'Shark Tank' teen: How can parents guide, instead of push, kid entrepreneurs?

When parents lead business ventures with their kids, sometimes kids can get lost in the venture. However, one dad recently showed on national television that the most important leadership skill is knowing when to step back.

Screenshot from ABC.com
Noah Cahoon, left, stands next to his dad Brian Cahoon as he decides which offer to accept from the entrepreneur panel

Noah Cahoon’s father, Brian, made the business decision of a lifetime on the latest episode of ABC’s business pitch reality show “Shark Tank,” using parenting as the bottom line – leaving the final decision on which offer to take entirely up to his 13-year-old son. 

When Noah was little he and his dad played together as father and son by designing toy airplanes they made out of empty cardboard boxes.

According to Business Insider, “Last year Noah, an Eagle Scout, decided that they could not only start printing out designs of the planes for his 6-year-old brother Milo, but they could start selling those designs to retailers.”

Brian, who had put his entrepreneurial dreams on hold when Noah was born, did what came naturally to him and decided to give his son a business education while capitalizing on his son's airplane idea.

So, dad started the company Paper Box Pilots, making Noah a CEO in much more than name only. The business sells stickers that let kids transform a cardboard box into a race car, fire engine, or airplane. 

While he could have taken all the reins and left his son to fill what has become a fairly common role for kids as a marketing shill and figurehead, this dad took parenting to new heights by getting his personal needs in check.

“We truly treat him as the CEO. He is involved in every major meeting, big decision, sales call, and vendor visit. We do lots of ‘field trips.’ He’s even had a first business trip where he spent three days at a toy trade show in Las Vegas,” Brian told the entertainment website heavy.com.

Sometimes as parents, our personal desire for them to be successful - and parenting - begin to clash as soon as we help our kids set up their first lemonade stand.

On that occasion, we may learn how to let go and allow kids to make mistakes, or perhaps become entrepreneurial versions of helicopter parents or Tiger Moms.

We may turn for advice to experts at Entrepreneur Magazine and learn how to create a “Kidpreneur” in five easy steps.

Some parents may let kids find their way through trying, and failing, to sell a glass of sugar water for an exorbitant $10 a cup. Others may head out to a professional sign maker to create the perfect booth after making the drinks, and supervising each and every sale while the kid sits in the chair for a cute photo op.

As in most times when parents become invested in a child’s success, the bottom line may be judging when to let go.

The Cahoons were far beyond the 50-cent cup of lemon water. According to Business Insider, they had come to the show looking for $35,000 in return for 25 percent equity and a mentorship from a savvy “Shark” who could teach both father and son how to grow the business, according to Business Insider.

Yet, with all that on the line, and in front of a national television audience, Brian Cahoon demonstrated that he’s found a way to both educate his son on business matters and take the parental training wheels off at just the right moment.

At that moment, as his dad stepped aside and reminded him that he was CEO, Noah aptly stepped into his role.

This could have been a stealth marketing move, the father installing his son as a figurehead CEO when they started the business, however, I was surprised to learn that the father was really grooming his son for independent success.

When the concept was given three offers from the “Sharks,” Brian let a very nervous Noah have the final say on which one to accept.

The only advice the dad gave was to pick the Shark who would be the better mentor. Noah made a solid deal with investor Kevin O'Leary, a.k.a. "Mr. Wonderful" all on his own.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising that a dad pulled this all off so brilliantly. After all, parenting is a Shark Tank every day. Only in these waters it’s not about making the sale, but the art of the deal.

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