour’s business where they helped out; or their parents were really good at saying ‘Come on - let us go and sell that lemonade, wash that car’, encouraging them to do little jobs and earn pocket money. There is actually a whole bunch of scientific research that supports this. Check out research on ‘What makes entrepreneurs entrepreneurial’ by professor of entrepreneurship in university of Virginia, Savas Sarasvathy, and Nobel Laurete, Herbert Simon.

As a parent, I also see that every day - my son, aged 10, is acutely interested in what I am up to with MyPocketSkill. He already has done his first task, collecting leaves from a bay-tree to sell to the herb stall at the local market (my husband and I may have helped a bit). But as I see him being curious and wanting to miss Wednesday at school (his favourite day of sport matches) to come to a focus group that we are running, I wonder if the seeds of a future entrepreneur are being sewn. And if this exposure to my own start-up journey and doing little tasks in the neighbourhood, would help him to create and run his future business empire.

Zara Ransley is a co-founder of MyPocketSkill, a digital start-up in the making, which connects young people, aged 13-19, with paid and volunteering opportunities, and which has a big ambition of being a platform for young entrepreneurs, supported by real-life entrepreneurs.