Lessons From my Dad’s Entrepreneurial Story
In the early ‘90s, my dad was a physical education teacher in an underperforming high-school in Central Israel. While he enjoyed teaching, he has been a member of staff at that school for over 10 years and so was open to new opportunities. At the time, my brother was in fourth grade at a local school and was ordered to hand in a paper for class on a subject of his choosing. With my mother’s guidance, he chose to write a paper about Lego. My brother was always fond of tinkering with things, and the colorful Lego bricks were one of his favorite pastimes. While doing research for this paper, my mom discovered that Lego used to be part of a government-approved plan to teach elementary school children science. Apparently the plan was started off with much fanfare, but then gradually fizzled out as time passed. One of the reasons for the plan’s failure was that collecting small bits of Lego off the class’ floor at the end of a lesson was too time consuming for teachers.
Bringing my father into the fold, my parents noticed a business opportunity here. While the plan to teach children Lego failed under public management — it could be an ideal for private hands. My dad quickly rang the company that had the license to import the Lego kits used in the failed government plan and struck a deal with them. Thus, a business was born.
The Lego kits came with a well prepared lesson plan and my dad, who had years of experience teaching children and an innate ability to connect with them, was ideally suited for the job. He started calling elementary schools in our hometown, offering his Lego lessons as an extra-curricular activity to teach children basic physics and engineering principles. He also managed to struck a deal with the principal in the high-school he worked in, to let him leave in time for his Lego lessons in other schools.
At the time, the choice of extra-curricular lessons in Israeli elementary schools was fairly limited. My dad’s new business had no direct competitors and so he was able to gradually grow from just himself carrying Lego boxes on a trolley to a few schools to employing about 20 people and providing stimulating and engaging scientific education to children throughout central Israel.
My dad’s business enjoyed the advantage of being the first to offer extra-curricular Lego classes throughout the ‘90s. Yet things began to change in the early years of the new millennium. As his business started growing, employee turnover also rose. The role of an instructor in a Lego class is not something many Israelis aspire to. Most dream of making big money in a startup and not of the sometimes grinding daily work of standing in front of a group of children. The result of this was that on the one hand suitable employees were hard to find and on the other hand good employees quickly sought the higher pay and better terms found in other industries. Every year, my dad had to hire several new employees to take the place of those who left the year before. New hires also had a pretty long training period, during which my dad personally made sure they were ready to stand in front of class and represent the company’s brand with respect.
In the last few years, as competition began to grow, my dad’s company had no choice but to try and differentiate itself by investing heavily in R&D — inventing new lessons plans more suitable for the current era and new ways to engage with both parents and students via social media. The business itself continues to grow steadily, employing over 20 people, part and full time and offering classes in over 50 towns all over Israel.