That was a summer when I was around 9 years old. I owned a big library of story books a small part of which was mine and the major part of which was given to me by my generous cousins. Being passed on with some business veins from being my grandmother’s Chief Operating Officer / Financial Controller for her convenience store, I formed an idea of setting up the so-called book rental service. Neither could I imagine how it would work nor could I tell if I would ever make any profit. Thankfully, my grandmother and my mother did not show any objection as long as it did not do any harm. So I just went ahead doing it. All initial investments I had included a few old bricks and a weather-beaten rectangle wooden piece, which were formed into a display table, a sign made out of a black board and white chalk that said “Story Book Rental”, and of course, my big boxes of books of all types, from chapter to picture books, from Russian to Vietnamese books, and from tales to diaries.

The table was created in a very “Lego” way, with the bricks piled up to form the feet and the old wooden piece to be the top. It was positioned right in the middle of the little front yard so once people stood in front of our house or simply passed by, they saw it as the very first thing. During those days, houses were next to houses and if one walked along the lane, all they could see was walls and gates running after each other. So I had the sign board nailed onto the wall right next to the gate.

Since there were a lot of kids in my town and there had not been such a rental service with a huge collection, my business went really well beyond my own expectation. I had a little notebook to keep track of who rented what, how much, and when they needed to return. The best moments were when I made up my mind about the pricing, wrote down the titles of the books taken, and saw the list grew longer each day. After very few weeks, I earned a quite good profit that I decided to invest in the store further by purchasing more books to add to my collection. The business not only survived but also thrived. At the end of the summer, I did have some bucks left even after re-investing in my store a few rounds for the next summer’s business.

It was another summer. The vegetables I planted in my grandmother’s garden grew so well that they could feed us more than we could consume. So I decided to be a vegetable seller! I felt extremely excited about the idea that I rose up really early in the morning only to go to the garden, pluck the super fresh fertilizer-free young leaves from the plants, and bundle them up using some bamboo threads. Putting a hat on my head and the vegetable bundles into a basket, I eagerly jumped on my feet to a small market in our town. Sitting there for a few hours, I started to find myself yawning while the others around me busily counted the money they earned from almost non-stop selling. It was nearly noon time when my neighbour sellers had their baskets nearly emptied. Being desperate, I ran after a lady who I thought was kind and willing enough to buy my product just to disappoint myself that my attempt to persuade was met with indifference. Home did I go, using the vegetables for our family’s dinner.

So as a child, I fortunately tasted both success and failure from doing my own little businesses, and the hard-earned lessons could not be more profound.

  1. When I am early in the game, in the right market, with the right products, the business runs on itself with minimal efforts from its owner. However, as the market may catch up, evaluating the business model and adjusting it is no less important for survival and growth. Had I had my book rental store in a neighborhood with few children and already established competitors, I would not have got the chance to count the notes and coins. Had I not expanded my collection, my customers may have got bored and would not have returned.
  2. Diversity of products is important to acquire and retain customers. Had I had more than one types of vegetables, I would not have had the trouble selling my freshest and most organic ever bundles. Usually, housewives would buy a number of them for a meal or a few meals and they would not want to hop from stall to stall to complete their initial kitchen mission unless what my store offered was absolutely unique that could not be found elsewhere.
  3. Just do it! Had I not followed my gut and gone ahead doing it, I would not have had this precious learning.

I hope the next time I have a story to share, it would start with “It was another summer when I found the impact of my business tripled.” As. I. Am. Now. Better. Prepared.

And I would love to hear your personal lessons as well!