This Biz Kids Spotlight is on Jason O’Neill, a young entrepreneur who is the Founder and Owner of Pencil Bugs located at http://pencilbugs.com. I recently had the chance to interview Jason and his mom, Nancy about his young entrepreneur story. Jason’s idea for his business came when he was helping his mom prepare for a craft fair. He and his mom drew some media attention quickly because he was a biz kid and unlike generations in the past where kids were into lemonade stand businesses and the like there weren’t many bid kids around to draw the media’s attention.
One of the first things Jason’s mom, Nancy did as she in teaching her son about business was to teach him to give back to the community. Therefore, he immediately began giving back to the community via his favorite charities.
Jason’s mom shared with me how their business all kind of happened by accident and that if there was any one thing that she would change about it she would have allowed Jason to “fail” or more often experience some failures. However, because she was a stay at home mom who was with him constantly, she feels her son may not have experienced those times of “falling” much like he didn’t fall much as a young child learning to walk, because she was there to catch him.
She realizes now that she might should have allowed him to experience some failures of learning and growing in his business. Nonetheless, Jason is a smart and savvy biz kid today and an inspiration to others. Check out his website to learn more about him and his business.
Here’s the rest of the interview with Jason and his mom and you can also hear the audio recording of their her interview in the MEMBERS Section:
Sarah: I am here with Nancy O’Neill and her son Jason. I was introduced to both of them via Twitter as well as a book called The Richest Kids in America. We ordered this book right off the press. When we got it we saw that Jason was in there. My son started following Jason on Twitter. Once we decided to start this business of Raising Biz Kids idea, I knew that I had to talk to Nancy and Jason and was introduced to them by another friend. So Nancy, tell us and the people who are listening a little about yourself and how Jason got started in this new adventure that he is doing.
Nancy: Great. I’m glad you called us. It’s really nice to be on your show. I have had about 20 years of corporate and general business experience before we had Jason, who is our only son. I had no problem with giving up the routine environment; I was glad to get rid of it and not have to work anymore. Jason became my fulltime job. Luckily, I didn’t have to go back to work for financial reasons. As he got older, we would get our crafts together, as I like to be creative. When he was nine he wanted to help me with the craft fair. The idea got started from there. The idea led from there and that’s how he got started, but I’ll let him tell you all the details on that one.
My background is kind of varied. I’ve worked in a lot of different industries. Mostly in the executive secretary type of job, but that has led to different types of opportunities and experience; everything from working with TV Guide as a writer and editor, to medical, to the aerospace industry.
Sarah: Wow, you are so well rounded. This is such a joy to be able to talk to you. This is exciting. What kinds of things did you do as a family to strategically position Jason to become a young entrepreneur once you realized that Jason was excited about what he was doing?
Nancy: It’s pretty easy when they are a kid with a business. Right there being so young they pretty much have an in with the media, because it’s such an unusual thing although it is becoming more and more popular. Almost four years ago when he started, there were hardly any kids doing the same type of things. You know when everyone has a lemonade stand, or cookies, or they will try to sell something. The fact that he kept trying to do it, was unique in itself. We just used his kid status and just started contacting media and stuff and helping get his business license set up. Of course, we had to be in our name because he’s a minor, doing that kind of thing. We made sure he understood that when you set up a business that part of the responsibility of being a business person is you have to give back to the community. So we taught him about charities so he started donating to charities also. So just kind of went from there.
Sarah: That’s great. We were reading about that, also on the website and the blog and everything my kids have looked at. I love the charity component, the giving back component is so important and what you have taught Jason. Some success stories completely are set apart from other success stories. What you taught him, in that, is so key and probably helped him to really relate with the heart of a lot of people. Jason gives back and that is so awesome.
Nancy: We figure, when you teach kids at this age, chances are that when they grow up and become more successful in their own right too, that continue in the giving and supporting other people.
Sarah: Exactly. So what do you feel, besides giving back and some business strategies, is there anything else that you feel that you’ve done a great job in raising Jason or what you have done differently?
Nancy: I guess, starting on the negative side, probably we should have let him do more is fail. But because I was a stay at home mom, I was there. I was about 2 feet away from him every step of his life. He physically didn’t get to fall down much because it was like, Oh no. Because I have been there, he hasn’t had to hardly face any of the challenges that a lot of kids do when they are sort of on their own. That has been a draw back because they start to depend on somebody a little too much. So if I were going to change something, I would change that. But on the plus side he knows that he always has us as his number one supporters on everything. Not just his business, but his whole life. I think it’s good to know that you have your parents behind you no matter how old you get.
Sarah: A lot of kids that we’ve come in contact with, a lot of them really don’t have the support of their parents and that’s really shocking. My husband and I set up our whole life financially from the position of we wanted to be home with our kids. He’s a professor, so he has a lot of time and flexibility and I have been in direct sales for 15 years. I chose that profession for the flexibility and have that option to be able to raise my kids. I really respect you for the decision to raise him and be home with him. What a gift he has because he hasn’t had to come full circle full force face and the fear factor of failing quite so fast as some have to come into it.
Nancy: They have time. Everyone says that they are growing up so fast. In every aspect, look around, they are getting stuff thrown at them so much earlier and faster than we ever did. I don’t think it’s necessary. I mean, let them be a kid. They don’t need to go through some of the things they are forced to do. He’s going to get enough of that when he gets older. I can’t do anything about it then, but I can do something about it now.
Sarah: Absolutely. I love that. So, how did you go about helping to discover some of his messages? How did you talk about that, about giving back? Did he come up with all the pencil bug strategies on his own or did you have family council together over pizza and a movie? How did you come help him develop his brand?
Nancy: The whole brand in the business kind of just happened by accident. It wasn’t like just because he came up with this product we were setting out to do a business. He just wanted to help me with the craft fair. It was really, really slow the beginning. It’s one of the benefits that your entrepreneurs have is that they don’t have to rush into it because they don’t have to earn a living. We took it one step at a time. We taught him about setting up a business and how to get people to know about him. At nine years old what can they really come with it on their own? When I hear a kid say they did this all by myself, probably not, because you can’t even be legal with a business all by yourself. We pretty much taught him and helped him with the things we know. My husband is in finance, so he deals with a lot of the big financial decisions and different directions we think Jason should go. It’s always a three part conversation because he is an only child and easy to have conversations any time we want. There’s no competition for him.
Sarah: Exactly. It sounds like he is in the Board of Directors, right?
Nancy: Yeah, and he says he has three employees, he’ll tell you.
Sarah: That’s fabulous. How do you teach him about balance; about his business, his school, friends, family, and some of his other activities?
Nancy: Every since he was in school, he has only picked one thing at a time. He tried sports; baseball, football and such. He would try one thing for a season, then go on to the next thing. It wasn’t like he was in music, and sports, and ten different other things. That was his choice. He was never that kind of kid. He likes things pretty organized; he doesn’t want to be rushed. So just by his nature, it would be like he was so busy he wouldn’t have time for all that stuff. How we do it is his school comes first and he goes to a regular school. So he has homework and does regular things like everyone else does. Then he has time for his homework and friends, then it’s his business. During the day when he’s in school, I will take care of the day to day things and let him know if there is anything he needs to take care of when he gets home. It’s always balance because the biggest thing for us is, is he has a lot of time to be an adult and barely anytime to be a kid. If you don’t let them enjoy their childhood, at least for us, we don’t want him coming back to us saying, “You made me do all this stuff and I didn’t get to just have time to do nothing, to play.” It’s pretty easy to keep him balanced because there’s not that much to do.
Sarah: I love that you are just allowing him to taste test all the things that are out there, that you feel are of value. I think that is wonderful. If you and your husband have had any differences over Jason’s business and different aspects, how do you handle it so that it encourages Jason’s success?
Nancy: Luckily my husband and I are pretty much on the same page most of the time. When there have been any differences or decisions that need to be made, the three of us actually sit down. It’s been more about when Jason doesn’t know when if he wants to continue the business and that was pretty much early on more than now. We would have to lay out all the pros and cons. We would help him to decide the benefits and draw backs are. We always let him decide which way to he wanted to go. If he really, really wanted to quit and was ready to give it all up with the possibilities of not knowing what was going to happen, then that was his decision. We would support him. The fact that you give them the authority to make that decision and not force them to one way or another is going to make them be successful. That’s the encouragement that goes along with it.
Sarah: It makes it so they own that decision. They are really, really strong in being the decision maker. As we grow up, some adults can’t make decisions and that’s why they don’t trust because they aren’t able to face through it and make decisions. Have you ever had any big fears of raising a Biz Kid?
Nancy: The only real thing I was concerned about in the beginning was his safety and security. When we put the red plate up, I didn’t put our address on there, I was very careful about what personal information we added. Posting his picture in the beginning was like, Oh no, am I doing the right thing? Little things like that. We closely monitor all his business activity. He’s not the kind of kid that going to go surfing the internet for all the wrong stuff. We have made that very clear for a long time. I wasn’t all that concerned once we got the business all set up and everything and was legitimate and everything was going ok, there wasn’t a way for someone to contact him in an inappropriate manner. I was always here and seeing what was going on. I still monitor all the e-mails, Twitter, Face Book, and all the other things that go on. Partly because I need to show him how to interact in a business professional way but also I want to make sure that nobody is trying to do the wrong thing with him.
Sarah: Yea, because you love him. Because I have those say semi-fears. I know that talking with other parents that’s one of their fears. Like what if someone tries to contact him or someone tries to kidnap him or something else. That’s really great that you are staying so involved and taking away a lot of that fear. What would be three top tips, in closing, you want to share with other parents that are striving to raise Biz Kids or whose children want to be Biz Kids?
Nancy: Let them be kids first. Don’t push them into something, no matter what it is, whether it’s business or athletics or whatever it is, let them be kids first. That’s the most important no matter what they are doing. If it’s the Biz Kid, they don’t need to rush into it. They don’t need to take out big loans and neither do the parents. It can go slowly and you can teach them all the stuff they need to know. And if you don’t know all the business things, you can find somebody that does. It’s an easy gradual learning process for the kids as they are taking baby steps along the way. When they have ideas, don’t limit their ideas. The good thing when they are kids, a lot of times when they are kids, they don’t think they can’t because no one has told them they can’t. They have more of an open mind than a lot of adults do. Those are pretty much the three main things.
Sarah: Thank you so much. Is there anything else you would like to share before we have Jason hop on the line?
Nancy: No, I think Jason will cover the rest.
Sarah: Thank you so much Nancy for being on the line and willing to share with people on this success summit. I just really appreciate you. Thank you so much. Thank you for being such a great parent and a good example.
Sarah: Hi Jason. How are you?
Sarah: Great. Thank you for being with us on this success series, the Biz Kids Success Summit. I’ll just tell you right up front that my son is jealous that I am talking to you up front. He asked, “Why can’t I talk to him on the phone?” You will probably get a Twitter from him asking if he can interview you.
Jason: That’s cool.
Sarah: Tell me in a few words a little about yourself, your big story about how you got started and where all the people listening can find you and connect with you and of course order some of your pencil bugs?
Jason: It all started about four years ago at a craft fair. I was nine at the time and mom was making door stoppers for the craft fair and she was going to sell them. I wanted to help her paint the door stoppers and help her because I thought she would split the money with me. I asked her about that and I thought this was a sure fire plan, but she said no. You have to come up with your own idea. So I was caught off guard there. But I didn’t stop and I actually came up with my own idea. After a bunch of trial and errors and things I drew out on paper and things didn’t really work so well and weren’t really practical, I finally came up with the idea of pencil bugs. I thought this might actually work. I bought some supplies and made 24 for the craft fair. I sent my products and so did my mom. All of mine sold out but she only sold three of hers. That was a first big step knowing that this might actually work. From then on, I went on a made a couple more and brought them to school. Actually at that point I thought that was it. I made some money, I sold 24, done! But, I had a couple extra supplies, so I made some more and I brought them to school. I was using them myself, and the kids were seeing them, and as kids do they wanted to know where I got them. I told them I made them. Soon the whole school wanted to buy them. So I was getting orders everyday and I was writing down the orders down on sticky notes, taking them home and making them. Even then I didn’t think that this was actually going to be a business. The kids were liking it, I was getting orders, so why not. The real turning point was when, one day there was this one kids that came to school, and I was still in elementary school, so this is the surprising part, he had a wallet and he had two 50 dollar bills in there. $100! He showed them to me and offered to buy my business. From then on, I thought if this business is such a big thing, people want to buy it, people want to buy the product, then I need to do something about it. I need to make it big.
Sarah: Absolutely. I love that. One of your most recent blogs article mentions all the contests you’ve entered, and many that you’ve won. How do you go about finding these contests for young entrepreneurs to enter?
Jason: It’s kind of hard because there is only one central place for contests, not like a list. Many of them, I didn’t meet the age requirements. Actually I didn’t meet the age requirements because they don’t expect that Biz Kids are under the age of 16. That’s the requirement; you have to be over 16. So usually I send an e-mail and ask permission to enter the contest and usually they let me in. There was one exception to that with the Young Entrepreneur Award. With that one, instead of asking permission in the entry form, I wrote my story and why they should accept me even though I was under 16. They liked it so much that they made a whole new category for under 16, and I was the first one to receive that award.
Sarah: I saw that and I like, go Jason. That is great.
Jason: I think that was really cool.
Sarah: What do you think the top three things are that your parents support you in your success of your business as well as other areas of your life?
Jason: One of the biggest thing is they let me be a kid. They didn’t push me to do other things; I don’t have to do my business 24 hours a day. I still get to play, play games. I still get to play with my friends; I still have to go to school. So I still get to be a kid. I’m not forced to do this. If I ever want to stop, I can. People tell me I act older than I am even though I’m 13. My parents have told me everything I know and that they know and because I am an only child, I don’t have to compete for attention. That’s another thing. Instead of pushing me they encourage me. That’s something all parents should do, no matter what the child is doing. You don’t want to push the child to do something or they are going to back away and not want to do anything at all. You should encourage them and make choices. So if they want to stop, then let them stop.
Sarah: Perfect. They encourage you, they gave you some choices and they totally let you be a kid.
Sarah; Love that. Were you always an excellent descriptive writer or is something that you have had to work at? We have read your blog, my kids have read your blog and your articles are fabulous. They are really, really well written. So was this a gift you were given or is that something you really had to work at?
Jason: I’ve become better over time and my mom keeps a lot of my school papers from when I was little. I look at the every once in awhile. And some or them are pretty interesting. I like reading things that are pretty descriptive because it gives you a more vivid picture and you get a better picture of what they are saying. As far as my blog goes, I brain storm my ideas so I know where I am going with my ideas instead of writing random things that really don’t flow. That makes it more descriptive and other things. My mom always helps me proof read it and edit it because, even the best writers have editors and people behind them to make sure they do everything right. So my mom teaches me as I go.
Sarah: I was telling your mom when I was talking to her, that you have free labor, you have three Board of Directors.
Sarah: I think other Biz Kids can look around at the people in their lives and think, gosh I can’t do it, but then this person can serve as this and this person can help me proof, and all this can probably be free or barter or something. I love that you’ve done that in your life. What a good example. What are three top things that you would recommend to other kids who are going to use a blog as a component for their business model.
Jason: You have to write something meaningful. Too many people think they have to write a blog every single day. They run out of ideas and end up writing not meaningful things, which nobody really wants to read, which will make their blog less credible and people will not want to continue coming back. Another one is you should have someone proof read it and edit, just like I do. The most annoying thing with blogs is that they are full of errors, they don’t flow right and they are not profession. Another one is that you should right about what you know. Tell about something that you know well, that you can relate to and it will flow better and come across better.
Sarah: So consistency even if it is just once a week because I know you write pretty much once a week,
Jason: Yes. I try to do it once a week.
Sarah: Proofing for errors and talk about what you know. Talk about what you are passionate about. I think you have done very well. Share some things that you really love to do whether its gaming or pencil bugs or whether it’s something you saw at the beach or whatever you talk about. Did you always like to speak on stage and do interviews or is it something that you had to practice and practice and overcome some fears?
Jason: I started very young, so I don’t have the normal stage fright that others have. I still get the butterflies and I think that I will be getting that for a very long time because I talk to grownups that have been speaking for most of their life and they still get that feeling. It’s an ok feeling that people have. I think that I am much more comfortable about public speaking. The thing that I like the best about public speaking is that I surprise myself most of the time. Even though I plan out ahead of time what I am going to say, I make note cards, most of the time I think of things on the spur of the moment that totally change it up and my parents aren’t expecting it. I’m not even expecting it. I always get to try something new.
Sarah: That’s good. So tell us some of the paths of income streams that you can recommend to other Biz Kids? I see that you have public speaking. I’m sure you get paid to speak and you have all the different merchandise that you offer on your site, as well as the books that you’re in, as well as a book you are writing and planning a movie. So talk about those income streams that you’ve implemented to help you round out your business model?
Jason: I don’t really have a marketing budget. They come one step at a time. It comes as it comes. At the moment, I don’t have any big paths of income streams. Right now I am working on a couple of children’s books and a business book is with my agent right now, so once I get those published along with a movie out and all that other stuff then I’ll have a nice source of income.
Sarah: How did you go about finding an agency or did someone contact you?
Jason: I speak with M. Hanson sometimes and he has different events and one of his friends hit a lot of agency friends. One of them I started talking to and that’s how we started.
Sarah: What would be your closing remarks? What could you share with Biz Kids around the world about some take away’s from your business and your experience so far?
Jason: I think everyone should donate to charity. I started from the very beginning and I started donating to Foster kids. Last year I started helping kids in the hospital. I think it’s important that businesses help out others. Whether they are making millions of dollars or hundreds or make a couple of thousand, I think they should give something and help out somebody else. Also for kids to try their ideas. You can’t get anywhere by sitting on your ideas. So just try your ideas.
Sarah: I love that. You can’t anywhere by sitting on your ideas. That’s great. Tell us one more time, where can they find you? What is your Twitter handle and where can they find you on your website. Also tell us why they should get Pencil Bugs for Christmas and stocking stuffers for teachers or whoever?
Jason: You can find me on my website at pencilbug.com, YouTube, Face Book, Twitter; it’s all on their Pencil bug. Pencil Bugs are great because, even though they are made by a kid, there not just for kids so they will work for anybody. They are handmade, they are removable, you can put them on a pen, you can even put them on a crayon. It works for almost anybody.
Sarah: Thank you, thank you, thank you Jason. You have shared some wonderful insight and your mom has also shared some amazing insights. Be sure to thank her too. Thank you for being a part of this Biz Kids Success Summit.