get that money

The Sweet Satisfaction of a Childhood Hustle

Photo-Illustration: by Stevie Remsberg; Photo Getty

Get That Money is an exploration of the many ways we think about our finances — what we earn, what we have, and what we want.

Real-estate mogul Barbara Corcoran earned her first dollar by selling rocks in her yard as a kid. At age 6, Beyoncé was sweeping up hair and performing songs at her mom’s salon. For plenty of successful women, business instincts started when they were young. Even if you weren’t raking in cash by second grade, it’s never too late to learn from those who did. Here, seven successful entrepreneurs share their earliest hustles, and lessons they learned on the job.

“I used to play a game with my little brother called ‘Let’s trade money.’ I would give him all my coins for all his paper money. We did it for a long time before he finally caught on. My first real job ended up being a credit derivatives trader, and my brother is an investor now — I like to think I gave him an early start.” —Victoria Tsai, founder of Tatcha skin care

“When we were kids, my best friend and I started a driveway snow-shoveling business and put fliers in all the neighborhood mailboxes in Michigan. We charged $10 per driveway (a deal!) and made a killing because we were super tiny but fast. We were psyched whenever it snowed and figured out where all the older ladies lived because they tipped us with baked goods. It taught me to make a plan and just go for it, even when it’s scary outside and you don’t feel like going anywhere.” Joanna Goddard, owner of Cup of Jo

“In first grade, I created a ‘hand-raiser’ apparatus so you didn’t have to raise your hand all the time in class. It was a lever connected to a flag that would flip up when you pushed a button to get the teacher’s attention — the lazy man’s hand-raiser. I’d like to think I’ve been solving all my problems just as efficiently since then.” Sylvana Ward Durrett, CEO and co-founder of Maisonette

“When I was a kid, one of my chores was to pick fruits and vegetables from our neighbor’s garden. We got to keep some of the produce, and my granny would cook with it. When I was 8, I made a cookbook out of stapled pieces of paper and Polaroid images of her food. I put a picture of myself on the cover — even though they were really my granny’s recipes — and made photocopies, which I sold to my neighbors. They never knew the food came from their garden! It was a long time ago, but I learned about resourcefulness and creativity and the confidence to put your name (and face) on a brand that you really believe in.” Latham Thomas, doula and owner of MamaGlow

“In third grade, my friend Lala and I made a killing on ‘toothbrush bracelets,’ which are colorful bangles made out of melted toothbrushes — those basic Oral-B ones worked the best, especially if they had cartoons on them. We’d use pliers to rip out the bristles, dip them into boiling water for a few seconds, place them in a dish towel, and bend them into a cuff shape. Rolling up to recess with giant stacks of toothbrush bracelets on our wrists made us the coolest girls in school (for that week), and everyone wanted one. Seeing this demand and knowing the school fair was that Saturday, Lala and I quickly mobilized. We convinced my mom to take us to the discount store to buy toothbrushes in bulk, and on Friday night we set up an assembly line to make dozens.

The next morning we set up our stand at the fair. We put up a banner in Curlz font (which was, in the mid-’90s, very tween chic) and used empty white cake boxes as risers to display our wares and add visual depth. We even brought a pet guinea pig to lure in prospective customers. It was a huge success! I believe we made $96. The whole venture taught me the importance of eye-catching branding, as well as an agile, lightweight supply chain that can react quickly to demand.” —Abigail Cook Stone, founder of Otherland Candles

“My mom got weekly manicures for as long as I can remember and always took me to the salon with her. As a result, I became enamored with everything nails. I got a nail salon set for my birthday that had a whole collection of polishes, tools, lotions, and a dryer, so I set up a nail salon in my basement and would ‘invite’ (a.k.a. coerce) all my mom’s friends to get manis and pedis. I charged money (and we got tips), but we undercut the salons in our town by 50 percent — and customers got double the polish because we’d get it all over their feet. I’m still obsessed with manicures, and in addition to running my current business, I’m on the advisory board of Glosslab in New York.” —Jessica Davidoff, CEO of State Bags

“I flexed my entrepreneurial muscle early on by turning my mother’s health-nuttiness into an organic-food racket at my elementary school (this was before anyone even used the word organic). My mom would buy all the healthy snacks at the grocery store, like carob chips and granola (never the Chips Ahoy like our neighbors had), and bake zucchini muffins and banana bread with no sugar. I didn’t want to eat any of it, but I convinced her that I loved it and asked her to bake me extra. Then I’d sell every last crumb to my friends at school. I told them it was ‘earthy’ and ‘good for the soul,’ and even though we were only kids, my marketing worked. Then I’d take their money and buy myself the crappy snacks that I actually wanted to eat.” —Lisette Sand-Freedman, owner of Shadow, a marketing agency

The Sweet Satisfaction of a Childhood Hustle