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What Teenagers Learn When They Start A Business (#GotBitcoin?)

The real benefits may not be the money they make, but the lessons about startups—and life. What Teenagers Learn When They Start A Business (#GotBitcoin?)

For teenage entrepreneurs, running a summer business can teach a lot of lessons.

Students, of course, are taking a chance when they launch ventures of their own instead of hunting for jobs, whether for the summer or the whole year. And in doing so, they’re in for a crash course in entrepreneurship. They must learn about dealing with customer complaints, adjusting a flawed business model and more.

Here’s what some student entrepreneurs learned about business—and, sometimes, life.

Diego Bennett

Status: Junior, Ward Melville High School, Suffolk County, N.Y.

Business: Shop The Flux

Revenue: $4,500 Since Launch In 2016

Profit: $4,000

How he did it: Mr. Bennett’s business started as an online fashion service targeted at his Gen Z peers. Users filled out profiles and got recommendations for clothes through a tailored monthly email. Initially, customers purchased what they wanted by paying Shop the Flux, which ordered the products from the manufacturer. The brand then shipped to the buyers directly. Shop the Flux collected commissions ranging from 2% to 15%.

Lessons Learned

It is easy to get overwhelmed: Devoting so much time to the business meant less time for school, Mr. Bennett says, so his grades were abysmal in his freshman and sophomore years. He also wasn’t ready for problems such as complaints and returns to the vendor, which lost him his commission. “That was a nightmare,” he says. “I overextended myself.”

Simplify the process: Last summer, Mr. Bennett changed the business model. He still gets commissions—monthly revenue ranges from $200 to $500—but customers purchase directly from the vendor. That opened up a lot more time for school work. “I’m happy with my grades,” he says.

Anthony Mollo

Current Status: Senior, Skyline High School, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Business: Rescue Lawn Care

Revenue: Over $17,000 In 2018 Season

Profit: $8,700

How he did it: Mr. Mollo had mowed lawns over the summer since middle school and over the years had earned about $4,000 in total. At the end of the 2017 season, he decided to see how far marketing could take the business. He spent about $200 on postcards—and ended up with so many clients that he hired 10 students over the season, with two or three assisting on a typical job.

Lessons Learned

Make a good estimate: At the start, Mr. Mollo says, he was a “terrible estimator” and failed to anticipate things that could go wrong. In one early estimate, for instance, he didn’t account for the time to buy and unbag mulch, among other things. The job took longer and cost much more than he expected.

The customer objected when the invoice was higher than the verbal quote, so Mr. Mollo agreed to cut the invoice by about 20%. Now, he says, he asks more questions when developing an estimate and builds in contingencies for the unexpected.

Sharanya Pogaku

Status: Junior, Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies, Edison, N.J.

Business: Spill The Tea

Revenue: $3,000 since start in 2017

Profit: $2,000

How she did it: Ms. Pogaku loves Asian tea with flavored milk and tapioca pearls. As part of a project with her school’s entrepreneurship club, Ms. Pogaku and her partners explored ways to engineer a portable dispenser for bubble tea, similar to a Keurig for coffee. Realizing that type of machine would require a lot of capital, they settled on a catering model, selling the tea at local events.

Lessons Learned

Be picky with partners: The group participated in a fundraising event and agreed to donate part of its proceeds. But the event wasn’t well planned or well publicized by the sponsor, she says, and few people attended. “It was a terrible day; we didn’t break even,” she recalls. After that, the team did more research on events and the groups hosting them.

High prices can actually help: Initially, the students sold their 8- to 10-ounce drink for $1, thinking, “Who would buy from a bunch of high-school freshmen?” Ms. Pogaku says. Business perked up after they raised the price to $2, still well below the $5 charged by many cafes. “The $1 price was too low, people didn’t expect it to be good,” she says.

Bridgette Kim

Status: Senior, Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, Olney, Md.

Business: Tutoring

Revenue: $8,900 Since Start In 2016

Profit: $7,500

How she did it: Ms. Kim began tutoring in math and science as a summer business after her freshman year. She initially helped middle-school students, and then shifted her focus to high-schoolers, charging $20 an hour. She stopped tutoring at the start of her senior year to focus on college applications.

Lessons Learned

Be prepared to sacrifice: When two students complained that they hadn’t been helped, Ms. Kim developed a money-back policy and refunded them each $40. But in the end, the students kept working with her. One told Ms. Kim that initially he didn’t believe she could help him and wasn’t paying full attention. When he buckled down, he picked up the material, she says. The other student appreciated Ms. Kim’s hourly rate and that she went over the allotted time without charging more.

Adapt to your customers: When Ms. Kim saw students losing concentration, she modified her approach. After explaining lessons, she asked students to summarize to make sure they had understood the material. She also found a session of more than an hour was counterproductive. “Even at 70 to 75 minutes, kids would start to fall asleep,” Ms. Kim explains.

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