Lessons in lockdown. A schooling in business from a 12-year old.

My 12-year old daughter can drive me mad and delight me in pretty equal measure. Stubborn, single-minded, emotional. Asking for help, then rejecting it. Wanting to be left alone, then upset that she has been. Caring, creative, and inspiring too. She’s like the majority of pre-teens I’m sure. And like all parents I’m learning a lot. 

That learning has hit turbo-boost recently, with the teaching role of many parents taken to an extreme and formalised degree, courtesy of Covid-19. It’s actually left me wondering who’s learning more from who. I’m learning plenty. Not least to be more patient, and that I can’t remember the first thing about algebra. What I’d not expected to learn, or be reminded of, are specific things directly applicable to what I do as the owner of a business that exists to help other businesses grow. But no, I’ve been schooled.

And these lessons, let’s call them powerful reminders, have taken place in the space of just three weeks. Because three weeks is the time it has taken my daughter to conceive, launch, and start seeing an income from a business idea. I thought you’d appreciate them too, so here they are.

1. Purpose before profit

‘I’m not really interested in making money, I just thought it would be a good thing to do’.

That’s what Layla announced at the outset. Okay, so it’ll be a short-lived venture if it doesn’t make money, but wow, what a way to start.

To give this context, I should explain her venture. Lockdown has been tough on kids. Layla is missing social interaction with her friends, and she and her friends are missing sleepovers. Layla wanted to do something about this and came up with the idea of a virtual sleepover. It basically works like this. You hook up with a friend or group of friends, eat the same sugary stuff as each other, do the same activities, watch the same movie, and all go to bed – the classic ingredients of a great sleepover – but in your own home and in your own bed. And from that simple idea, in a matter of days, DigiSleepLastNight? was born.

Layla had identified a problem, foreseen potential demand, and had devised a possible solution. The best part (Simon Sinek will be delighted) is she didn’t start with ‘what’, she started with ‘why’. There was genuine purpose to this business, and as such she has the foundations for true differentiation. As we preach to our clients, a purposeful ‘story’, viewed as an evolving, living thing, is not only what makes a business unique, it’s also key to successful brand building. The development of deeper emotional connections, that over time lead to brand salience, starts with your story. Nobody’s taught Layla that. It was instinctive.

2. Don’t overthink it, launch!

Perfection is the enemy of great. I can’t remember who said that. They may not even have said it quite like that. But it’s so true. Many people would have deliberated over any number of details (I hold my own hand up), convincing themselves that they weren’t quite ready to go public. But where’s the benefit? Equally, why spend time second-guessing your audience, and whether your idea has legs? The quicker you get your proposition out there the sooner you’ll have a feel for how compelling it really is and the sooner you’ll be able to refine, evolve and improve on it. You snooze, you lose.

I offered Layla the services of mark-making* and said if she’s serious about this I could enlist the help of professionals in creating a website. I told her it may even be possible to get an online presence up and running within a few weeks, I thought she’d bite my arm off, but instead she replied ‘That’s not really going to work for me, I think I’ll do it myself. Tomorrow’. And so she did. A couple of days on Wix and she had her website complete with e-commerce functionality, and a day or two later she was making changes to products (and correcting the odd typo). It’s not perfect. It looks like a site created by a 12 year old on a DIY platform, but at this stage in her business’ lifecycle it’s fit-for-purpose. And for me a powerful reminder that something is 100% better than nothing

3. Listen, learn, evolve

Understanding your audience is fundamental to business success. So obvious and yet so commonly forgotten. Layla’s venture is a reminder of the need for true customer insight. She thought she had a good idea, but is it? ‘It’s overpriced’, ‘The pack needs something like this’, ‘Have you thought about how great this would be for virtual parties, not just sleepovers?’ The comments and suggestions on how to improve the product came back thick and fast, and to her credit, Layla responded in exactly the right way. There was something in this idea, but there was also plenty of scope to improve it. You can’t afford to be precious about your idea, your market will determine its value and you need to adapt your proposition quickly. And if you’re not getting this type of valuable feedback, don’t be shy, ask for it directly. Better to hear things that you may not like, than to see a potentially great idea fizzle out before its time.

4. Never fear failure

I have been in awe of the fearless manner in which Layla has approached her whole venture. Never once has she appeared to doubt herself. But it’s not like she even thinks it’s dead cert to be a success either. She’s told me that if it fails it won’t matter, because she’ll have learnt loads anyway (with dozens of failed businesses to his name, super-successful entrepreneur and author Seth Godin would be proud). I hope that view never changes. ‘You could try and get on Dragon’s Den’, I suggested. ‘I’d like to’, she said, ‘but I want to be in one of those chairs.’ I wouldn’t bet against it.

5. Be sure to spend time working on your business not just in it

We’ve all heard that one. Why was I reminded? Put it this way, there are four of us in our family. When the orders are in and there’s packing and posting to be done, no prizes for guessing which one of us is nowhere to be seen. Yes, my daughter has all the hallmarks of a classic entrepreneur.

Check out

Banbury Guardian – Banbury area school girl launches ‘sleepover pack’ business to help people connect with friends during lockdown.

About Alastair

Founder and Creative Director

Ali co-founded mark-making* in 1995 after graduating from Lancaster University in Marketing & Visual Arts. Ali works closely with our clients to help bring clarity to their story, and oversees the wider mm* team to ensure it’s expressed effectively, with authenticity and coherence. Ali regularly speaks on the concept of Magnetic Brands, an approach to creating and building brands that embraces the power of being more human, in pursuit of both profit and positive impact. Ali leads mark-making’s work in helping ambitious organisations of all shapes and sizes build extraordinary and enduring appeal.