By: Husam Yaghi
First I must share upfront my motto regarding raising children: your kids are like a company that you own. Run the company properly and see it flourish, manage it badly and watch it fail. The key to growing a successful company is strategic planning, without it is like driving a car without a destination, you keep going until gas runs out.
Let’s cut to the chase, I’ll use for illustration my entrepreneurial teen sons whom I coached, but now they’re 99% on their own and are teaching me at times.
Amer & Moe are teenage entrepreneurs who founded their first company –Chillax Social Network– at the age of 14 and 13 respectively. Sadly, they decided to put Chillax to sleep after two long hard years of non-stop working. They called their first venture “a total fail”. On a positive note, they accepted failure and moved on. They started on a personal safety & emergency application, AidMaid.
The reason I’m writing this is that recently Amer told me that without my support, they would have still been ordinary children playing around without plans or vision. So I felt the obligation to share our experience, and hopefully you find it of value.
So how they came to be?
My kids were always involved in a lot of extra curriculum activities and had so many friends. They always have been different: they grew up surrounded with DSLR cameras, computers and electronic gadgets & games. At an early age they started playing chess, tennis, golf, swimming, diving, and hiking. They explored deserts and traveled to different countries. In addition, we live in an exclusive multinationals compound; which affords kids an opportunity to make friends from all over the world. At school, they always have been among the top and highest achievers.
Both Amer and Mohamed had always claimed that they would never major in Computer Science, primarily because they think I’m poor compared to fathers of their friends.
One morning on a Friday (off day), they woke me up excited and asking for my assistance. They wanted to develop a social network for teenagers (that’s when Chillax was born). I was thrilled. That was my golden opportunity to get them started into the business of creating apps; not for money, rather to distract them from possible wrong behavior or actions (peer pressure). That’s a part of our (my wife and I) strategic plan.
We spent the entire day on the floor sketching, taking notes, and debating. At the end of the day, I told them that they could be among the youngest entrepreneurs in the world. That distinction excited them further. As parents, we have to be creative in encouraging our children to walk the virtual path we planned for them.
For reference, I’m a believer that entrepreneurship is a journey of taking an idea from inception to execution with available resources, with ability to overcome hurdles and replicate even after failure. The journey is long and is filled with unexpected surprises (exciting & horrifying). Going through that journey has an immense positive impact. Truly, I could write books talking about the importance of entrepreneurship, though I’ll highlight seven major benefits (return on investment):
- Build stronger personality with leadership qualities: entrepreneurship requires reading, preparing, presenting, arguing, convincing, accepting negative criticism, acceptance of failure, and the search for the truth “without any shoe polish”. They will interact with people much older than them. They may have to travel and take good care of themselves and belongings.
- Time management: Entrepreneurs have so much to do every single day. They have to prepare for meetings, prepare presentations, search for solutions, investigate competition, juggle tasks, set priorities, change plans, etc. Without properly managing their tasks and the available 24/7 time span, they would fail because some important tasks would fall between the cracks.
- Strategic planning: Just like we have to plan for our kids, they as well must plan for their own lives and their venture. They have to set vision, mission, goals, SWOT, action items, and financials (budget and cashflow).
- Set goals and vision: Living without a clear vision and achievable goals would be like driving a car with a destination; you keep driving until gas runs out.
- Positive impact of failure: In school often kids are taught that failure is terrible. Yet toddlers fall on their faces repeatedly before walking without falling. We wish we could avoid failure, but that’s impractical. Therefore we should learn lessons every time we fail, then go on and try again. We would be much stronger and wiser.
- Broaden general knowledge: The average kid learns what school has to offer and a bit from home and another bit from other kids while fooling around. Entrepreneurs learn so much about so many different subjects. They have no other choice if they want to pursue their journey. They learn their subject matter, a bit of business, a bit of legal, a bit of communication skills, a bit of diplomacy, and a lot about themselves and their partners.
- Professional networking: We’re created to complement each other. We all need others for a reason or another. Kidpreneurs learn to make friends and business acquaintances. They learn to share knowledge and benefit from social opportunities. They network with people older than them and more successful. The ultimate goal of networking is achieving the goals set in the strategic plan.
How did I get my kids into entrepreneurship?
You can’t just say: “Hey guys, in addition to taking good care of your school work and daily sports, I want you to dedicate two hours daily for a venture to grow. Rather, we should seize the moment when an opportunity arises.
I had tried previously to get my kids involved in my Arab Experts Portal (www.expertarabs.com). Besides writing a couple of posts and recording one or two podcasts, I could not get them to do more, they just were not interested.
I tried to get them to like photography since photography is a hobby of mine. I showed them a site where I post my special photos to win prizes. They did not care much and parents shouldn’t give up.
One morning, they woke up asking for my help as they wanted to develop a social network for teenagers. I was thrilled.
My role now is to pave the way and make sure the start of the journey is interesting so that they don’t quit. But they knew nothing about the making of an app; they just had an idea, so I had to fill the gap until they could stand on their own feet.
We sat together on a Friday (off day) for five hours. We talked, argued, and sketched. Then we met again and again for about a week every day after school and work. They showed passion and seriousness. I directed and controlled the meetings. My aim was to verify their seriousness before committing time and money. They convinced me. Truly, they amazed me.
I explained the required steps. We agreed on the roles and deliverables. I converted hand sketches to Photoshop drawings and conducted initial research on the issues on hand. They carried out extensive research and brain stormed while I was away. They read many articles, blogs, and books. They watched Youtube videos for hours. They took notes. They asked me questions to which I knew no answers, so I had to research and investigate as well. We all were learning, knowledge was compounding.
Mohamed started learning Python, but I did not want him to get involved on the expense of school. I led them to outsourcing.
They learned quickly so many concepts: how to post a job, how to evaluate and negotiate offers, the difference between UI and UX, native programming vs. PhoneGap, app security, code testing, quality assurance, budget preparation, cash flow, revenue making, marketing, and outsourcing, just to name few. More importantly, there was noticeable positive change in their character: personality, leadership, self-esteem, vision, mission, and influence on others. Another objective of our strategic plan was accomplished.
The journey can’t be smooth all the way; no pain, no gain. Their school performance was negatively impacted –fell from being A* students to A’s and some B’s. My wife was very upset so she called it off: “no more Chillax”. Discipline is a part of our strategic plan and they knew upfront that nothing should negatively impact their grades. In addition, allocated funds were running out quickly, design & code flows, outsourcing problems, etc. They put Chillax to sleep, but recognizing failure was the start of another journey.
After few months of focusing on school and bringing their grades back to A*, they were allowed to work publicly on what they were doing secretly. They had a plan to develop an app that would help save lives and keep communities safe. AidMaid was born (www.aidmaid.net).
Working on AidMaid drained the entire family. The boys have become more aggressive and much more confident than ever before. They began to boss me around with order (research this, research that) and correct me with facts. We had nightly loud and heated discussions, sometimes fights, other times my wife was bothered so much for alienating her (all attention and energy was given to the boys) she left with friends till late hours. My baby daughter (10 years old) was bothered as well for lack of attention, yet she forced herself in by chipping in with ideas and remarks.
It was time to plan for the Summer vacation, time to do something wild and different. I got the boys into Oasis500 and Wamda. I had spent hours on the phone with Faisal Bitar and others explaining how the boys could add value to their programs.
To learn to be independent, they flew alone to Amman for two days to attend a Wamda event in early June before the Summer vacation. Then in August they joined Oasis500 and Ruwwad.
I got them a slot to present their venture at an event in Dubai, IoTX conference, where Mohamed gave an amazing presentation to a large audience. Parents must be serious for their kids to try to be serious; and I was very serious about their journey.
They met Fadi Ghandour who had a major impact on their lives afterwards. Even though they met several amazing icons to whom they are indebted, Fadi was the godfather. He tweeted about them and invited them to his office. In order to maintain the positive image, they could not settle for anything less than perfect. Icons like Fadi are an integral part of the ecosystem; which nurtures success.
Fadi gave them a copy of Chris Schroeder’s book on entrepreneurship. They read every single word in that book, then I read it as well. I have to admit that I could not make that much impact on Amer and Mohamed like Fadi did. Point is: it’s an obligation on all of us regardless of status to engage as we could never know who we might impact.
Amer and Mohamed were passionate about their vision for their own future. Vision and passion is what drives them and drives us as their support team as well. That is what makes them dare: dare to explore, dare to challenge, dare to over hurdles, dare to keep pushing, dare to have the determination to succeed. Success requires instrumentation of the vision and sharing it as well. That was a reason to start the Chillax Youth Entrepreneurship Club at school.
They were nominated for an award by Arabian Business Startup Magazine, covered by WAMDA, contacted by Forbes Middle East, interviewed by Entrepreneur ME magazine, featured regionally and internationally, and were invited to compete against much older entrepreneurs. Fida Chaaban of EntrepreneurME featured them. Stéphanie Nour of WAMDA is working on a video documenting the Chaillx Team journey. Faisal Bitar is working on getting them an exception, due to their young age, to participate in Oaisis500 incubation program. Ronaldo Mouchawar said “I love your boys.” Sara Hamdan tweeted with joy. Abdallah Absi and Jim Yaghi are actively advising them. Several business icons were supportive in different ways: Samih Toukan, Dr. Ali Mousa, Sahm Yaghi, Sebastien Wakim, Kamel Al-Asmar, Dany Farha, and others (http://aidmaid.net/gallery.html).
Parents must be serious for their kids to try to be serious; and I was very serious about their journey.
Finally, a pledge of $200K funding came at the right time from Dr. Eng. Nabil Aljamal, a prominent businessman in Saudi Arabia and few venture capitalist made offers. All this is a testimony of a promising strong ecosystem.
The strategic plan is working and progress is satisfactory thus far. Entrepreneurship can be great for the entire family. After all, kids are our product; they are a reflection of our contributions to mankind. Of their success we shall be proud.
For us, parents, the sad truth is that our kids will grow and they might outgrow us. They might reach a point where they won’t need us or at least our help. They might start teaching us (as in my case). We want them to be the best they could be (achieve their highest potential). Hopefully they will achieve what we couldn’t. Even though we know it’s the cycle of life, and we want our kids to be independent and successful, yet we still wish we would be needed & consulted.
Adviser to Co-Founders of AidMaid