My first real lesson in business

Joseph Merz

In a world where the title ‘entrepreneur’ is taken by almost anyone with an idea, I never thought too much about being one. Nor have I ever cared too much about making money. It’s always just happened. Profit is simply a byproduct of successful business, it should never be the goal.

Even when I was a kid, my focus was always on the creation of quality… I really enjoyed building things of value for other people. Quality before profit. There was however, one time when I was 7 years old that I put profit before quality…

“But with this, your focus was on the money. See the difference?”

As a child, I used to sell all kinds of things around the neighbourhood. I made a few hundred dollars a month. One weekend I decided I wanted to buy everything I needed to start making and selling model rockets. So, I had an idea. I would sell sherbet in small paper bags. $0.40 a pop. Easy to manufacture and (from the ingredients in our kitchen) a good profit margin.

I stapled the bags shut, filled my wheelbarrow and off I went. It didn’t take long for me to run out so I had to go and buy more ingredients. Turned out there wasn’t a lot of margin in sherbet! Then a moral conundrum presented itself…

I knew people were unlikely to eat the sherbet I was selling, and that they were mainly buying it because I was a kid with a wheelbarrow. So I thought, I could fill the bags with anything really. Flour was cheap and felt like sherbet from the outside. Only occasionally would a person open it and discover the truth, and by then I’d be long gone.

So I did just that. Over a couple of days I sold a lot of ‘sherbet’, I even put the price up, and what do you know I made enough money to buy my rocket equipment. When it was all over, my conscience kicked in and I told my father what I had done… I still remember the look of horror on his face.

He said to me, “You see what happened here?” and I responded “Yes, I got my rocket supplies”. He said “No, you wanted the money. With all of the other things you’ve created and sold, your focus was on what you were creating, but with this, your focus was on the money. See the difference?”

I have never made that mistake again and urge you to think about the same. Are you in it just for the money or are you in it to improve the lives of others?

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