Until children reach a certain age, enrichment programs are somewhat limited to school, sports, and camps, while money-making opportunities are largely non-existent.
Now, a year-old, L.A.-based startup called Mighty, a kind of Shopify that invites younger kids to open a store online, aims to partly fill the void. In fact, Mighty -- led by founders Ben Goldhirsh, who previously founded GOOD magazine, and Dana Mauriello, who spent nearly five years with Etsy and was most recently an advisor to Sidewalk Labs -- hopes to woo families with the pitch that it operates at the center of fintech, ed tech, and entertainment.
As often happens, the concept derived from the founders' own experience. In this case, Goldhirsh, who has been living in Costa Rica, began worrying about his two daughters, who attend a small, six-person school. Because he feared they might fall behind their stateside peers, he began tutoring them when they arrived home, using Khan Academy among other software platforms. Yet the girls' reaction wasn't exactly positive.
"They were like, "F*ck you, dad. We just finished school and now you're going to make us do more school?'"
Unsure of what to do, he encouraged them to sell online the bracelets they'd been making, figuring it would teach them needed math skills, as well as teach them about startup capital, business plans (he made them write one), and marketing. It worked, he says, and as he told friends about this successful "project-based learning effort," they began to ask if he could help their kids get up and running.
Fast forward and Goldhirsh and Mauriello -- who ran a crowdfunding platform that Goldhirsh invested in before she joined Etsy -- say they're now steering a still-in-beta startup that has become home to 3,000 "CEOs" as Mighty calls them.
The interest isn't surprising. Kids are spending more of their time online than at any point in history. Many of the real-world type businesses that might have once employed young kids are shrinking in size. Aside from babysitting or selling cookies on the corner, it's also challenging to find a job before high school, given the Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets 14 years old as the minimum age for employment. (Even then, many employers worry that their young employees might be more work than is worth it.)
Investor think it's a pretty solid idea, too. Mighty recently closed on $6.5 million in seed funding led by Animo Ventures, with participation from Maveron, Humbition, Sesame Workshop, Collaborative Fund and NaHCO3, a family office.
Still, building out a platform for kids is tricky. For starters, not a lot of 11-year-olds have the tenacity required to sustain their own business over time. While Goldhirsh likens the business to a "21st century lemonade stand," running a business that doesn't dissolve at the end of the afternoon is a very different proposition.
Goldhirsh acknowledges that no kid wants to hear they have to "grind" on their business or to follow a certain trajectory, and he says that Mighty is certainly seeing kids who show up for a weekend to make some money. Still, he insists, many others have an undeniably entrepreneurial spirit and says they tend to stick around. In fact, says Goldhirsh, the company -- aided by its new seed funding -- has much to do in order to keep its hungriest young CEOs happy.
Many are frustrated, for example, that they currently can't sell their own homemade items through Mighty. Instead, they are invited to sell items like customizable hats, totes, and stickers made by Mighty's current manufacturing partner, Printful, which then ships out the item to the end customer. (The Mighty user gets a percentage of the sale, as does Mighty.)
The budding tycoons on the platform can also sell items made by global artisans through a partnership that Mighty has struck with Novica, an impact marketplace that also sells through National Geographic.
The idea was to introduce as little friction into the process as possible at the outset, but "our customers are pissed -- they want more from us," says Goldhirsh, explaining that Mighty fully intends to one day enable its smaller entrepreneurs to sell their own items, as well as offer services (think lawn care), which the platform also does not support currently.
As for how it makes money, in addition to collecting transaction-based revenue, Mighty plans to layer in subscription services eventually, even while it's not prepared to discuss these publicly quite yet.
It's intriguing, on the whole, though the startup could need to fend off established players like Shopify should it begin to gain traction. It's also conceivable that parents -- if not children's advocates -- could push back on what Mighty is trying to do. Entrepreneurship can be alternately exhilarating and demoralizing after all; it's a roller coaster some might not want kids to ride from such a young age.
Mauriello insists they haven't had that kind of feedback to date. For one thing, she says, Mighty recently launched an online community where its young CEOs can encourage one another and trade sales tips, and she says they are actively engaging there.
She also argues that, like sports or learning a musical instrument, there are lessons to be learned by creating a store on Mighty. Storytelling and how to sell are among them, but as critically, she says, the company's young customers are learning that "you can fail and pick yourself back up and try again."
Adds Goldhirsch, "There are definitely kids who are like, 'Oh, this is harder than I thought it was going to be. I can't just launch the site and watch money roll in.' But I think they like the fact that the success they are seeing they are earning, because we're not doing it for them."