Five Lessons From An 11-Year Old At A Startup Weekend

Imran Khan

Over a recent weekend, my 11-year-old daughter participated in a startup meetup and accelerator for school kids. She went in with a rough idea of what she wanted to do. After 15 hours of grueling but fun work, she came back with lots of knowledge about startups and what to do next. More importantly, she was full of motivation, ideas, and a desire to act.

Afterward, I had a long discussion with her to get a feel for her experience at the event. The following is my attempt to make sense of an excitable 11-year-old after the time of her life.

  1. Entrepreneurs are problem-solvers. This was a brief comment during the introduction on the first day itself. It really resonated with her. The corollary is that the correct reason to become an entrepreneur is to solve a problem. If you don’t have a problem to solve, or others do not experience the problem, or you cannot make others empathize with you about the problem, there is no problem or solution that will resonate with others. Without a problem, it’s a vanity project. Having a problem to solve can give you a focus and serve as a rallying point for the team. True entrepreneurs get into a business to solve a problem for themselves and others. Growing the business and becoming rich in the process are by-products. A person needs to be personally invested for the project to have a real chance to succeed.
  1. The smallest of ideas can lead to a successful startup. The initial idea need not be a path-breaking, world-changing super-idea. The simplest one-trick pony could lead to a successful startup. Every big thing started with a small idea that grew and grew and grew. The founder’s vision, passion, dedication, and commitment define the outcome. So, don’t fret over the size of the idea; it can lead you to a much bigger idea down the road… like how Burbn became Instagram or how a simple chat app called WhatsApp grew into the behemoth WhatsApp.
  1. Identify the correct demographics. Identifying the target customer and creating a working persona are the most important ways to understand your product. The simplest and most efficient way to do this is to talk to as many people as possible. People are inherently nice. You can go and talk to anyone; the worst that happens is they won’t agree to talk to you. No amount of online surveys or questionnaires can replace the real conversations and insights that come from talking to someone face-to-face. This is very important when you need to establish a target customer. With this insight, my daughter found the gulf in digital understanding between digital natives and digital immigrants.
  1. You cannot do it alone. Mentors and partners are an important part of your journey. For the first time in her life, my daughter feels someone can teach her something – that’s the power of a mentor. She also learned other people can complement her, as a founder, by undertaking tasks she is not good at and allowing her to focus on things she can do best – like pitching to an investor or generating customer leads. She declined my offer to bankroll her project, understanding that investors bring more than money.
  1. Network. Network. Network. I am not sure if they directly talked about networking at the weekend. But she networked with almost everyone there – organizers, mentors, guest speakers, jury members, and fellow participants. She came back with a stack of business cards and asked me for a business card holder. I had to teach her how to store the cards and what she should do with the contacts. In true digital native fashion, she has already contacted a few people over … what else … WhatsApp.

I learned a lot from just listening to her. There are lots of lessons behind each of the above points for any entrepreneur.

Recent research published in Harvard Business Review found that the average successful startup founder is 45 years old. When I told her that, her response was, “it’s time to prove HBR wrong.” That’s self-confidence … a must-have ingredient for a successful entrepreneur.

For more inspiration, listen to the Digitalist Flash Briefing “The Mind Of An Innovator: Five Essential Skills For Innovation.”

A version of this blog appeared earlier on LinkedIn.


Imran Khan

About Imran Khan

Imran Khan has been driving adoption of innovative technologies by SAP ecosystem of customers, partners, developers and ISVs for 19 years. He is a firm believer of using technology to transform people, organizations and governments. He writes about Digital Transformation, Leadership & Technologies and their impact on our lives.