Updated: Dec 13, 2020
The summer of 2007 marked the start of my very first business venture. For those of you doing the math, I was in fourth grade.
The business? A lemonade stand.
Despite the simplicity of selling lemonade, I learned a great deal about running a business. Five lessons stand out.
1. When it comes to business partners, make sure you have the right one.
When you start your own business, you have to wear at least fifteen different hats – fedora, baseball hat, visor.
Oops, wrong type of hats.
What I mean is that you have to be the bank, the advertiser, the janitor, the buyer, the jack of all trades.
A reliable business partner can share in wearing these different hats, especially if they are having a bad hair day.
In 2007, at the ripe ages of 10 and 11, my neighbor, Kurt Hathaway, and I went into business together. We shared a similar goal – we wanted to make money. We also, and more importantly, brought different skills to the table – stand rather.
Kurt brought his ingenuity and handiwork to the partnership. Kurt was born building things. (This kid’s favorite toys were a hammer and a drill at age two if that tells you anything). He built us the Cadillac of lemonade stands.
I added marketing and product management to the business. I created posters and ads that we hung up around the neighborhood. I also led production by mixing up our famous lemonade and some baked goods for the stand.
Our different skills allowed us to share the responsibilities of the business instead of creating friction.
Samantha and Kurt with Kurt's Shih Tzu Max. Circa 2005.
2. Location, location, location.
Business relies on exposure. A location with a lot of foot traffic or maintaining a building on a busy street can get more customers in the door and drive sales.
Our lemonade stand had very limited exposure. Kurt and I lived in a neighborhood with three dead-end streets with no more than 30 houses.
In the first few days, we did great with sales. Everyone wanted a refreshing drink.
But success doesn’t last forever. Believe it or not, people can grow tired of lemonade.
3. When you don’t have a great location, have an event.
With a slump in sales, we had to come up with a new strategy.
I don’t remember exactly how but our families decided to have a yard sale together. This was our chance!
We advertised our lemonade stand with the garage sale in the classified ads and on posters hung up on streets further out from our neighborhood.
On the day of the garage sale, we made batch after batch of lemonade and ran out of cookies.
We generated more revenue in hours than we had been able to in all the previous days combined.
We realized we would probably never see those yard sale customers in the neighborhood again, but at least we could rejoice in a temporary sales boost. The garage sale demonstrated that while we typically did not have good exposure, we could generate sales by working alongside an event.
One of the best pictures from our early friendship. March 1999.
4. Get investors who are not afraid to lose money.
Generally, investors do not invest in projects that don’t look profitable.
There are exceptions. Your parents.
(I am not advocating for entrepreneurs to ask their parents or other family members for large investments. In fact, having family investors can create conflict. I am merely making a point that young kids tend to be cute and when they ask their parents for money to start a lemonade stand, their parents will probably give them the money without issue.)
We asked for maybe $40 between the wood for the stand, poster paper, and ingredients. While they put on an act about being responsible with money, our parents definitely did not expect to see that money again.
5. Have fun with whatever you do.
Maybe it was because we were young or maybe it was because we had a constant sugar rush from the lemonade, but we had fun running our lemonade stand.
According to a survey from Forbes, more than 50 percent of people in the workforce are unhappy in their jobs. They feel unchallenged and undervalued.
Take it from the 10 and 11-year-old. Do what makes you happy.
Our attempt at recreating the 1999 photo at Kurt's high school graduation. 2015.