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Updated: July 27, 2020 Commentary

Six lessons from the lemonade stand

Michelle Philbrook

Our daughter Lily, 9, is a startup queen.

A non-exhaustive list of her business ventures over the past 3 years or so includes: baking (Mini Treats), door-to-door sales (homemade sorbet), driveway-based sales (books and custom artwork), publishing (The Mabel I. Wilson News), not-for-profit (Seas and Trees), a band (the Cool Kids Cover Band), singing lessons (Sing! Club), private investigation (Kids on the Case) and theater (“Izzy, a Musical”).

Chris Phillbrook

She will tell you with a straight face, a lot of these have been “fails.” But a couple did well.

This is to say that our family has learned a lot about kid businesses. So if your little ones are working on a lemonade stand or other venture, here are a few tips we’ve learned along the way.

For parents (and other startup supporters) 

1. Let them try the unreasonable: Nobel Laureate economist Daniel Kahnemann said in a 2013 interview that, had they known the odds they were facing, most entrepreneurs who did big things would not have even tried. And that’s why when Lily wants to start something new, we almost never stand in her way, even if we’re pretty sure we know how it will end. The stakes are low when you’re a kid, and the business lessons are much less expensive than they will be later.

2. Prioritize pace over perfection: Lily seems to have been born knowing this, but it’s something she’s had to teach her mom, who is wired to refine and edit until she feels her work is worth people’s time. Lily, on the other hand, is always ready to post pictures, design logos, make t-shirts, launch websites, order supplies, text all the parents and just in general get her businesses launched. Kids lose interest when the boring parts take too long, so the goal here is help them (or let them) get that minimum viable product out the door.

3. Get in the spirit: You don’t have to spend a lot to have great swag — you can help your child and their business partners create custom T-shirts and hats using iron-on inkjet paper and a pack of plain white shirts from Walmart. All in, we’ve outfitted a few of Lily’s workforces/bands/teams for less than $20. There are also lots of free beginner-friendly apps, like Canva for logos and flyers, and Adobe Spark for easy DIY websites.

For kids (and entrepreneurs in general)

1. Don’t wait for an offer; make a proposal: Just because something isn’t offered publicly doesn’t mean it’s not an option. It might just mean that whoever’s in charge is too busy to think of it. Devise a proposal that gives the decision-maker an easy up or down vote. Make an appointment, make your pitch and make it complete. It’s all about taking the thinking off their plate.

2. Don’t make it all about you: When you first roll out your idea or passion project, it’s easy to rally support. It’s fresh, it’s novel and your friends are excited because they’re excited for you. But if you want your business to last, you can’t rely on a cast of supporting characters. The Mabel I. Wilson News was successful because it told the stories of kids all across the school.

3. Know that there’s always tomorrow: With Lily’s musical, the show didn’t end up happening. But that’s okay! Because one of the most important lessons you can learn as a business-kid is that when things go sour, you can use what you learned to make something sweet tomorrow. It’s all just part of the lemonade business.

Michelle and Chris Philbrook are co-owners of Mishmash Marketing and Philbrook PR in Westbrook. They can be reached at or

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