Advice From A Teenage Founder: Quit That Summer Job, And Launch Your Own Biz

By Brooke Yoakam, who launched GiftPocket when she was 12 years old. She is currently an undergraduate student at Boston College

School’s out for summer — though not forever — and for teens, the livin’ is easy. Well, that is in terms of finding a job. The labor market for summer 2021 absolutely loves teens, with experts saying teens could quite possibly have their cherry pick of whatever job — or jobs, plural — they want.

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But why pick a business to work for, other than yourself? To be more direct: Teens should launch their own businesses this summer and parents should encourage them to launch that company or even that app their kid has been fantasizing about launching for months.

Speaking numbers here: There’s about 21 million teenagers aged 15-19 in the United States according to Statista, but about only 25 percent of these teenagers have a job, per The Guardian. Now most people might be saying the other 75 percent of teenagers just must be lazy, but that is definitely far from the truth.

I see it this way: Gen Z wants to create change in this world, and scooping ice cream or lifeguarding isn’t going to cut it. Nothing against handing over two scoops of Superman in a dipped waffle cone, or blowing the whistle on the 6-year-old running like a banshee across the pool deck, but Gen Zers want more and to do more.

But too many of us don’t know how.

Excuses abound, sure. Some teens think they’re too young. Others don’t know where to start. Summer, however, is truly the best time to start a business.

Why now? Because school is out and, my fellow teen friends, you are young and you’ve got space and time to learn from yours and others’ mistakes. You’ve also likely got a roof over your head and food to feed you. Some may call it “mooching off that bank of mom and dad,” others may call it “having foresight.” Also, there is no harm in thanking mom and dad profusely, and promising them dinner — sometime in the future?

Ok, so what business to start?

I started my own business, an app, called GiftPocket when I was 12 years old, solely from identifying and solving a problem: I would always go shopping and forget my gift cards at home and my grandfather would always give me gift cards to stores I would never shop at. This problem inspired GiftPocket: an app to manage all of your gift cards from your phone, pay with them in stores, exchange unwanted gift cards for new ones, and send gift cards from your phone.

Here are my three tips that to coming up with a company to start:

1) Look for a problem in your community

Does your neighbor need a babysitter a few hours a week? There are probably more families needing the same coverage. Start a babysitting business with your friends. (Ann M. Martin sure knows this business.)

Grass growing wild on your street? Start a lawn mowing or garden watering business to help people with their garden or landscaping during the summer.

2) Solve that problem with a twist

Slime is popular. Could you make a unique slime business?

Everyone loves food, but maybe there is  a family recipe that the world needs to try? Whip it up and start asking your community what they’d pay for a platter of it.

3) What’s trending on social media?

Is there any popular jewelry on TikTok that you could make and sell for cheaper or create an even better jewelry item?

#ThrowBackThursday! Many people love vintage things, go to a thrift store and find unique items to upsell by sewing them anew to make them different.

But this last tip is most important, and a reality check:  Every business idea isn’t going to be successful.  What’s important is being able to learn from your mistakes — that is the real success. It also takes time. Remember, your business may not be successful overnight, so start it this summer, but give it more than the summer. Good things happen for the ones who wait and work hard. I believe in you.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

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