I started my first entrepreneurial venture at the age of six.
Too young to babysit or mow lawns but desperate for cash to spend on whatever it is a six-year-old thinks they need to buy, I decided to start my own neighborhood business. A lemonade stand was too mainstream. I opted instead to corner the market on envelopes.
My business partner was my 4 year old sister, whom I was counting on for both her talkativeness and the cuteness factor. Despite her loyalty (she sat outside in the North Carolina summer heat with me for three full hours,) she ended up being a liability by dropping half of our inventory (sheets of printer paper that I folded and taped into a shape resembling an envelope) in wet dirt.
We dragged our little plastic kitchen set from our backyard to the end of the driveway and set up our very own pop-up store. (Now that I’m a graduate of business school, I realize that our location in a cul-de-sac of a quiet suburban subdivision was not exactly strategic.)
Our marketing consisted of a paper sign, with “Envelopes, 10 cents” written in pencil and taped to the front of the play oven. We took turns holding up my Scooby Doo umbrella for shelter from the sun and sat down to wait for the customers to come to us.
And we sat. And we waited. And 45 minutes later, I took my shirt off because it was hot. And even though we were now completely differentiated as the only topless envelope sales team, we had zero customers. My mom didn’t even toss one dime our way that day. (Though she did bring us lemonade, so in some way, she was still contributing to our budding entrepreneurship.)
Wouldn’t it be cute if this was the end of the blog post?
Alas, no. This was far from my last attempt to solicit my neighbors for money.
In second grade, I used the words “p.s. please let us this is our first chance” as my call-to-action for a handwritten babysitting poster.
One year, I swiped the clippings after my dad trimmed the bottom branches off our Christmas tree, shoved them into the dirt in the backyard by our swing set, and invited the neighbor kids to my “baby Christmas tree farm.”
“DOTS”: THE NOSE KNOWS (NOThing)
In third grade, I enlisted the help of my sister and a neighbor from across the street to manufacture and sell “Dots.” We conceived the idea in an upstairs bedroom while drawing with scented markers. At some point in the afternoon we ran out of paper and started polka-dotting Kleenex with these markers. Five minutes later, we’d decorated an entire box of Kleenex, separated them into Ziploc bags, and were on the way out the door to peddle them to the neighborhood.
Our marketing gimmick was a good old fashioned Willy Wonka golden ticket. If you spent a quarter on a bag and happened to find a hidden “Stripes” edition Kleenex hidden in the middle, you won a second bag.
But instead of attracting four rotten kids and impossibly precious young Freddie Highmore, we realized we hadn’t gotten our concept of scarcity down. My mom purchased a bag with stripes, so she got another bag. With another striped Kleenex. So she won another. And another. We had clearly gone overboard with the stripes.
Bless the neighbors who found us charming enough to fish a quarter out of their pockets.
At the end of the day, with about $1.75 of profits - just enough to buy a box of Kleenex to replace the one we’d wasted - we made the horrifying discovery that if you used these decorated Kleenex for their intended nose-blowing purpose, the marker came off and left you with smears of marker on your face.
What can I say? Testing standards were low in 2001.
Big shoes, big noses. My sister and I were probably destined to become clowns - and there’s still plenty of time - but our first attempt at circus life was our hope of becoming birthday party clowns.
Unbeknownst to our mother (who was later mortified,) we knocked on doors around the neighborhood asking for monetary donations to buy costumes and makeup.
I had whipped up a colorful flyer on Microsoft Word to advertise our services. (I chose the Microsoft logo clip art so there’d be NO QUESTION of my skills: computer, clown, or otherwise.) I was convinced that with my limited experience attended birthday parties at roller skating rinks and the bowling alleys, I had my finger on the pulse of everything you needed in a good party.
To this day, I distinctly recall one woman who seemed (appropriately) skeptical. She asked us (an 8-year old and a 6-year old) if we had a copy of a business plan she could see. Rather than investing, she offered to help us sew costumes once we’d raised enough money for fabric.
I firmly believe with my whole heart that that woman should run for President.
Most of my neighbors scooped spare change from the bottom of their purses or tossed a dollar our way to get us off their porch.
One guy donated $20 to fund our entrepreneurial spirit, which I later found safely zipped in a blue zebra print coin purse in a desk drawer and promptly spent on vending machine snacks in middle school.
AMERICAN IDOL MADE ME DO IT
After our clown plan had faded, I set my sights on a bigger dream. My fourth grade best friend, Heather and I were convinced we were the next gift to the pop music scene.
We knew we needed a producer, a hit single, a demo CD. (Things we hadn’t considered would be useful in our pursuit: Actual vocal talent.)
My uncle owned an independent record label at the time, so we did some quick math and determined that all we needed to make our careers take off was to buy plane tickets to visit him in Colorado.
We started off knocking on doors, launching into a passionate monologue about our dream of becoming world-famous to any neighbors who would listen.
Then we marched home and created a stack of hand-written letters to leave in the mailboxes of the people who hadn’t been home (or who had bought into my scented tissues and clown party scheme and were hiding behind their curtains hoping I’d move on the next home.)
And that’s how I became the pop sensation I am today.
(In the end, our Yoko Ono was that our passion for the music biz died out about a week later when we decided to become professional volleyball players instead.)
I wake up every single day and hope that the fact that I recently found about 15 handwritten copies of this note in my parents’ storage room is a safe sign that I lost interest before actually delivering any of these to neighbors.
Looking back, I am shocked anyone opened the door for me when it was Girl Scout cookie season.
Don’t tell me I don’t know the hustle. Follow Girl, Interrupting on Facebook HERE.