5 min read
I have some news that I'm really excited to share. (Plus, some tips for parents & young people looking for ways to learn the foundations of entrepreneurship.) So here it goes:
Last week, I was invited back to my alma mater, The Dalton School, to give a talk to the middle school during their assembly. Stepping foot in the school that I attended for 12 years was a surreal experience - not to mention the fact that I was doing so as a featured speaker and mentor. If you told my middle school self that I would go from playing "Man #2" in my middle school's rendition of "Fiddler on the Roof" to giving, essentially, a one-woman show on that very same stage within 10 years, I would've called you crazy.
When I was asked to present to the students about my personal journey that led me to co-found Toucan, I was forced to reflect on all the entrepreneurial experiences I'd had in the past. I needed to present my life story in a way that middle schoolers could relate to, so I really thought about the projects I undertook as a kid and what I learned from them.
My class ran a fully-operational post office for the entire lower school over Valentine's Day. We designed stamps, sold postage and envelopes, collected mail from mailboxes around the school, sorted that mail, and hand-delivered letters to recipients.
What I learned: organizational skills, basic money management, how to sell a product, and teamwork.
We had a unit on entrepreneurship at school that culminated in a street fair. Everybody in my grade had to create some kind of business, and I had a "lucky bracelet" company. In this venture, I was proudest of my marketing campaign, creating memes with photos of famous people and attributing their success to my lucky bracelets.
What I learned: creating a product, sourcing materials, creative marketing, and basic website construction.
One night, when my brother and I were bored at a restaurant, we created a game using the salt and pepper shakers and the square table. We enjoyed playing the game so much that, when we got home, we built a prototype. Over the next few months, we researched what it would take to get the game published by a game company.
What I learned: prototyping, market research.
What I learned: UI/UX design, basic coding skills, and database management.
I spent the summer after my first year of college working on several congressional campaigns and one state campaign in New York. I got to work with a bunch of scrappy young people trying to achieve a lofty goal on a tight budget. I made cold calls, knocked on doors, and interacted with lots of interesting characters.
What I learned: active listening and proposing solutions, optimizing the use of limited funds, and talking to strangers.
I was the co-founder and co-director of StanfordVotes, the first centralized voter registration, and mobilization effort at Stanford University. Together with my team, I devised strategies to get more students to participate in upcoming elections. In a month and a half, we registered over 2,000 people to vote - by implementing a course registration hold, hosting a party outside of the post office, tabling a few times a week, and more.
What I learned: collaborating with university administration, managing 100+ volunteers, talking with the press, building a brand, and resonating with your target audience.
The funny thing is, many of these experiences had slipped my mind until I was putting this presentation together. When I started Toucan in 2020, I didn't think of myself as someone who had been positioning herself to be a founder over the years. But looking back, I realized that I'd been honing the skills necessary to be a startup founder for years - literally since I was 6 years old.
So this is just to say that, if you are a parent of a child, there are so many opportunities for them to start flexing their entrepreneurial muscles. No matter how small, these projects shape the way that you think and problem-solve later in life.
And if you are a young person hoping one day to start a company, organization, club, or initiative, just know that you can learn crucial skills just by doing the things that you're most passionate about. From each project you undertake, you'll collect tools for your toolbox. And those tools will make you a stronger, more well-rounded leader.
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Antonia Hellman is co-founder and CEO of Toucan.
She is a recent graduate of Stanford University, having studied political science and economics.
She enjoys long walks to explore new cities, listening to audiobooks on 1.2x speed, a cup of hot water, and re-watching mediocre movies.
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