The grand finale was called the French Arm Chopper.
That was the big, and rather expensive, magic trick that Casey and I concluded our shows with. It was amazing. But we did not have it when we started.
Casey and I were about 12 years old when we embarked on our magical adventure, which was simultaneously my first ever entrepreneurial endeavor. Casey — my oldest and one of my closest friends, then and now — was obsessed with magic, the beginning of a lifetime of performing for people. I knew nothing about magic beyond watching him do it, but I convinced him that we should turn his act into a business; the beginning of a lifetime of talking people into starting businesses. I created and printed up flyers on my 1994 computer, and then we headed out, going door to door, informing our neighbors that we were available to do magic for birthdays, daycares, special events, and so on.
And, magically, we got hired. Several times.
A daycare, a school, birthday parties — we were doing actual paid gigs. Casey would be the magician, and I would… assist. I didn’t do much on stage.
Our goal was to raise enough money for our holy grail magic trick, the French Arm Chopper. It was a miniature guillotine that appeared to chop your volunteer’s hand off and drop it into a bag, just like the infamous tool of the French revolution. The bag was a bright red. Casey would joke that it was originally white.
After a few performances, we secured the glorious French Arm Chopper, and it became the magnificent conclusion to our shows.
This initial foray into business didn’t go too far beyond that. Magic gave way to other hobbies, and the interest sort of fizzled out. But there were some lessons from that experience that I use to this very day.
- You need somebody who is good at doing the things you are not good at. Whether this is a partner or a first employee, you need a ying to your yang. I wasn’t performing any magic, but Casey would not have been driven to monetize and market it without me.
- Do something you love. We had fun doing this business because we liked magic. Casey liked it more than I did, but I had a solid appreciation of it through him. If your business revolves around something you legitimately enjoy or care about, and you are hopefully good at, you greatly increase your odds of success.
- Reinvest your profits. I am sure there was some video game or something I would have loved to buy, but instead, we put our earnings back into the company to get bigger and cooler tricks. This sounds easier from far away, but when you’re actually running a business that is having some success, and there is something important to you personally that requires using this cash you’ve earned — that really is yours — it is a difficult thing to choose to abstain and reinvest. Having a clear goal of why you are putting the money back into the business, and what the parameters have to be for you to take out a portion of the profits, makes this much easier.
- Work with people you like. Casey is one of my best friends. We were technically working, but we were doing it because it was fun. This doesn’t have to stop when you grow up. I work with my friends and family to this day.
- Don’t be afraid to charge. We were 12-year-old kids, but we were still charging $75 an hour, and places were paying it. You might be surprised what people will say yes to.
- Just start, using what you have. I made flyers on my computer because that was something I could do. And we went knocking on doors because we didn’t have a car. Instead of focusing on what is holding you back, just move forward with what you do you have.
My first business was not a huge financial success. But it was fun. I cherish the memories. And I still use some of the lessons that I learned. Nothing is too small or too silly to try. And if you have a child thinking of embarking on an entrepreneurial adventure, encourage and support them. You never know what they might learn.
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