My first crack at entrepreneurship came when my cousins and I decided to sell rocks at my grandparents’ house. You read that right: rocks. My cousin Erin and I were about nine or ten at the time, and her little brother Michael was about five or six. In texting with her recently, Erin does not remember this at all, so it’s entirely possible I’m making the whole thing up, or that this memory just stuck with me more.
As I recall, the rocks in our grandparents’ driveway seemed extra special. They glittered when we held them up to the sunlight, so Erin, Michael and I naturally assumed they were incredibly valuable. We collected a bucket full of rocks and shouted, “Rocks for sale!” at the passing cars or anyone who walked by on our grandparents’ quiet street. We also had a sign written in ball point pen, which is impossible to see from a moving car.
You might be shocked to learn that we did not sell a single rock, but we did get a few dismissive looks. I’m not sure how long we were out there…maybe an hour at most. We gave up when it was apparent that no one was going to buy our rocks. It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re not making any sales. Instead of using our crushing disappointment to adjust to market conditions, we just gave up on trying to sell rocks and went inside to watch “Tom & Jerry” or “The Brady Bunch.”
Not being a seasoned entrepreneur at nine or ten is forgivable, but even now there are lessons to be learned almost forty years later:
Find a product that fulfills a demand – The rocks we found were just standard issue granite with bits of quartz. They were not especially rare or valuable in southeastern Massachusetts. To the average consumer, a cup of lemonade or a baked good has more value than a piece of granite.
Pay attention to branding - “Rocks for sale!” Doesn’t make you want to get out of the car, and fork over any money, does it? If we had done some market research and conducted a few focus groups, we could have picked a better name for our product: “Rocks” is such a boring product name for rocks. Perhaps we could have positioned them as “Artisanal Fragments of Slow-Roasted Earth Crust” or we could have painted the rocks and sold them as “Locally-Sourced Handcrafted Bespoke Artwork.” We would have been ahead of the curve as “Artisanal” and “locally-sourced” weren’t so trendy in the early 1980s.
Don’t give up - My cousins and I fantasized that selling rocks would make us a make a quick buck. We had no real plan for our rock selling business. As a result, we gave up pretty quickly when we realized there was no market for rocks. If we were sufficiently motivated, we could have pivoted to something else, such as the previously mentioned lemonade or baked goods and actually had some cash to blow on candy and soda.
While rocks may not have been a lucrative commodity, there was still value in them. The geologic process for creating the pieces of granite in our grandparents’ yard is truly remarkable. I see this in my seven-year-old daughter who loves rocks. This past summer, she collected so many rocks from Lake Superior that we could feel the drag from their weight in the car. Those rocks were not even valuable Lake Superior agates; she just liked the looks of the ones we took. If she wants to try to sell her rock collection, though, I’ll advise her to offer lemonade instead and keep the rocks for herself.