My First $1000

I made my first $1000 in eighth grade selling baseball cards.

I seventh grade I decided I was going to start a business selling baseball cards. The problem was, I didn’t yet know anything about baseball. So I started learning everything I could. Luckily, it is a sport with a lot of statistics and perfect for a math geek like me.

In shop class I made a rubber stamp to stamp out my business cards (I used to cut up small index cards). It said:

A. Baseball
[street address]
Mamaroneck, NY 10543
914-381-xxxx

So I set about buying low and selling high. At the time (1987), baseball cards were an extremely inefficient market and there was a bit of a bubble going on.

I used to buy an eight foot table at the local baseball card show. Prices were initially $150 for the table. I split the table with my friend Alex — each taking 4 feet for $75. And sold a lot of baseball cards.

But I quickly realized that the organizer of the baseball card show was giving all the favorable floor spots to his buddies and we were stuck in the bleachers (sometimes literally — as these shows were often done on a Saturday in a high school gym). So while I might make $200, after paying for the table, price tags, card holders, and the cards themselves, I wasn’t making much money. Especially not when considering my time (though my alternative at the time was making $3.75/hour minimum wage job).

So instead of selling baseball cards, I tried to entertain people.
First, I noticed a lot of cards were mis-priced. If you got a 1984 Topps Don Mattingly Rookie card, it might list for $32 but it rarely sold for $20. and you could buy a near-mint condition card for $10. and dealers were stuck with thousands of these cards that hard a hard time selling for their full “value.” (of course, today prices have fallen by more than a third)

So I acquired a ton of these cards and created a grab bag. For the first show I created 150 grab bags with cards in them where the person who picks the bags could win the cool cards. Each grab bag (actually an envelop stuffed with cards) cost a dollar. I sold out in 45 minutes. The next show I had 300. sold out. I soon was selling over 400 a show.

Then I had copycats at the shows … so I added fortunes and other fun stuff in the grab bags. Everyone had to buy at least one.

And then I created a dice game. Cost $0.50 to roll dice and depending on what you rolled, you won something. If you rolled doubles you had the option of taking your card or rolling again. It was fun. And you never could sell out. After about a dozen shows I finally made $1000 in a show. I felt really rich. But more importantly … I felt empowered. The average age of the sellers at the show was about 40. I was 14. and they were coming to me asking for advice.

I’m a big believer that more kids should try to be entrepreneurs. It is really empowering. For me personally, I went from being a relatively shy kid to one with extreme confidence (maybe too much confidence).

for other bloggers out there (like Chris Yeh, Mark Pincus, Hunter Walk, Andy Choy, Ben Casnocha, Noah Kagan, Christine Herron, Pete Caputa, Dave McClure, Fabrice Grinda, Keith Teare, Chris Alden, Jeremy Dann, Bambi Francisco, Barney Pell, Andrew Boer, Aydin Senkut, James Hong, Jeff Clavier, Niall Kennedy, Zaw Thet, Pascal Levensohn, Angie Schiavoni, Sonia Arrison, etc.), I’d be interested in hearing your stories of how you made your first $1000.

7 thoughts on “My First $1000

  1. pc4media

    My First $1,000

    Auren tagged me for a new potential meme. He’s asking entrepreneurs how they made their first $1,000. He made his selling baseball cards, albeit in a very clever way. It’s interesting that Auren brought up baseball cards. I don’t think

    Reply
  2. Ben Casnocha

    Dude — you’ve never told me you had such successful young entrepreneurial experiences!
    I agree on the empowerment front — and fortunately, with the web, it’s easier than ever to read stories of other people (like yourself) and find that inspiration…and get started.
    My very first business back in the day was selling pens to my classmates. I bought a pack of pens for $1 and sold each individually for $3. Then I sold gumballs to my brothers at $.10 a pop. Lots of fun — it didn’t add up to $1,000, but it imparted some good lessons and gave just enough of a taste of what business is all about. And I was hooked.

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  3. Bernadette Balla

    My first business was selling coconut water, bananas and rambutans with my dad. For every fruit I sell, my dad told me he will pay twice as much for my savings to buy a BMX bicycle (it was VERY cool then). I didn’t get to USD 1000 but I got to buy my bmx bicycle which cost about RM 200-300 that time i think. Man, I was the coolest chick in my town with that bike.
    Then I venture out to stickers and bookmarks (you know those old school ones to mark the page you last read) and after 7 months I got an LA Gear shoe. My first taste of sweet american consumerism.

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  4. bambi

    Hi, Auren:
    I always wanted to sell golf skirts when I was younger. I couldn’t stand the styles and I wanted golf outfits that were more feminine. At the time, there was no Internet, so my only option was to take out ads in golf magazines. I didn’t make $1000.
    I guess you could say I made my first $1000 while I was in college and I traded some very esoteric futures contracts. Between my junior and senior year in college, I had a job on the commodities exchange charting gold prices. After a few months, I was given a chance to trade a few contracts, and I did OK.

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  5. Andrew Boer

    OK Auren, I am game.
    I actually didn’t make my first $1000 until I got to college — I saw a guy hawking answering machines on campus, and I worked with the University to bring Voice Mail to the school. Made about $10,000, which was pretty good money at the time for a freshman. I actually remember that I went to young Entrepreneur’s conference that year (1989) and keynote speaker was Michael Dell — who one person confused me with. Stupidly, I didn’t buy DELL at time.
    (Side Note: I decided never to miss investing in someone who so clearly was a brilliant visionary — the next time I met someone like that was a guy named Selim Bassoul, the current CEO of Middleby (MIDD), which has given me a 10x return in like 3 years.)
    But anyway, that wasn’t my seminal entrepreneurial experience. The experience that made me into an entrepreneur was when I came to my high school (Brunswick) from the highly competitive and substantially oppressive Groton School. At Groton they had this incredibly professional high school newspaper called the Circle Voice. The staff and writers were the sons and daughters of newspaper scions — you had to write a number of articles to be considered. The thing was completely intimidating, so I didn’t bother.
    When I left Groton and went to my new High school, I inquired about the newspaper, and they basically gave me the number 2 job on the spot. But like most school newspapers at the time, the paper came out like 4 times a year (the whole “galleys and proofs” method, and all of the content was consequently either “evergreen” or dead: reporting on sports events 4 weeks after they happened, that sort of thing. So after I took over as Editor in Chief in eleventh grade (really no one else wanted the job) I quit the paper and started my own “underground” paper called “The Winged Pig”.
    (Side Note 2: I was inspired by a brilliant underground newspaper at Groton that had managed to get a number of kids kicked out, written by Nick Butterworth of MTV.com fame — he was a personal hero to me at the time — and, of course, he became an Internet entrepreneur. Auren pointed out recently that like 4 of 6 of the founders of Paypal had built bombs as teenagers. Underground newspapers are like bombs for English majors.)
    Anyway I managed to basically bring every one over from the Opinion; and it had that same heady buzz of an internet start-up. After about two issues, the Headmaster called me in and stunned me by telling me I could write the Winged Pig as the official paper. That seemed like a win to me at the time, but it actually took a lot of the fun out of it (selling out).
    I think the Winged Pig lasted a few years, and then eventually reverted back to the Opinion. But I don’t think they ever went back to the lengthy and expensive “proof” process.
    Anyway, the main lesson there was that if you spot a technology trend that changes the game, you can very easily get the whole game to change.

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  6. J. Brooks Dann

    The interesting story isn’t how I earned the money, it’s why I had to earn the money.
    The first $1000 I ever earned was not spent on comic books or movie tickets or used Playboys. I had to hand it all over to some middle-aged suburbanite so that I didn’t end up in juvie in the 8th grade.
    During a Halloween party thrown by a neighboring family, a bunch of us middle-schoolers stole armfuls of beer cans from the ice tub and hurried away with them. Now, drinking the beer, stumbling back to the party and throwing up all over our parents would have been the sensible thing to do in this case. Instead, a couple of us developed possible the worst idea ever conceived by adolescents.
    Beer, as you may know, is carbonated. Carbonated liquids have a tendency to explode when they are shaken and their containers breached. We decided to make some impromptu beer grenades and target passing autos. Actually, given I grew up in the Midwest, I think the beer may have been Hamm’s, so we were actually employing Hamm’s Grenades. We positioned ourselves in our trench, a drainage ditch, and readied ourselves for the next oncoming vehicle. A precise throw 20 feet in front of the car would send a shower of foamy shrapnel onto the vehicle.
    Or so the theory went.
    When the first car approached, I was the only kid who lobbed a Hamm’s Grenade toward the street. But instead of hitting asphalt, the full can hit windshield (not that any of us could have hit a windshield from 30 feet away if we had actually been aiming at it…just my luck). Our platoon of punks hightailed it back to the party. All except for the biggest hooligan of the bunch, who stayed behind, got caught by the driver and spilled the beans about me.
    Years later, my parents told me that they were secretly—and somewhat perversely—glad that I had gotten into a bit of trouble. But on this night, they appeared none too happy. My dad wrote a check for the windshield on the spot to prevent the aggrieved motorist from calling the fuzz (that’s what we called the cops in the mid-80s). The next summer, I had to spend every Saturday and Sunday caddying at (the now famous) Crooked Stick Golf Club in order to pay my dad back. Earning only $10 per round, I had to strengthen my back to do some double baggers by the end of the summer so I could make my number.
    So that’s it. If you want to know more strange things about me, be sure to check out my blog at:
    http://www.jbrooksdann.com/

    Reply

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