When I was still an undergraduate, I had a friend who was very financial savvy. He would read the Financial Times and discussed with gutso the issues highlighted in the Business Times. At the age of 20, he was already investing in equities, making consistent profits that was big enough to afford his multiple short vacations to other Asian cities.
Being project mates, we spent a lot of time in his house working on our tasks. During those times, I witnessed occasions when his dad was home entertaining business friends, and how at ease and confident he was communicating and socialising with his dad's guests who were mostly twice his age. He was much more interested in current affairs and able to discuss them with ease than most peers our age.
I remember I was constantly in awe of his knowledge and skills and bugged him often to teach me. I learnt a few tips and tricks that started me on my personal investing journey...... but the other skills were a lot harder to impart, so I learnt mostly by being a silent observer.
Through observation and reflection, I came to the conclusion that we really cannot underestimate the impact and influence that family environment and upbringing have on children. For instance, children of successful businessmen may gain an invaluable advantage over others in the form of informal training on entrepreneurship from a very young age.
Over the years, I have come to believe that it is important to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset in my kids, while they are still little. Whenever the opportunities arise and we found teachable moments, we made sure the kids learn a few lessons.
When M was in Primary 1 and 2, he used to draw a lot in school during his free time. His favourite subjects were usually robots or machinery, and anything that was mechanical in nature. At age 7, he would churn out pieces on Transformers, such as this on Optimus Prime every other day.
His classmates loved them so much that they would crowd around him to watch him draw. Not content with just the occasional pieces of drawings as gifts, some offered to pay him for his art. Without telling us, he actually sold some drawings for a while.
At Primary 3, M started to obsess over fossils and trilobites. He spent hours reading up on the topic and soon became sufficiently knowledgeable to influence some of his classmates. Some were so eager to learn more, but frustrated that they could not understand the advanced content from books and the Internet sources. M saw an opportunity to design simpler versions of 'guidebooks' (though they were more like information booklets) for sale at a small price and bundled them with personal coaching sessions.
Sometime in Primary 4, when M was 9+, he started making weapons such as bows/arrows, catapults, pistols, crossbows etc... with recycled materials. For a long time, he was already gathering 'junk' from the classroom floor and bins or collecting them from peers. At first, he made them to satisfy his own curiosity. Very soon, his creations caught the attention of nearly half the class. A few friends tried to learn from him but they gave up too soon and decided to buy from him instead. He even came up with a catalogue featuring products from $2 to $8 per piece. His order book filled up within days and within a month, he made a handsome profit by his own standard.
Besides M, Chippy was also keen to dabble in some of his own projects from selling art pieces to origami and games that he created. They were all as well-received as M's.
At one point, teachers intervened and told the boys it was against school rules to sell. What I thought was encouraging though, was how the boys had their views on the matter. They even asked the teachers for an explanation and were prepared to present their own arguments. However, no explanation was given, just a plain 'Stop - don't do it'. That, I thought, was a really lousy way for the teachers to handle a teachable moment. But I made sure the kids learn to view the situation from other perspectives and we spent time discussing their options.
There was plenty to learn from these experiences, from understanding customers' needs, pricing, marketing to cost management and ethics etc... it was a fun learning experience for the boys and us.
To me, teaching them about entrepreneurship is not just about the principles of running a business, but also about the spirit of entrepreneurship. I am still learning as a parent and I am constantly reading and reflecting to find a more effective way to guide the kids and encouraging a risk-taking mentality, cultivating in them a curiosity and desire to solve bigger problems. Hopefully I can inspire them to find in them a desire to serve, with the aim to improving quality of lives while finding and following their passions.