Entrepreneurship, in reality, is largely a team sport. I learned this lesson early in life. I was born and raised in New York City in a neighborhood loaded with retail stores. When I was 11 years old, I discovered that all the retail establishments in the neighborhood were more than willing to hire kids to shovel the snow, but there were two problems from a young person’s standpoint. First, there were too many stores and second, there was too much snow. I could see that if I tried to handle this individually, I would only be able to get the snow in front of one or two stores removed before it was too late and, in any case, it would take me too long to do the work by myself.
But entrepreneurship is all about turning obstacles into opportunities. I soon figured out that I could get a team to solve the problems. When there was a storm, the schools were closed and I made sure the store owners knew they could count on us and not have to hire anyone else. I convinced them that we would always be there in plenty of time to start the work and I was able to allocate people accordingly.
The good news was that I had a collection of friends (and cousins) who were more than willing to do the work and who didn’t like doing what I enjoyed the most — selling. Also, I had enough kids on my team to compensate for those who were less reliable than others. And, I made the exciting discovery that selling and managing client relationships was much more fun for me than doing the actual work.
The bottom line was that I gained terrific leadership experience and, by getting a team together, we were able to develop enough reliability in the minds of the store owners that they would not just hire the first kid who showed up at their stores when it snowed.
Organizing a snow removal business gave me an early understanding not only of the importance of entrepreneurship, but also, the value of teamwork. I learned about doing the work and scaling the work. I learned that the ability to set group priorities, establish roles and responsibilities, hold people accountable, manage different levels of interest and involvement, and make the whole greater than the sum of its parts are absolutely critical life skills for entrepreneurs. I also saw that the time to start building these skills is when you’re young.
These are the very reasons why I am such an enthusiastic sponsor and active participant — joined by my wife, Phyllis, as well as Babson College faculty, staff, students and alumni — in Lemonade Day in Greater Boston. Youngsters learn that to successfully run a lemonade stand, they’re not going to have to be good at all aspects of their business but they will need a strong team. It’s empowering to know that everyone can have a job and add value. Certain young people will emerge as the organizers; some are very creative and want to make the posters; others are drawn to the finances — for example, keeping track of how much lemonade is sold and how much needs to be sold to make a profit — and still others want a strong voice around donating a share of the profits to charity. Through collaboration and resourcefulness, everyone can be more productive and the outcome can be more positive than it would be for a solo performer.
I still vividly recall the pleasure that came from my first experience as an entrepreneur. As a result, I’ll always be a strong advocate for initiatives like Lemonade Day, that encourage young people to team up at an early age to become entrepreneurs.
Lemonade Day is a 14-step process that walks youth from a dream to a business plan, while teaching them the principles to start a successful company of any size. Learn more at www.LemonadeDay.org
— By Leonard A. Schlesinger, President, Babson College, Lemonade Day