Oct 17, 2011

Kidzforce and My Paper Route


This weekend, we introduced publicly, Kidzforce, a new opportunity for young and ambitious kids to learn the skills necessary to help them become future business leaders, and make a few bucks along the way.  I personally am excited about this program because aside from mowing neighbors' lawns or babysitting, there are very few programs these days that provide real life job experience.  Of course, we still have programs such as  the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, which provide valuable life lessons to prepare young children for the real world, but nothing that provides the depth of field for entrepreneurship.  I had such an opportunity as a kid, and looking back, it taught me the single most important lesson I've learned in my professional career.
My first entrepreneurial experience was delivering newspapers while in middle school.  Prior to this, I was nothing more than a na├»ve and insecure 12 year old who loved my Commodore 64 and playing D&D (Dungeons and Dragons, for you less geeky-types).  My good friend and D&D cohort lived a few blocks away and had a paper route of his own.  One summer, he offered me a job as his replacement while he was away on vacation.  Riding bikes in the blistering hot Arizona summer did not sound at all appealing, but when he told me about all the money he earned (for a 12 year old, ANY additional change for the arcade was appealing), my interest was immediately peaked and I accepted.  I “invested” in an old bike from a garage sale that was ugly, mustard-color and for girls, but had huge baskets on the back and front and was cheap.  As a kid that regularly played D&D, function over form was my only criteria.

The first few weeks were great.  I had to arrive at the paper drop location at a certain time, unwrap bundles of papers and rubber band each individually.  I then stuffed my bike as full as possible and peddled around my neighborhood cheerily tossing papers onto driveways.  Pretty simple.  And, the cash was good (for that period), and relieving my reliance on my allowance for arcade money was liberating!  When my buddy returned, I had to relinquish the duties, but another route a few blocks away became available shortly after, so I immediately secured it.

As my delivery experience continued, I began learning valuable lessons which, although I didn't realize it at the time, I would take with me and use even today!

  • I learned about responsibility, as being late to the drop location assured I received the dirtiest and most damaged papers.  
  • I learned “accounts receivable management”, because if I didn’t stay on top of each home to pay weekly, I didn’t get paid.  I often had to be relentless, and I still remember the first home to which I stopped delivery due to non-payment.
  • I learned how to sell and be persuasive (“imagine the time you save by having the paper delivered right to your doorstep!”), because the more houses I had, the more money I made.  
  • I learned how to market my services better by adding a “porch” service fee (translation: you tip me big, I drop it off at your doorstep) for anyone who wanted a paper dropped on the porch instead of on the driveway.  As well, I often punished non-tippers with a paper in the bushes … I had incredible aim, especially on Tuesdays.   
  • I learned how to expand my business, by negotiating available routes around mine, eventually securing the route that included my own home.  At one point, I had four routes, which covered about 20 neighborhood blocks.  Because of the reach of my patrol, I was also able to move the neighborhood drop location directly to my driveway!
  • As I expanded, I quickly learned how to subcontract and often paid my little brother from time to time to deliver Wednesdays papers (coupon and ad day, which made the papers too large for my bike) to the homes on my block.  I also negotiated with a 16 year old neighbor named Blake, who had a route near mine and drove a suburban.  He would drive me around on Sunday mornings after delivering his newspapers.  
  • It taught me money management.  The better I managed my bills and income, the more money I had.
  • Lastly, it taught me responsibility.  I know I've mentioned this before, but it's the single most important lesson I take from my paper route days.  Failure to deliver a clean, dry and complete newspaper was never an option, and I had to work hard to keep my very sought after job.
All in all, it was a wonderful experience and, looking back, taught me so many lessons I still use today in business.  Today, youth have very few of these opportunities to experience and enjoy the benefits of entrepreneurship.  Of course, we all recognize the new and growing threats to younger generations, but with the right oversight and guidance, young boys and girls should have the opportunity to learn about real-life business and commerce at an early age.  Paper routes, as I experienced them, may no longer be a reality, but I look forward to mentoring ambitious future business leaders of America through the Flipoutz KidzForce Program.  Stay tuned, as one of our Kidzforce stars may eventually become the next Fortune 500 star!