My 11-year-old son, Noah, is a budding entrepreneur of sorts – if you measure entrepreneurship strictly by the generation of potential moneymaking ideas and not actual moneymaking. Since he always has some elaborate future purchase in mind – usually an electronic device costing many thousands of dollars – he has more schemes for hitting it big than Ralph Kramden of "The Honeymooners" TV show.
Eleven-year-olds are virtual sponges, and when Noah heard that my wife and her business partner had sold advertising space on their website, he came to the conclusion that if only he had his own website, money from eager advertisers would follow.
So he set out on his own cyber adventure, found a "create your own Web page" website, and, with no formal training, did just that.
To minimize any disappointment he might feel when Nike, Microsoft, and Circuit City didn't immediately throw millions of advertising dollars his way, I explained that for a website to make money from ads, you have to show that huge numbers of people are actually visiting your site regularly.
I didn't want to burst his balloon, but I did want him to understand something about the real world of business, especially that making money isn't always a simple or easy matter.
As best I can tell, Noah's website has two features. It has links to games you can play on other websites or games he has downloaded to his own site – I'm not quite sure which – and it has an instant-messaging feature that allows our family to communicate by computer rather than actually talk to one another.
When Noah had to interview me about my family origins for an Immigration Day project at his elementary school, I knew I could motivate him by suggesting we do it through instant messaging, and that's what we did. The dialogue looked something like this:
Noah: What country did your grandpa come from?
Dad: Well, it was an area right near the border between Russia and Poland.
Noah: When did he come to this country?
Dad: In 1907. He was only 16 years old when he arrived all by himself.
Noah: What did he do?
Dad: He went into the furniture business in Jersey City, N.J.
Then, suddenly, a third party, identified only as "PERSON," entered the conversation with short, one-word comments such as "hello," "really," and "OK." It threw me for a loop. Who was this? How did they get to Noah's website? And how did they enter our conversation?
Always leery of Internet predators and scam artists who would take advantage of my innocent child, I was concerned.
As Noah continued to interview me about my grandfather, my befuddlement grew each time the stranger offered one of his digital mutterings.
Finally, after a few minutes of this, I sent a message to Noah:
"Noah, who is PERSON? How did he get into our conversation? Do you know him?"
There was a long pause before Noah's reply: "It's me. I'm trying to create the impression there are a lot of people here so I can sell advertising."
After nearly falling out of my chair with laughter, I realized that some day this kid is going to make a lot of money. If you want to invest in him now, e-mail me, and I'll direct you to his website. Be sure to have your credit card ready.