Throughout this story, I will be sharing practical entrepreneurial advice that will help you succeed. The five main points I’ll share throughout this post are still serving me today. I am still applying them, refining them, and using them to grow my businesses. I encourage you to do the same! Here we go. 👇
I was an awkward kid. How so, you ask? Well, for starters, I awful at school, I couldn’t play musical instruments, I wasn’t good at sports, and even video games weren’t my specialty.
When you’re a kid growing up in the 90s, and you’re not great at least one of those things, you were AWKWARD. 😝
From the ages of 9-12, I struggled to fit in when I realized that I wasn’t like other kids in the neighborhood or even my brothers. (I know what I’m sharing isn’t uncommon. Most kids probably go through the same thing at this age.)
Thankfully, when I was 12 years old, I discovered something about myself. I was great at sales, business strategy, and identifying market needs. My discovery was my entrepreneurial mind!
I know what you’re thinking now, “12 seems like a young age to learn something like this…” And you’re right!
My entrepreneurial journey all began when I saw some kids selling lemonade on the side of the road one day. I asked my dad if I could do that too. He kindly agreed to help me get started the following weekend.
(1) Practical Entrepreneurial Advice: When you see something you want to do in business, try it! Test it. Don’t devote a lot of time, but see what you can make out of it. Act quickly, don’t do a lot of planning. Get your feet wet as soon as you can. (At the same time, stay focused if you’re already on the right path.)
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While I was selling lemonade for the first time, in my mind, I knew other kids were selling lemonade in the neighborhood; honestly, it was probably the same stuff we were selling. The margins seemed low to me, even at the age of 12. “There has to be a better way to make money in this neighborhood.” As people were pulling their cars over to the side of the road to pay 25 cents for a quick cup of lemonade, something unexpected happened.
About 100 yards behind me, my roadside lemonade stand was the 7th tee box of the neighborhood golf course. One of the golfers saw the lemonade stand and wanted some, so he drove his cart over and made a quick purchase. He enjoyed the lemonade so much he asked, “What else do you have?” 🤔
(2) Practical Entrepreneurial Advice: When your customers begin asking for more from you, you need to create more for them. What they are telling you is that they are fans of your creative work. Continue to serve them in more ways as long as it stays within your niche. (Again, keep what you’re doing focused.)
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These words hit me like a ton of bricks. “Why don’t I have anything else?” I thought to myself. Then, the brainstorming began.
I immediately relocated the lemonade stand to the 7th tee box with the plan to expand to pink and yellow lemonade (Very ambitious, I know!) Our sales immediately increased. People in cars could fly by and not think twice. Also, many people were already in a rush. However, the golfers always stopped because they had to tee off, and they had plenty of time while they were waiting for other golfers to get off the fairway. 🏌
(3) Practical Entrepreneurial Advice: Be willing to pivot. Make changes to serve your ideal audience better. It’s rare to get this right when you initially launch something. Stay flexible, willing, and able to adapt quickly, as you better learn about your avatar. (Your ideal customer)
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The business was good. But I wasn’t happy. I had three things running through my head.
What 12-year-old Alex Sanfilippo was thinking about:
#1. I knew the margins were too low for what we were doing to be worthwhile. Yes, mom paid for the lemonade mix, so it was ‘all profit’ for me, but deep down, I knew I wasn’t making any money, especially if I ever wanted to pay mom back.
#2. If I ran out of lemonade, I could not re-supply without a 3rd party vendor’s support. (Also, mom.)
#3. The same question that the golfer asked me echoing in my head, “What else do you have?”
As I was standing there, cute as a button, selling lemonade but thinking about what else I should be doing, it finally hit me. I had another product idea.
As I was standing there, cute as a button, 😇 selling lemonade but thinking about what else I should be doing, it finally hit me. I had another product idea.
You see, golf is a sport that only a handful of people in the world are actually good at. Translation: about 50% of these golfers were hitting balls in the water. “What if,” I thought, “I could collect and sell these used golf balls back to golfers?”
Fast forward to the following weekend, selling used golf balls became a huge hit. I was no longer a fine drink salesman (instant-mix lemonade); I was now the founder of a used golf ball sales business!
(4) Practical Entrepreneurial Advice: Always think long-term, always think scalability. You must exercise your strategic mind if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur. Never get comfortable with what you have or where you are. Always think about growing the business and moving it forward into a better future.
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From there, sales grew. I needed more inventory if I were to keep up with the demand that was coming in. I quickly realized that continuing to grow this business would not be possible on my own. Without help finding golf balls in the lakes, cleaning them, and even selling them, I’d never be able to grow the business. So I came up with a model for paying other kids to help me. I recruited my brother and other kids from around the neighborhood.
To end my story, while most 12-year-old kids were probably making $5.00 – $10.00 on a Saturday morning selling lemonade, we would bring in $100.00 – $200.00 in just a few hours every Saturday morning. Each of us was making an average of 300% more than other kids in the neighborhood. Not bad, right? And it sure beat watching crappy cartoons! 📺
(5) Practical Entrepreneurial Advice: Think WHO, not WHAT. Many of us stunt the growth of our businesses because we focus on WHAT we need to do. But our mindsets need to shift to WHO. “Who can handle this instead of me?” Instead of “Here’s what I need to find the time and a way to do.”
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In conclusion, here are the most important things to remember: You have to be flexible, always ready and willing to pivot and change your plans. If you cannot quickly make changes or you’re unwilling to, then you’re not a real entrepreneur. You cannot do all the work. Start thinking about delegating from day one. If you stop growing because you’re doing too much, you’ll never truly succeed as an entrepreneur.