Age 9: My First Business Lesson

My first venture into starting a business was selling my baseball cards. I was an avid collector — I had books of inserts, carefully selected rookie cards in their own protective cases, thousands upon thousands of “worthless” cards that I had stock piled over the years. I also subscribed to Beckett and calculated the potential worth of my spoils. My greedy inner child saw my fortunes amass into the thousands.

“Dad, guess what.”
“What…”
“My cards are worth $8,326. I can’t wait to get something cool!”
“No they aren’t. They’re only worth what someone will pay for them.”
“No way! I’ll show you…”

So, in an effort to prove my father wrong and cash in huge, I scraped emptied my entire piggy bank and bought a table at my elementary school fair for $10. My father dutifully set aside his day to take me and enable me to cash in my riches.

To prepare for the day. I spent weeks organizing all my cards alpabetically and categorizing them by rarity and value by assigning a price to every. single. card.

When we arrived, there were 20 or so booths, none of which were selling cards. ‘Great! No one else is selling cards, this is going to be a piece of cake!’ I arrogantly thought.

7:45a: We showed up and I arranged my cards with a smug sense of satisfaction counting what would be my take later that day. I was pumped!

9a: Doors open! Kids and their parents start piling in and I start thinking about who is going to be my first customer.

10a: Still no sale. But I wait, patiently, answering any questions that may come up.

11a: This is getting boring. How come no one is buying anything?

12p: Still, no sales. I get disctracted and walk over to another table and see this really cool pog slammer. I buy it for $3.

1p: I’m confused — not a single card has sold. There’s only 1 more hour!

2p: Closing time. Total hours spent: 6.25. Total dollars spent: $13. Total dollars sold: $0.

“Jake, I’m sorry that you weren’t successful in selling your cards today. I wish you didn’t have to learn this lesson, because it’s hard for a father to watch. But, I hope you now understand that things are only worth what someone else will pay for them. Now, let’s go get some ice cream.”

I learned my lesson and I have never forgotten that day. There are two principals to take away here:

  1. Whatever you think someone should pay for something doesn’t mean anything. You must ask for a price and get feedback. Value is in the eye of the beholder and price is a reflection of value…and nothing is worth anything until someone pays for it.
  2. If you think something is worthless, you’re seeing it short. Every thing has value to someone — your job is to find the person who will most highly value whatever you’re offering.

This was a tough day for me…I still have almost all of these cards in an attic somewhere. Every so often, I pull them out to reminisce on my hobby and this hard earned lesson. While I didn’t make the thousands I expected, I did get some very important knowledge and some very delicious ice cream.

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