I just finished Delivering Happiness by Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, and it was fantastic. Truly inspiring, funny, and so insightful. In the first part of the book Tony talks about all the crazy businesses he started when he was a kid – from a worm farm to a greeting card business, and that it was his goal to figure out a way to make money, even at a very young age (later he learns that service and company culture are just as important as making money). This lead me to reminisce about some of the absolute crazy ideas I had as a kid, and wonder … what was I thinking?!
Many of the craziest of my tiny ventures were not actually about making money, they were more focused on creating movements or trying to make a difference in my small community. I was always very ambitious, for better or for worse. It wasn’t until years later at IBM where someone actually labeled me that way, stressing it was a *bad* thing, that I ever questioned that thinking. Yes, I had the lemonade stand, the garage sale, and the greeting card making business (where I actually created the cards with construction paper and then went door to door selling them in the neighborhood). I even tried the good ol’ offer of hard labor working to sweep a walk way for $1, rake leaves, organize a garage, etc. Those were the money making ideas. Of my other ideas, it was a split between ambitious and insane. Let me tell you about the insane first.
2nd grade (age 7): My best childhood friend, Johanna, and I got it in our heads that we could build an airplane. She had a lot of scrap wood in her back yard, and we spec’d it out on a piece of construction paper. It would not only fly, it would also have the most amazing feature of of giant magnifying glass attached to the top, that could zap things. I was really into zapping bugs with magnifying glasses at the time. When my mom told me that it was impossible to build a plane with a glorious magnifying glass on top I had a fit. A complete and utter fit. I accused my mother of not believing in me, not supporting me, and ultimately holding me back. Johanna and I worked on the plane for a month or so, gathering wood, making plans, and eventually, it fizzled. We dragged all the wood into the forest and made a fort, which was pretty cool, and even secured the fort from intruders with a magnifying glass at every corner. Note, there is no sun in the forest.
That one was insane, but I had some other good ideas too, that I actually learned from and tried to make a difference with. There was Pollution Solutions (PS for short), a company I created with my sister, Amber, and my cousin, Mikey, where I was the CEO. I asked my Dad what was the highest position someone could hold in a company, and he gave me the title of CEO. We set up offices in my parents basement and worked tirelessly to create posters, flyers, and educate people in the neighborhood about stopping pollution and encouraging recycling. We even wrote a letter to President Bush (the 1st one) about the importance of ending pollution and got a response back that I think my Mother still has. After a while, Amber and Mikey, couldn’t take much more of my bossing around, and we decided to close up shop and just play video games. We ruled Mario Brothers that year.
3rd grade (age 8): At school, with my friends Johanna and April, we kicked off a Recycling program in the lunch room. We asked the lunch ladies if we could create signs for each trash bin so that the materials would be separated into paper, plastic, and other. At the time, 1/2 pint milk cartons were standard with everyone’s lunch (and were 25 cents each), so we figured there were a lot of cartons that could get recycled. The lunch ladies agreed, on one condition, that we actually took the trash home, sorted it ourselves, and brought it to the recycling center. We were excited at first and thought that they were really behind us in the effort. April created signs, which I vividly recall included people with square heads showing how to separate paper and plastic. We watched during the very first lunch period, as people ignored the signs and threw their food garbage in with their milk cartons. After sorting through one of those bags after school, I was done, and I’m pretty sure this is where my current germophobia resides from to this very day.
5th grade (age 10): One of the last ideas that I remember being pretty excited about was very cleverly (I thought anyway) named by Johanna and I – K.I.D.S.W.A.R. KidsWar stood for “Kids In Doomed Shirley Want Airport Refused” … a little dark with the whole “doomsday” thing, but I always had a flare for the dramatic as well. You see, growing up in Shirley, there was an Army Base called Fort Devons that was very much a part of the culture of the town. Around the age of 10, the government was doing cut backs and closing down military bases all over the country. Many of my friends were part of military families, and my Dad served as a civilian in the Airforce for over 30 years (Hanscom Airforce Base). The closure of the base was sad, but when there were rumors that they would replace the army base with an airport, the town became up and arms. Johanna and I decided to form a contingent group of kids from our class, to learn about the bad effects an airport would have on the town, and then get people to sign a petition to vote against the airport. We organized a group of 10 kids, held weekly meetings, and even invited a speaker to come to my house to give us a presentation on the airport plans. We created a petition, it was the first time I heard the phrase “we the undersigned”, which seemed so formal to me (and still does), and got people around the neighborhood to sign it. We then sent it to our town’s selectmen, and in the end, the airport never made it to Shirley. This little project actually taught me a lot about organizing a group behind a cause, educating ourselves about the issues, and then eventually taking action to ensure our voice was heard.
I wish I could say I focused on money making schemes as a child and found really clever ways to produce a side business, but the truth is, I was more interested in causes and organizing people to try to make a difference. I think this is why TaskRabbit resonates with me so much, and executing on the ultimate vision of connecting a neighborhood to live more efficiently and help each other out re-invigorates me every morning. I guess that resonates and the fact that we’ve found a way to make money with it too!
What crazy schemes did you come up with as a kid? I want to hear them!