My initial feelings were that our parents had a large influence towards pointing us in the right direction. They showed us that hard work in good times means that you won’t have to work as hard in bad times. Self-reliance, sound money, and balanced budgets could all be seen as business ideas that were instilled in us at an early age. Indeed, they showed us that financial success is often reliant on savings and sound consumption. They lead by example and always worked to pay off their debt far ahead of time.
But, my brother pointed out that while the ideas on sound finances were definitely instilled, they also raised us in some traditions which aren’t quite so pro-liberty. Being raised in our Chinese-American family, he pointed out that Asian culture is very judgmental on failures, thereby normally pushing Asians to be risk averse. While success (especially academic) is the norm, the Asian culture tends to focus on a person’s failures as proof of inadequacy. The right thing to do, we’re taught, is to not take risks as those failures are similarly a failure of our character. Next, Asians are told to keep their heads down and do what we’re told. We’re instructed to shut up and defer to authority in all circumstances. That doesn’t quite sound like outspoken libertarianism. Making a profit is actually looked down upon in Asian culture, and yet having high social status is not—quite the contradiction. So that means that typically, Asians are pushed toward highly skilled, highly structured jobs like doctors, lawyers, and engineers. The ultimate goal is not to run the firm, but to have long term success as managers. The message is to avoid risks and select professions with guaranteed high salaries and be obedient to authority figures. Instead of following these tenets of Asian culture, we took our own risks and accepted the potential of failure, and most importantly, we were our own bosses by necessity.
As a kid, I was usually pretty short on cash, as I was always told that I needed to save instead of spend. So, my brother and I naturally thought we needed to make a buck somehow. Before I even knew what entrepreneurship was, or even the basics of management or running a business, I was doing just that. My brother and I created a fund system that allowed us to afford expensive miniature figurines. We found customers—other kids that had literally only pocket change—and we all agreed that we would collectively pool our money together in order to afford miniature figurine toys, which we of course thought were the coolest things in the world.
In exchange for managing weekly collections, we took a small cut of those collections for our personal purposes. In addition, these figurines were difficult to assemble and paint. So, we started a business on this too. In exchange for our highly skilled labor assembling the models and painting them, we would charge the highest fee that people would pay for. Needless to say, there was demand for these services even outside of our elementary school. But, this was a time consuming, low turnover business, so we had to turn to something else. We realized that we knew how to paint anything now, and that there was high demand for good painters in our neighborhood. A curb number painter had been dousing entire neighborhoods with his poor paint jobs, even doing the numbers that people didn’t pay for. His pamphlet, that he annoyingly placed in doors, asked for a five dollar donation, and that he would paint the curb numbers regardless. It sounds like great service, but in reality he painted sloppy numbers.
Here was my profit opportunity. In exchange for my services as a “detail curb number painter” — that is, I would scrape off the old numbers and actually do a good job painting on new numbers with reflective paint in multiple, lasting layers — I charged three times as much as the painter. I immediately made money on this venture because my family wasn’t the only one on the block upset with the painters’ sloppy job.
Later, we recognized there were a lot of students who didn’t always have rides to the card shop or didn’t live close to one back when Pokémon and Yugioh were ludicrously popular for our demographic. So, my brother and I would buy cards in bulk and simply sell them at a slightly higher price at school. It was an instant success, and I can safely say that though our parents watched our finances and activities hawkishly, we, for the most part, ran fair and profitable businesses.
The second we started getting an allowance, we stopped running all of our businesses. Granted, we were also getting older and busier with schoolwork and extracurricular activities, and there was also the fact that we did not really develop these businesses beyond what they were. But, in all honesty, the only reason we started these businesses was to have spare pocket change. And now that we were getting just enough money through allowance, we lost all of that entrepreneurial spirit. Not to say that we’ve lost it permanently, as my brother has become a successful manager at a startup, and I intend to spend some time in startups as well. But, there was the undeniable fact that free money, whether well intended or not, is a counter-incentive to the hard work necessary for entrepreneurship.
One may draw analogies about this relationship between free money and entrepreneurship, but I just know that when I have kids one day, I’ll remember all of the ideas that I had before the age of free money. And instead of destroying those ideas, my kids are just going to have to realize that begging won’t get you what you want. If you want something enough, it’s going to take some hard work and a touch of ingenuity.