A few years ago, I decided to give my six nieces and nephews something
different for Christmas. Instead of the usual Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes, I
gave each of them their very own e-commerce account. The lesson was simple:
When you have an online store open for business, you see the world through
the lens of an opportunist. From that point on they would see a problem as
an opportunity, and every item as a potential SKU. Despite my good
intentions, the children looked disappointed and some suspected this was
just a lame cover-up for losing the kid’s wish list that year. I explained
that this was their very own store they could design and manage in any way
they wished. And that I would be there helping them through every step.
After several “Won’t it be cool to be the only second grader with a store”
pitches, their confusion turned to anticipation of opening their stores-or
perhaps their next Christmas gifts.

I kept my promise and helped each of them find products to sell, find a
market, design a store for it, and merchandise, advertise, and monetize. One
sold custom book covers, another wooden boats made by her 4th grade class to
fund a whale watching trip (we made sure to advertise this point), but my
favorite was a store that sold anti-bullying gear. Items included
self-defense and child psychology books, as well as ‘kid-recommended’ hats,
shoes, and shirts guaranteed to make any would-be wimp appear too hip,
unbalanced, or well-connected to be bullied in the first place (we had to
look up the legal limitations the term ‘guarantee’ on this one). Two of the
young entrepreneurs even started a forum and blog for their products. What
started as a fun web project quickly became a lesson in social bookmarks,
wikis, hyper-niches, pay per clicks, conversion rates and capitalism.

Though none of the stores made a profit, the return on investment was beyond
our expectations. None of the stores exist today, but the lessons we
learned together live on. I learned how much I liked being their uncle;
they learned how much they liked being entrepreneurs. In truth, my gift was
no accident. It was my attempt to grow closer to my nieces and nephews
through a shared purpose. I wanted them to experience the satisfaction and
pride creating a business brings and more importantly how the process itself
can enrich their lives. Simply put, I create businesses to express myself
and connect with those that share my passion.

If animals are judged by their ability to survive, then entrepreneurs are
better animals. I have always respected those that took charge of their own
Fate. To resist the allure of job security and question the conventional
wisdom that promotes it. To me, opportunism and risk was a form of raw,
natural expression. Instead of fearing it, I wanted to teach the kids how
to embrace and control it. I wanted to teach them how to survive in the
world of business and take charge of their lives. I wanted to give them
enough confidence to adapt, persevere and succeed even after failing over
and over. In an increasingly competitive world, the ability to find and
create your own opportunities as though second-nature is the new security.
Leading others through it is the new Fortune 500.

“People and purpose,” my father always said. This is why I love building
businesses. The camaraderie and sense of purpose I feel when helping others
succeed in their business is the main reason I do it. The process of taking
an idea and turning it into a reality is the reason I keep doing it. I
suppose meaningful relationships are forged through meaningful endeavors. Or
as the kids would say, “the store gives me a reason to keep bugging you
Uncle G”. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I lost the kid’s wish list that
year.

2,897 Responses to “The Best Christmas Gift in a Bad Economy”

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