How Mark Cuban, Richard Branson, And Other Entrepreneurs Started Their First Ventures As Kids
A fortune has to start somewhere.
For Mavericks owner Mark Cuban it was selling garbage bags. For Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett it was knocking on doors and selling packs of gum. For “Shark Tank” icon Daymond John it was a matter of re-purposing pencils for girls he had a crush on.
Looking into how these legends got started reveals a lot about the personalities of the people who create extreme wealth.
Let’s get to the stories.
Daymond John wooed girls in his first grade class by customizing pencils for them.
“I never knew anything other than wanting to be an entrepreneur,” John tells Business Insider. Before he made a fortune from launching the clothing line FUBU in the ’90s, John learned the power of sales in first grade.
In a recent speech at Rutgers, John explained that he would scrape the paint off pencils and paint his customer’s name on them for a fee — and his market was exclusively the prettiest girls in class.
Sales were good until the principal shut down the operation after discovering John was stealing all of the pencils from boys he didn’t like.
Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad rode around his tiny Swedish town selling matches.
The man who built Ikea has been looking for a better way to sell since the 1930s.
Now 88, a 5-year-old Ingvar Kamprad was growing up on a farm in rural Sweden when he showed the first signs of the entrepreneurial itch. The kid rode to his neighbors’ houses selling matches.
He started earning his reputation for finding efficiencies way back then: He would buy matches in bulk from Stockholm then sell them individually at a markup — but still at a reasonable price.
That business grew into other home supplies, which then turned into furniture. At age 17, he started Ikea.
Mark Cuban learned the basics of business as a 12-year-old selling trash bags.
The billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks and star “Shark Tank” investorstarted his career as an entrepreneur out of necessity.
When he was 12, he approached his dad one night to ask him for a pair of expensive sneakers. His dad was playing poker and drinking with some friends, which happened to work out in Cuban’s favor.
“And one of his buddies popped up … He said, ‘I got somethin’ for ya! I’ve got these garbage bags I need to sell. Why don’t you go out there and sell these garbage bags?’” Cuban tells Bloomberg’s Barry Ritholtz in a Masters in Business podcast.
The bags were sold in boxes of 100 for $6. Cuban went door to door in his neighborhood and convinced customers that since they’d be buying trash bags anyways, they might as well buy them at a cheaper price from him.
A six-year-old Warren Buffett sold packs of gum to his neighbors — and drove a hard bargain.
The young Oracle of Omaha would buy packs of gum from his grandfather’s grocery store and then spend the evenings going door to door in his neighborhood selling packs to his neighbors.
“I remember a woman named Virginia Macoubrie saying, ‘I’ll take one stick of Juicy Fruit,’” Buffett recalled to Alice Schroeder in her biography, “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life.”
Buffett has the perfect response.
“We don’t break up packs of gum,” he said.
It sticks out in his memory.
“They were sold only in five-stick packs,” Buffett said. “They were a nickel, and she wanted to spend a penny with me.”
An 11-year-old Richard Branson bred parakeets and sold them as pets.
As the chairman of the Virgin Group, Branson has never done things conventionally. And that’s as true today as it was when he was a kid.
At age 11, Branson noticed that there was a business opportunity amid the popularity of parakeets as children’s pets. He and his best friend Nik Powell used one of their boarding school vacations to start breeding parakeets in Branson’s backyard. By the end of the school break, the birds were multiplying faster than the boys could sell them.
“We went back off to boarding school and left my parents to look after all the birds. We lived in the countryside, and I think the rats got to some of them. As for the rest? My mum opened the cages and set them free!” he writes on LinkedIn.
When she was 16, Juliette Brindak made a site for young girls that went on to be worth $30 million.
As a 10-year-old, Brindak created a cast of characters to entertain her and her friends.
At 16, she had her mom, a graphic designer, help her design a website that brought the characters to life. The result was Miss O & Friends, a site exclusively for “tween” girls.
After three years, Procter and Gamble invested in the company and valued it at $15 million.
Today, Brindak is CEO of the company, which has also produced books, games, and other merchandise. Last year the company was valued at $30 million, according to the BBC.
Chuck Schwab sold walnuts and live chickens.
Schwab, the billionaire founder of the brokerage firm the Charles Schwab Corporation, grew up in an upper-middle class family but wanted to make his own money from a young age.
He started off by collecting walnuts and selling them for $5 a bag. He also raised pet chickens in his backyard and sold the eggs.
By 14, he decided that caddying would be a more lucrative opportunity and with a heavy heart sold off his chickens. “I had learned there was a time to hold and a time to sell,” he says in a 1985 issue of The Bulletin.
John Paul DeJoria had to pitch in when he was growing up in Los Angeles.
John Paul DeJoria is now known as the cofounder of haircare empire Paul Mitchell Systems and founder of Patron, which created the category of premium tequilas.
But way before all that DeJoria was the son of immigrants in Echo Park, a Los Angeles neighborhood that is now loaded with hipsters but was pretty rough back in the day.
“My first job, 9 years old, part-time, was selling Christmas cards door-to-door. Ten years old, my brother and I had paper routes,” he tells Entrepreneur.” We delivered a morning paper called the L.A. Examiner. Get up at 4 o’clock, fold your papers, deliver them and get ready for school. My parents came over from Europe. My mom’s Greek. My father’s Italian. And it was just my brother, my mother and I by the time I was 2 years old. So I kind of pitched in.”
For more on DeJoria, check out our interview.
T. Boone Pickens delivered papers — and acquired paper routes.
Growing up in Holdenville, Oklahoma, T. Boone Picken’s had his first gig at age 10, mowing his grandma’s lawn.
He didn’t dig it.
At age 12, he started delivering newspapers.
Then he stared buying up adjacent routes.
The empire had begun.
“The paper route was my first introduction to acquisition,” he tells Adam Carmichael, “a talent that I would perfect later in life.”
By the 1980s, Pickens would be known as the king of takeovers.