My first lesson in business did not come in a classroom. I received my first lesson in business from my father when I was just a kid. Back in the 80′s, our family bought our first computer. It was a portable computer that was the size of a small sewing machine, and had a five-inch monochrome screen. It took us a while just to figure out how to turn it on. When we did turn it on, we sat there for a few minutes just looking at the blinking cursor not knowing what to do next. We took it to a friend of my father’s who happened to know a lot about computers. His solution was simple: we needed software. He showed us how to install software, and even taught us how to hook it up to a modem to get onto bulletin boards.

While my brother and I were playing games on the computer, my father was more intrigued by the piles of computers parts that were lying around. My father’s friend explained the different components of the computer, and how they can be upgraded. He taught us how to “ghost” a hard drives, and about the clone computer market. After looking at a few newspaper ads, my father had an epiphany, and our family started selling clone computers.

The trick was to sell the same model and type of computer. This way, we can keep running the same newspaper ad over and over for months. We’d also buy used computers, and flip them by changing out the case, or upgrading the memory. Although my father and brother were good at upgrading the hardware, they really didn’t know how to use the software for the computers, especially if they were used computers. They knew how to run the operating system, and knew how to ghost a machine, but they had no idea how to use a word processer, or a slideshow presentation program. My father realized that a demonstration of the software was key to selling the computers, so he assigned me to learn how to use the software.

You have to understand, the software we had didn’t come with any manuals, and the libraries and bookstores didn’t have any manuals either. I had to learn how to use the software simply through trial and error. After days of playing around, I realized that the user interfaces in most software applications were more or less the same: file, save, print, etc. Even today, I can teach myself how to use a new application within an hour without the use of a manual because of this experience. I even became a usability consultant at one point.

When someone would come to our home to buy a computer, my father or brother would start the sale, explaining the various hardware components. Then I would come in to demonstrate the various software applications, to show them what you can do with the computer. I was just a kid at the time, so to see a kid using this software with ease always impressed them, and helped close the sale.

We sold a few dozen computers a week. My father still ran his other businesses, so this was just extra cash on the side. Soon, it became too difficult to compete with the prices of computers being sold in the big box stores, and we had to shut down our operation. It was fun while it lasted.

Our family went from not knowing how to turn on a computer to running a computer business out of a spare bedroom. My dad didn’t have a degree in computer science or electrical engineering. He just had good business sense. That little venture was the first business venture my father had that included my brother and me. My brother and I not only learned a lot about computers, we also learned about marketing, packaging, and selling. Our family business was our first business school. It was the best business education we ever received.

Author's Bio: 

Young is a writer, artist, serial entrepreneur, and the creator of ideavist™. Young's mission is to help people make their ideas happen through his writing, coaching, consultations, and through speaking engagements on ideation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.