Laura

Lil' Businesswoman

Laura
Lil' Businesswoman

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.)

Cutest lil' business ladies.
Cutest lil' business ladies.

This wasn’t my last attempt to solicit my neighbors for money.

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 after that, we decided that the natural next step was to decorate an entire box of Kleenex, separate them into Ziploc bags, and sell them around the neighborhood.

We went door-to-door with our invention. Each bag of five cost 25 cents. If you were lucky, you’d buy a bag with a hidden “Stripes” edition Kleenex in the middle, in which case you won a second bag. This seemed like a great idea until my mom purchased a bag with stripes, and ended up winning three bags in a row. We had clearly gone overboard with the stripes.

At the end of the day, with about $3 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.

There’s also the time that a friend and I decided to try our hands at becoming clowns that you could rent for birthday parties or bar mitzvahs. Unbeknownst to either of our mothers (who were 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, which in my opinion was the only proof we needed as to how serious we were about clowning around.

Some people were kind enough to toss a dollar or two our way. One guy gave us $20, which I later found in a desk drawer and spent on vending machine snacks in middle school. Another lady who clearly did not support our aspirations kept asking us questions about our business plan and, rather than investing money, offered to help us sew costumes once we’d raised enough money for fabric.

Looking back, I see why my neighbors were hesitant to buy Girl Scout cookies from me…

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