People sometimes question whether a kid can truly be an entrepreneur. Sure, they can have a lemonade stand or something like that, but does any kid have what it takes to be a “real” entrepreneur? Of course we knew the answer to that question before writing Kidpreneurs, and since then, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting a lot of real Kidpreneurs who have proven over and over again that age doesn’t determine someone’s entrepreneurial spirit!
One such example is Jason O’Neill of Pencil Bugs. Jason is someone who is a perfect example of what a kid can accomplish when they put their mind to it. He was an “accidental entrepreneur” of sorts, but once he saw the opportunity and the fun that could be had in entrepreneurship, he went after it with gusto! At age 1, he’s still going strong and shows no signs of stopping. In the interview below, Jason shares some great insights into what it’s like to be a Kidpreneur and what it takes to succeed.
Kidpreneurs: We always say, “Some people say it’s never too late. We say it’s never too early!” You’re proof of that, as you started Pencil Bugs at age 9. What was your inspiration for the Pencil Bugs idea?
Jason: When I was nine, my mom was participating in a craft fair. I wanted to help her with her product and I thought if I did, she would split the money with me. To my surprise she said “No” and suggested that I come up with my own idea. I did just that and soon Pencil Bugs were born. I wanted to create a product that kids would enjoy and hopefully make school and homework a little more fun. Pencil Bugs are hand crafted, bug-like pencil toppers that come on top of a #2 pencil, individually packaged with a Certificate of Authenticity that gives their name and tells how to care for them.
Kidpreneurs: Are your parents entrepreneurial? In what ways have they supported or guided you in your business ventures?
Jason: My dad is the VP of sales for a food broker and my mom has a variety of experience in different industries but has always had an entrepreneurial outlook. What I’ve learned from both of them is that it takes creativity to succeed in whatever job you do. Otherwise, you become just like everyone else. They have given me the guidance and support for everything that I have done up to this point. I owe what I have been able to do to them.
Kidpreneurs: What do you think entrepreneurship at an early age has taught you that you’ll use throughout your life?
Jason: I have learned so many things that kids don’t get to experience in school. From simple things like balancing a bank statement to bigger things like public speaking, making sales calls, and self-publishing a book. This business has been fun and I have made some money from it but the biggest thing I have achieved is the valuable experiences and the ability to help out others with advice or through my philanthropy.
Kidpreneurs: You’ve said you plan to attend college after high school. How important do you feel formal education is to being in business for yourself?
Jason: Formal education in college results in a piece of paper and unfortunately not much else. Just getting through four years of more school, even if you’re a straight-A student doesn’t mean you are prepared for real life or know how to market yourself in whatever job you decide to do. The real gain is in doing instead of reading about what others are doing. I have always thought that real life experiences are far more important than just a piece of paper from school. However, a person still can get a lot out of college if they want to and also depending on what field they decide to go into. For example, my plan is to become a video game designer so I would like to have the traditional education for that but what I end up doing with the technical skills could be entrepreneurial. The best scenario would be to have a formal education but also be able to have an entrepreneurial philosophy.
Kidpreneurs: You do a lot of public speaking – something many adults are terrified to do. Does it come naturally to you, or did you have to overcome a fear? What speaking technique has helped you the most?
Jason: I gave my first public presentation to a small group of 30 adults when I was ten years old. Before that, I had sung in talents shows and acted in plays from first grade on. Public speaking is just another form of entertaining. For me, my comfort mostly comes from doing it for so long. For someone who is just starting, I would suggest making sure you are prepared and use notes if you have to. A lot of fear comes from people being worried they will forget something so it’s better to use notes than to forget or ramble on and on trying to remember what to say. I learned that tip from some of the best TED speakers.
Kidpreneurs: Everyone has a different definition of success, and yours might change over time, but what would you say is your personal definition of success right now?
Jason: Success means achieving something that is important to a person. For me, it has never been about money because I am certainly not rich. The reason I feel successful is because I have achieved a certain degree of recognition, which has allowed me to help others through my charitable contributions and also through inspiring others to try their ideas.