(This piece was originally distributed in my email newsletter. Thanks to everyone who contributed feedback.)
My first business venture was a lemonade stand. Cliché I know, but worth exploration because I did things a little differently…
My grandmother cared for me through my elementary school years. She lived in a tiny apartment with a public swimming pool right across the yard. At the pool was a beautiful woman named Jamie who worked there as a lifeguard. She would babysit me regularly and I referred to her affectionately as “my girlfriend”.
During the summer months, I would impatiently wait for precisely 12:00 PM. Then I’d sprint out my grandmother’s back door, across the green grass to the gate of the pool. Jamie would be there testing chlorine levels and doing whatever lifeguards do to prepare for their day. I would help her in whatever way I could and she would teach me how to swim and hold my breath under water.
I’d stay from noon when the pool opened to 8pm when it closed. This was my summertime routine for years.
At some point, I became aware of lemonade stands as a rite of passage.
My first attempt was a stand right in front of my parent’s house. This was in autumn and the setting was a quiet suburban street. Nobody bought my lemonade.
I was bored and broke. I quickly gave up on selling lemonade after school in front of our old 1950’s-style rancher.
Then summer rolled around and an idea struck me.
I took my family’s lemonade stash to Grandma’s pool, set-up shop by a table with an empty tin to collect cash, and increased my prices from a quarter to a buck fifty. The apartment complex supplied a steady stream of thirsty pool goers and we quickly burnt through the first tub of lemonade.
We increased prices and I convinced Jamie to buy me some Maryland crabs so I could sell steamed them for several dollars a piece.
Of course, all good things come to an end, as my lemonade stand did when the fall came around. That was ok though, because we’d be back next year.
Boy, did that tiny business change my life.
I learned resilience, perseverance, and how to reinvest in a profitable process. I learned how to count change and how to handle customers. I knew how to get a loan (thanks Jamie) and manage inventory.
I learned how to iterate on a model. I learned that timing and location matters. I learned that there is seasonality in every market. I learned that a business doesn’t have to be an app with hockey stick growth. It can be a plastic table and a pool umbrella with some cool beverages and ice borrowed from the community club’s freezer.
It was my first business, but not my last. Since elementary school, I’ve been a freelancer, a CEO at a design firm, and the head of software at one of those hockey-stick startups.
Now I’m in the process of starting again. This time, I’m building the first Zombie Strategy FPS for SteamVR. The VR ecosystem is on the verge of a massive explosion in popularity. I love games and designing for new paradigms. This platform affords a litany of frontiers from interface to engineering. I can’t imagine a more dynamic industry.
If you have an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, please sign up for SURVIVE: VR now to be the first to play it when we launch our beta in the next few weeks.