Ramit teaches kids, bribes them

Ramit Sethi · July 14th, 2006

Yesterday, after being invited by Ben Casnocha, I went to San Francisco to teach students at a BizWorld Foundation event. They were between 2nd grade and 5th grade and I spoke to them about personal entrepreneurship.

Now let me first say that I’ve given talks to CEOs and VCs and a lot of others, but there’s something unnverving about speaking to children. This is mostly because they don’t give a damn about my blog or my company or whatever. Also, if you read yesterday’s post on my knocking a child over at a BBQ, it becomes even worse. So I cleared my head, took a deep breath, and tried to talk to these harmless children about entrepreneurship and why failure doesn’t really matter when we’re young.

After giving them a simple overview of entrepreneurship–“entrepreneurs think about failure differently, take initiative, and challenge assumptions”–one of the things I said was, “Who thinks they can do something risky right now?” A few of them raised their hand, so I picked one of the students out and asked him to come up to the front of the room, where I gave him $5 and had everyone applaud him. His name was Em. See, I told them, there are 2 lessons I see:

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1. Sometimes you can get great things just by raising your hand.
2. The world isn’t really fair. A few students raised their hand, but I picked him for no good reason. It’s easy to get discouraged, but the people who want to succeed will shrug it off and keep trying next time something like this happens.

Then I asked Em if he thought he could turn the $5 into $20 by the end of the month. Although he must have been in 2nd or 3rd grade, he looked right back at me and said, “Yeah, I think so.” How? I asked. “Maybe I’ll put it in the bank and get interest.” I gave him the $5 and asked him to email me at the end of the month.

What can we expect from Em in 10 or 20 years?

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  1. Dan Esparza

    What an amazing story! I have 2 daughters — my oldest is 10 (or entering 5th grade this next year).

    I recently gave her a ‘summer challenge’ whereby if give her $100 and she can turn it into $150, I’ll double it — and she’ll end up with $300.

    It piqued her curiosity, to say the least, and it also inspired a very interesting conversation on how she could do such a thing.

    Ever since then she’s had visions of using her creativity and what interests her now (knitting, jewelry-making, etc) to make money. It’s been a very interesting adventure.

    Giving somebody the inspiration and the tools to really succeed in life is an amazing opportunity — you did a good thing, Ramit.

  2. Dan, so many people criticize parents for giving their children money and spoiling them. Many parents do indeed do this and should take notes on what you’re doing with your daughter. It is constructive, educational, and definitely helps her to understand money’s value. Kudos.

  3. Cute story… the teachers should be grateful, now the kids will always want to raise their hands, with or without the answers.

  4. ricemutt

    Wow, what a perfect example you used in your talk. It illustrated your point but in a context the kids would understand. I don’t think I could have come up with that idea.

  5. I recommend “The First National Bank of Dad” (David Owen) for a quick read about a refreshing way of dealing with kids and money.

    It’s probably too simple to summarize here, but basically he emphasizes:

    1) Letting kids be responsible for their money at a very young age (learn value from the toystore, not from the real estate market)

    2) Teaching kids about interest/stocks/etc by giving them a child-appropriate bank (I think he recommends 5% per month interest).

    You may not agree with everything he says (e.g., he takes a “contraversial” stance on teenagers working), and I view this as a good thing. If you are a parent (or plan to be one), it’s worth a read.

    It will definitely make you think.

  6. ian MacBean

    very cool. kids are sol malleable at this age and these are the sorts of simple examples that can leave alongstanding impression.

  7. Wilson

    That’s a great idea, Ramit, although I think Dan (comment #1)’s example illustrates the point in greater detail.

    Its never too early to start teaching kids about the perceived-grown-up world of money. Like the above commenters have said, these principles of personal entrepreneurship will be instilled in the children at an early age and will contribute greatly to their success.

  8. jinal shah

    Very inspiring 🙂

  9. Bouani

    Kids yearn to know their place in the world and how THEY can make a difference

    The Way We Were…

    We adults grew up in a world where we actually referenced a big thick phone book to find someone’s address or flipped through the newspaper to find when a movie starts.

    New Breed of Info Seekers

    Today’s kids are a whole new breed of information seekers. They have the world available to them through a keyword search engine. And today’s kids can send pictures back and forth to a kid halfway across the world through a phone in an instant. It’s a smaller world, after all. And as a result of this, today’s kids want more from their books than Judy Blume, Nancy Drew and Star Wars gave us. They are yearning to know their place in their world and how THEY can make a difference in it.

    Others Agree

    Back in May, I attended a BookExpo (Washington DC) breakout session called Trends Impacting the Future of Children’s Publishing moderated by Dr. Mary Manz Simon, children’s market trend tracker with the following panelists:

    · Kate Klimo, VP Random House/Golden Books

    · Valerie Garfield, VP, Assc Publisher, Simon Spotlight and Little Simon, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Div

    · Craig Walker, VP Editorial and Media, Trade Paperbacks, Scholastic

    · Bruce Nuffer, President, Zonderkidz

    The panel discussed the differences in this generation of kids and how publishing is changing because kids today are yearning to find their place in the world.

    More Than Lemonade Stands

    Recenting, I met with a few 3rd-5th grade kids. They and their parents had gathered to meet me in a “meet the author” event. We chatted in a conference table in a room with a white board. I asked them, “Now that you have read the book, do you want to own your own business one day?” They said they did. “What sort of business would you like to have?” I asked.

    The first boy said he wanted to own a motorcycle store. So, I drew his motorcycle shop up on the white board with motorcycles and stick people customers. Another kid wanted to own his own outdoor/hunting store. So, I drew that up on the board, across the street from the motorcycle shop. The third kid wanted to own a hardward/software store. “Well, that’s perfect! Because the motorcycle store and the outdoor/hunting store will need hardware and software to run their store,” I said, explaining the relationship between customers and vendors. And so it went.

    The kids were so engaged in the moment. They could envision their place in the world, and they could do it with their peers. They had a dream to work towards.

    At the end, a mother asked the kids, “Ok, what words did you learn today?” The first kid shouted, “Entrepreneur!” and the next said, “Brainstorming!” As I watched big grins take over the kids faces and the eyes of the parents sparkle, I felt an enormous amount of energy in the room, and I thought back to the long nights and weekends I had spent alone typing at my computer, writing Tyler and His Solve-a-matic Machine The hairs raised on my arms at this moment when I realized we really do have the power to make a difference in kids’ lives and the future of America.