The Nightcrawler Millionaire

You guys, I sat down with world-class serial entrepreneur and author Mark Timm and had an incredible conversation about how important mentorship is for kids and families. I set aside my favorite parts just for you.

Mark, tell us your childhood first sale story.

Well, I had lots of ideas about how to start a business as a kid. One night, I went out and caught 500 nightcrawlers, planning to sell them for a quarter a dozen. I thought I had hit the jackpot. When I woke up the next day, my mom was absolutely furious. You see, you have to keep them cool. So I took all our stuff out of the refrigerator and put all my nightcrawlers in the refrigerator. I even emptied out some of her containers that had perfectly good food in them. I needed them for my business. Not only was she seriously not impressed with my decision making about taking over the fridge, but even less impressed when she found real food items in the trash because I needed the containers.

I learned three things through these early sales. I learned the value of $1, the value of hard work, and the value of personal responsibility. I have college degrees. I have all kinds of certifications. I’ve been in masterminds. But those three things probably serve me more today than anything I’ve learned, and I learned them all in my early entrepreneurial endeavors.

Hard work is the rarest of commodities today, especially in young people. Don’t expect other people to do things for you. Be responsible, and when you make a mistake, own up to it, like I did with the refrigerator incident. Needless to say, I was working for free for a long time to make up for that situation. My nightcrawler money went right back to the family grocery bill. That’s personal responsibility, and those three things are cornerstones for any success in life.

Tell us about your new book, Mentor to Millions.

The book is about impact. If you have a product, purpose, or passion the world needs and you believe you can impact the world with it, know this. The quickest way to impact the world with your vision, dream, desire, is through mentorship. People look at super successful people and say, “How’d they get so successful?” We’re just peeling back the curtain and saying, “Here’s the secret. They all had mentors.”

When I was young, I had great mentors in my life. I was so fortunate to have Zig Ziglar, the famous motivational speaker, as a mentor when I was 19 years old. The question was this: was I willing to be his best student? If you’re willing to double down and listen to your mentor and implement what they’re saying, they’ll want to teach you more.

Let me use an analogy. A mentor gives you bricks, and it’s your job to collect those bricks and start building something out of them. When you learn something from someone, that’s the brick. In order to turn the bricks into a wall, a foundation, you have to teach it to someone else. If you just go around collecting bricks, then you’ve just got a bunch of bricks that can be knocked over by anybody. But if you teach it to someone else, it’s locked in. Now you can build on top of that. Find the right mentor, be their best student, and then teach someone else. That’s the trifecta. You do those things, and the impact is about to begin.

How do we find great mentors as kid entrepreneurs and parents?

If you want a mentor in your life, you simply have to stand up, raise your hand, and say, “I’m ready.” I believe you already know everybody you need to know to accomplish everything you need to accomplish in life. You’re surrounded by people who are ready to help you. They just need to know you’re ready to be helped. And they may not be in a position to help you, but they know someone who is. It’s not that you know the person that’s going to mentor you; rather, you know the person who’s going to introduce you to the person who’s going to mentor you.

When you realize you already know everybody you need to know, now the pressure is off. Now it just comes down to this: do you have the courage? Do you have the confidence? Do you have the vulnerability to say, “I’m ready”? And if you do, get ready because your life is about to change forever.

You talk about how your family is the number one most important business in your life. What does that mean to you?

Well, it wasn’t that I was a bad father or a bad husband. It’s just I saw myself as better in business. I was having more success and more wins in business than I was having at home. My business world was confidence and clarity, and my home world was chaos and confusion. One day, I realized this: what if the most valuable business I will ever own, ever operate, ever even be a part of, was the one I was going home to instead of the one I went out to? That’s when everything changed.

The next day, I went out and legally incorporated my family. We started having shareholder meetings because I can’t have a business without meeting with my team. We started discussing all these important things. Why was our family created? Why were we put on this earth? What are we supposed to accomplish? How are we going to accomplish that? Then, we created a family logo, which was so much fun and anyone can do it. You can use a program called 99designs, and it will cost you less than $100. Our kids will tell you it was one of the coolest things we ever did as a family. My family went from resenting my business to loving the fact that we were a family business.

This next part will really blow your mind. Ann and I figured out how much money we were spending on each kid. When they turned 13, we handed them a debit card, which was a salary from the family business, and they had to buy all their own things. All of a sudden, a package showed up, and it was custom-designed Nikes with my son’s name on them. He spent his entire allocation on one pair of tennis shoes. He was broke for the rest of the month, and he had to do odd jobs and chores just to cover his basic necessities. Now my kids are young adults, and they know how to manage money.

How have you developed a mentor relationship with your kids?

Once I became CEO of the most valuable business in the world and our kids started seeing that commitment, we started mentoring them in such a meaningful way. There’s a time when a little kid grabs your hand for the first time, and it melts your heart. It’s something you’ll never forget. Before long, though, they let go of your hand and say, “I’m not holding your hand anymore.” But if you really invest in them, if you really teach them, if you become the mentor to your family, before they leave your house, they will reach up and grab your hand for a second time. And that time, they will say, “I choose you. I choose you to mentor me to be the young adult, the coworker, the friend, the father, the husband, the wife that I was put on this earth to be. I choose you.”

When they choose you the second time, you get to be their mentor for the rest of your life. That is the coolest thing that’s happened to me. It comes from going all in and saying, “You will be the most important thing in my life. You will get my first and my best. You will be the most valuable business that I have. Everything I do in business is so I can bring it home to you.” The other day, I heard from all six of my adult kids, reaching out to me, asking for my advice, letting me mentor them at this critical stage of their life. And that came from that key moment when I changed everything in my life and made my family my most valuable business.

If your kids don’t choose you, they’re going to choose someone else. They will choose someone to lead them into adulthood. You want it to be you.

Mark, you have to tell us your daughter’s crazy business story.

Here’s how it all started. We were at the State Fair in Indiana, and I had this outrageous idea. We were walking by the Ford booth, and it was filled with every kind of new car you can imagine. So I sat all six kids down, and I said, “I want you to go find the car of your dreams and then come back and tell us what it is.” They all scattered and came back and told us their dream car. I said, “All right, here’s the deal. You guys are all young. You’ve got unlimited opportunities in front of you. If you get a full ride scholarship to college or you pay for your college, I will buy you that vehicle.” I have some kids who are pretty athletic, so they were doubling down, trying to get scholarships for sports. I’ve got one child who’s very gifted academically. And my daughter Mary’s like, “Dad, I’m not any good at sports. I’m not number one in my class. What am I going to do here?”

She had gotten a sugar glider, which is a little flying squirrel, when she was 10. So she’s like, “I want to start breeding sugar gliders. We had trouble finding them. They weren’t cheap. So I want to breed them.” And I’m like, “I don’t know about this. This seems kind of stinky.” Then, that little sugar glider had the first baby, and it was white, which was an exotic color. Another family showed up and handed her $500 in crisp $100 bills, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I said, “You can do this. Let’s make this happen.” At 12, she started expanding the business and buying more sugar gliders. And then at 13, she actually came to me and asked for a loan to buy the sugar glider supplier out for her business. She said, “I’ve done the numbers, and I can pay you back in 18 months.” I was so impressed with it that I loaned her the money, and she paid back the loan.

At one point in time, she ended up with 40 different pairs of breeding sugar gliders.She won a national entrepreneurship competition with this business, and she made enough money to pay for her own college education. Right now, she is shopping for the brand new vehicle I will be buying for her. And just so you know, as a result of that challenge, I have my sixth kid that will be going to college next year, and I have yet to pay for college education because they were all so inspired by that challenge that they printed out their dream vehicle and looked at it every single day, and it motivated them.

The business taught her so much. It’s been such an incredibly valuable learning tool for her and a fun thing for our family.

Mark, it’s been amazing learning all this from you. Thanks for being such an inspiring mentor in my life. Everyone, don’t forget to order your copy of Mentor to Millions today. If you’re looking to be successful kid entrepreneurs like Mary, check out Find Your Passion: How to Start a Business as a Kid.


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