Archives For Entrepreneurship

Here’s some advice from Carl Icahn about bringing your kids into the family business that I read in the latest issue of Forbes (NOTE: there doesn’t appear to be an actual link to the Icahn piece so I copied it here):

Start early. Over the years Brett and I would take long walks every weekend. He was very responsive, always interested. He has a real good mind—and he learned by osmosis. Brett saw me working all the time. Some of my cynicism about the business and Wall Street—he inherited that. He’d listen and learn a lot; he has a good talent for it. He took courses in accounting so he’d understand balance sheets. People in the office taught him a lot, too. We’d look at different stuff and dig into it. He picked it up very well. He’s not one of those spoiled rich kids.

Treat them like normal employees. This isn’t nepotism. You say, “Hey, look, you’re working here like everybody else: You start at the bottom and you get no perks and you have to understand that.” You’ve got to be almost tougher with them than anybody else. You don’t want others to think he’s got an advantage. Brett was always sensitive to that. Sometimes I only had the top two guys in the firm at a meeting, and I’d say, “Hey, Brett, come in here, you might learn something.” And he’d say, “Look, Dad, unless you bring in the other three guys I work with, I shouldn’t go in.”

Test their mettle. When Brett and his partner, David Schechter, started the Sargon portfolio, they said, “Give us $300 million,” and I said, okay, I had the right to veto anything they did. They gave up their salaries to take a small percentage of the profits. There was a hurdle rate. This way it was their baby. The choices they made were a little bit different from what I would’ve done—they were more in growth areas, in technology—but they did great with it, basically doubling the money. And in the new $3 billion investment portfolio, they’re up $720 million since they started last August.

“He’s not one of those spoiled rich kids…” Maybe not but he’s definitely had opportunities that other kids won’t get. I guess that’s the point of being rich.

I definitely like the part about treating them like normal employees. If you don’t, company moral will suffer.

How Khan Academy Got Started

September 24, 2012

I was perusing the latest issue of Fortune this morning and came across an article about a new book, One World Schoolhouse*, by the founder of Khan Academy. The article referred to an older article that was published in Fortune in 2010. I found that article and wanted to share a portion of it about how Khan Academy came to be:

In the summer of 2004, while still living in Boston, Khan learned that his seventh-grader cousin, Nadia, in New Orleans was having trouble in math class converting kilograms. He agreed to remotely tutor her. Using Yahoo Doodle software as a shared notepad, as well as a telephone, Nadia thrived — so much so that Khan started working with her brothers, Ali and Arman. Word spread to other relatives and friends. Khan wrote JavaScript problem generators to keep up a supply of practice exercises. But between their soccer practices, his job, and multiple time zones, scheduling became impossible. “I started to record videos on YouTube for them to watch at their own pace,” Khan recalls. Other users tuned in, and the blueprint for Khan Academy was created.

It’s amazing how so many big things start out almost by accident.

I came in from mowing my yard Sunday evening, grabbed a beer, sat down, turned on the TV, scrolled through the channels, found “Secret Millionaire,” and decided to give it a try. This particular episode was about Jeff Usner, an “internet millionaire.”

From what I could gather from the show, Jeff was a workaholic. He built a business making money off the internet and then at the request of his friends, he started teaching other people how to make money off the internet. All this is very vague but supposedly what Jeff did made him rich.

His life wasn’t all peachy, though. His wife lost one of their babies. As you can imagine this was a tough experience in Jeff’s life. Then, Jeff suffered a stroke (Jeff was only 37 at the time of the taping). These two events made him realize that he needed to take a break and focus on something bigger than himself.

The point of the show is to take millionaires, take their identity, put them in a different environment and encourage them to find ways that they can help others. In this particular episode, Jeff helped out a woman who helped handicapped kids, a Hispanic man who taught kids how to box, and a woman who provided services for the elderly and food for the poor. Jeff was touched by each of these charities and ended up giving each one thousands of dollars of support ($40,000, $35,000, and $85,000, respectively, if my memory is correct).

There were two things I did not care for about the show:

1. Guilt about being rich. Jeff felt he needed to “give back.” I never really thought much about that phrase until I used it once here on AFM and Jack pointed out that it’s a bad phrase. Unless Jeff was stealing from people or being dishonest, there was no need for him to feel he needed to “give back.” I know, it’s just a phrase. But, it’s the wrong phrase. A more appropriate phrase should be something like, “Share my wealth” or “Help my fellow man.” Maybe I’m splitting hairs but it bugged me.

2. When it got to the point in the show where Jeff had to reveal himself, the dialogue went something like, “There’s something I didn’t share with you. I’m actually a very successful business man. In fact, I’m a millionaire…” The whole speil sounded a bit “braggy” to me. He could have said, “I’ve done well for myself and I want to share some of it with you…” I’m sure ABC had a script for him to follow.

Overall, I thought it was a good show. I do like charity and I do think it’s important to help others. The cool thing about this particular show (it’s the only episode I have seen) was that Jeff helped those who were helping other people. That’s what giving should be about, in my opinion.

Looking for something interesting and beneficial for your kids to read this summer? Check out this list I have summarized from this WSJ article in Monday’s paper:


“Teen Business Blasts Off!” by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Amy Rosen – After researching, I found the book can be purchased for $5 here.

The Student Success Manifesto“* by Michael Simmons – For older kids (ages 15 – 21).

Kidpreneurs: Young Entrepreneurs With Big Ideas!* by Adam Toren – For the 5 to 13-year old crowd.

Growing Money: A Complete Investing Guide for Kids by Gail Karlitz and Debbie Honig – For 8 to 15-year olds.

Upstarts!: How GenY Entrepreneurs are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit from Their Success* by Donna Fenn – “…8 ways you can profit from their success,” has a negative sound to it (but it gets pretty high ratings on Amazon).

Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers* by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur


The article closes out by mentioning several websites.

I have not read any of these books, nor have I spent a lot of time on any of the websites.

Do you know of any books or websites that you would recommend?

*Affiliate Link

I read this profile of Sara Blakely several days ago. I don’t know about you, but I like reading about how people attain their wealth. Sara Blakely’s story is particularly interesting because she’s now a billionaire and runs a private company (Spanx) with no debt. That’s a rarity this day and age.

I urge you to read the whole article. I want to focus on a few interesting bullet points:

• She took the LSAT twice to try to go to law school and failed both times.

• She worked several months at Disney’s Epcot helping to buckle seat belts for one of their rides.

• She went to work selling fax machines for Danka.

• She created Spanx basically by accident. She didn’t like wearing panty hose because they were hot but she liked the way the pantyhose covered her panty lines (can I say that on a financial blog?). So, she cut the legs off a pair of pantyhose and Spanx was formed.

• She used $5,000 of her savings over a two-year period to develop and launch her product.

• She wrote her own patent.

• She got her product into Neiman Marcus.

• She had no money for advertising so she went on a PR rampage.

• She shipped samples to Oprah Winfrey and eventually got Oprah to promote them on one of her “Favorite Things” episodes.

Interesting stuff.

What does this show us? One, you must have an idea. Two, you must plan. Three, you must go for it even though you may not feel ready.

I like to see people like Sara succeed.

Interesting story in today’s WSJ: Millennials Make Millions

Catherine and David Cook started in 2005 when they were 15 and 16 years old, respectively, as a way to connect with their new classmates at Montgomery High School in Skillman, N.J.

Big brother Geoff Cook, then 26 years old, bankrolled the start-up with $250,000 he had made from selling an online-resume business he built as a Harvard University student.

On Wednesday, Geoff Cook, now the 33-year-old chief executive of, announced the sale of the company to Quepasa Corp., a social network aimed at Latinos.

All it takes is a good idea, money, and proper execution. Pretty simple, don’t you think?

Of course it’s not that simple or we’d all be rich. But, this story does make me want to spend some time talking about entrepreneurship with my three kids.

I’m sharing this story with you for two reasons:

1. This guy is my friend, and…

2. It’s a good story.

I went to school with Chad. In fact, I think we go all the way back to Kindergarten. Anyway, we had lost touch after high school until we became facebook friends while I was helping to put together our 20th high school reunion. We emailed back and forth and I found out that he had started his own business and had even written a book. I asked him if he would be interested in sharing his story with AFM readers. Here’s what he has to say:

Chad’s Story

Ten years ago I was a policeman in a larger city in the Midwest. I enjoyed the comraderie of the team I rode with and loved the idea that maybe someone would simply have a better day because I had helped them with their life for that short time.

I had always had a burning desire to start a business of my own and be my own boss. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being a police officer but the money just wasn’t there. I knew that if I wanted the life that I desired in retirement it was going to take more than a policeman’s salary.

Well, I had learned to strip and wax floors, clean carpets, etc., as a teen working as a custodian for our local school district. I had always enjoyed being able to take something worn or dirty (or both) and make it look like new again. I was the type of person who had to see the fruits of my labor. As a police officer that was sometimes hard.

So my wife and I took the plunge, started a commercial cleaning company and after about $800 and a few months of advertising we had our first customer. We started the business on the side while we were still policemen but it grew to where we were making more cleaning than as police officers. The rest, as they say, is history. Our company now does well and is growing, even in a recession.

The point I’m trying to make here is if you want something bad enough and want to make a change then stop making excuses and just do something TODAY to move you towards your goal. Just do one thing a day and after a month or so you may be surprised at what you have accomplished.

The first task when starting a business is GET YOUR FIRST CUSTOMER; not buying a bunch of office supplies and a desk. That is not going to make you money. Your first and only focus should be on getting money coming in the door. Look at what your competition is doing. Use their marketing as a model.

An e-zine I subscribe to has a mantra of “Ready, Fire, Aim”. This is absolutely the truth when it comes to starting a business. Get something going and then fine tune it after you get it rolling. Just get going!!

Granted, it may not happen overnight. Also, realize you’re going to make mistakes along the way. The trick is to correct yourself and keep moving forward.

Now is the time to launch. The economy is slowly showing signs of improvement and I believe we are on an upturn. It’s a new year. Use this new year to give yourself a new life. Just remember it takes a little time. Knock down the tasks one by one and you will be on your way before you know it.

A business consultant told me years ago I should write a book. My story was somewhat unique and the being a former police officer certainly is a “niche.” So I did. You can buy it here* and learn how I did it. It’s real, down to earth, and is EXACTLY how I built my business from NOTHING! It is basically a step by step blueprint on how I built a six figure business from scratch! I’m not an MBA from Harvard. I’m just a hard working guy trying to make a buck because that’s what it takes for ANY business. You just have to move one way or the other….

To your good future and good fortune!

Chad Burns
C & S Cleaning Inc.

*Affiliate Link