Ahlstrom Family Startup Story # 1:
A few months before this summer started, we went as a family to our favorite Saturday breakfast place , The Egg and I, and I shared a thought with Jenny and our six children. I thought it would be fun if we spent our summer working on business ideas and have each child chose a startup to work on during the summer. I shared some of the stories of my childhood and suggested the idea of having an Ahlstrom Family Summer Startup Accelerator. At first I didn’t see much uptake on the idea, but as with many startup CEOs I work with, planting an idea and letting it grow is extremely powerful.
I grew up in there era where there was one good TV show on a night, Brady Bunch, Hogan’s Heroes, Mission Impossible. The rest of the time we were forced to fill in with our imagination. My parents would feed my over amped imagination by always saying yes to my crazy ideas. In fact my parents would always say YES and be very supportive of my ideas unless they absolutely had to say no. It makes me emotional to think that they not only said yes, they would help me finance these ideas, often at great personal sacrifice.
The idea of an Ahlstrom Family Summer Startup Accelerator is actually an old idea that started in 1972 when I was nine years old. We didn’t know what a startup was in the 70’s, but the summer of ’72 got me hooked.
1972 Me: Mom, I want to build a lemonade stand to sell lemonade.
Mom: “Yes, Paul that’s a good idea, let’s go to the lumber yard and get the materials.” I will talk more about this startup in my next blog “World’s Best Lemonade”
1974 Me: Dad, Urethane skateboard wheels are coming out and I want to start a skateboard building business.
Dad: Ok I think this new fiberglass material could be an interesting choice to make skateboards out of. We experimented with plywood and flexible fiberglass materials to make skateboards that summer.
1978 Me: Mom and Dad, my friend Rich Theer and I want to start a lawn mowing business. I need a loan for a work truck and the tools.
Mom and Dad: OK, Let’s go to the Long Beach City auto auction and find a truck for sale there. I ran that business until I sold it before I went on my LDS mission in 1982.
1979 Me: Dad, the young men’s president is selling his black 1977 Corvette. Would you co-sign on a loan for me to buy the car?
Dad: Yes. We went to the bank and he co-signed on a 21% interest car loan
1980 Me: Mom and Dad I want to start a pool cleaning business. Would you co-sign on the loan for me to purchase a pool-cleaning route?
Mom and Dad: yes. I ran the pool cleaning business after hours and Saturdays in parallel to the landscaping business until I sold it to by brother in law Brian Bentley before I went on my mission to Ecuador.
1986 Me: My father had a significant financial reversal in the late 1980’s while I was at college. He could only give me $50 and after that he was not able to help me with school or any other expenses. I took the $50 dollars and started the Ivy Tower Dance Club. That was one of several businesses that put me through college.
1987 Me: Mom and Dad I want to invite you to the grand opening of my new restaurant The Backstage Café.
1989 Me: Dad, I want to come home from college and recover from my business failure. Can I live at home and use your office to start a software company.
My parents were my biggest supporters and my biggest fans. I felt this need to pass down this wonderful education legacy and continue the gift of feeding and supporting my children’s passion to learn and explore. The other gift my parents gave us children was they didn’t leave us a financial inheritance. We were always given opportunity, but I always knew that I was never going to be left any money by my parents. This thought stuck in the back of my head and was an amazing motivation for me to get out and make things happen. Jenny and I decided to pass these two gifts on to our children.
To kick off the summer of 2017, Jenny made a unilateral decision to “burn the boats” and cancelled our Satellite Direct TV account. The next day I got a call from a very polite “save team” employee of Direct TV. The caller wanted to know what motivated me to cancel my dish. I said, “I hope there are much better things for me and my kids to do in the summer than watch TV.”
At the beginning of this summer, the startup ideas began to percolate in. Family dinner discussions of lemonade stands, pool cleaning businesses, FinTech startups, Health Tech startups, Swedish genealogy business, Solar Eclipse Camp and many other ideas were kicked around. I told each of the children that they had to read my book Nail It Then Scale It – For The Entrepreneur before they could launch any startup. My son Sam commented that it was one of the most difficult-to-read books he had ever read.
This week I told my good friend Neal Harris about one of the kids startups. He said, “I was wondering why you were doing this and then I realized you are raising boys, not cattle.” This was a reference to a story that Dallin H Oaks related in a recent talk:
“Our small farm was surrounded by other farms, and one of the farmers went in to see my father one day to tell him the things he thought we were doing wrong. My father listened to him carefully and then said, ‘Jim, you don’t understand. You see, I’m raising boys and not cows.’ https://goo.gl/KoBvPb
I thought of doing a demo day at the end of the summer to showcase the kids startups ☺, but instead I have decided to share a series of blog’s talking about the fun stories and our key learnings we have gained by doing summer startups. The legacy of the Ahlstrom Family Summer Startup Accelerator continues!