Are you looking to raise an entrepreneur? In this interview, Margot Machol Bisnow, author of Raising an Entrepreneur: 10 Rules for Nurturing Risk Takers, Problem Solvers, and Change Makers will share the secrets to raising an entrepreneur. She interviewed over 70 mothers and their wildly successful offspring—entrepreneurs, —and will show us how to unlock this kind of change-making potential, the common factor among these families, and what parents can do to raise creative kids. Margot Machol Bisnow is a former journalist who writes about parenting and education. She’s the author of two books, Raising an Entrepreneur: 10 Rules for Nurturing Risk Takers, Problem Solvers, and Change Makers and The Nerdy Baby Names Book. She has written for The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Parenting, Education Week, and more.
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Full Interview Transcript
Kelly: thank you for coming. When I saw the title your book, I thought it was so fascinating and I was excited to read it and talk to you here today. So, thank you.
Margot Bisnow: My pleasure. It’s my favorite topic of conversation.
Kelly: You interviewed I think it was 70 entrepreneurs and their moms primarily.
Margot Bisnow: Also, dads.
Kelly: After all the interviews, is there anything That you found interesting and surprising?
Margot Bisnow: I mean everything surprised me. I had so many preconceived notions before I started. Like one of my rules is always got to eat family dinner together. I wrote that down and like three people said that.
Kelly: Oh, interesting.
Margot Bisnow: I’ve really grown up thinking, like, I think so many parents think that you have to do well in all of your subjects. You have to get good grades in every class. You have to study really hard in high school, and you know, work really hard at your SAT’s and get to the very best college you can and then you have to graduate from that college. It turns out that that’s just not true. It can be true, but it doesn’t have to be true. When I first started, somebody said, I’ll bet you’ll find out they’re all first kids or only kids and I thought, oh god, that’s not true.
Margot Bisnow: They were first kids, there were only kids. There were second kids, there were third kids. The thing that was so interesting to me was, wherever they were in the birth order, they all said, I’m so lucky I was, you know, third of the five, because the first two took so much time away from my parents and the last two were kind of a pain and my parents’ kind of let me do what I wanted to.
Kelly: I think the most common thing you found was that they said their mom believed in them.
Margot Bisnow: Believing in your child is the most important thing. Every single person had a parent, usually, but not always their mom, who believed in them. When I go around the country speaking, and I say this people say, oh, come on, Margo, everybody, every parent believes in their child and I’m like, no, every parent loves their child. Every parent wants their child to be happy and successful. But most parents, many parents believe that if the child does the thing that makes their heart sing, they can’t make a living. So, my younger son is a musician. Most parents with a child like him say, of course we’ll pay for music lessons in high school. But when you get to college, you have to major in something useful so you can make a living. So, what does that communicate to the child?
I have to tell you, I picked the most diverse group of parents, every race, every socio-economic background, small towns, big cities born in the US, born overseas, immigrant parents, parents who have been here for generations, small families, big families, nuclear families, divorced and joint families, everything. Parents who were super educated, parents who didn’t graduate from high school, every kind of as diverse as I could find. As diverse as I could find in terms of outputs, you know, so going into tech, starting a store. nonprofits, artists, activists, musicians, every and just as diverse as I could find. Basically, every one of these parents like so many of them said like when they first found out there was like a big gulp. Like that’s what you want to do and then you realize like how important it was to their child. They were just like, I believe in you and this is what you want. We’re here for you 100%.
One of my favorites is Jon Chu, the movie director who did Crazy Rich Asians. Now he’s going to do In the Heights with Lin-Manuel Miranda. He wanted to make movies from fourth grade. He was in high school, and he was supposed to be asleep and he was working on a movie on his laptop. His parents who always wanted him to be a doctor or lawyer. They were immigrants and had a Chinese restaurant and his mom came in and saw him working on this laptop, you know, the little movie to make and she was like, stop this nonsense. Go to sleep. This is such a waste of time. I don’t want to see doing this anymore. He burst into tears because you don’t understand this is what I love. This is what I want to do with my life. She went to sleep and the next day, she picked him up at school and she’d gotten 10 filming books at the library. She said, if this is what you want to, be the best.
Kelly: That’s so nice, that’s amazing.
Margot Bisnow: I have so many stories like this.
Kelly: IQ, income level education level doesn’t play a major factor it sounds like, based on your research in terms of the likelihood that they’re going to be a successful entrepreneur?
Margot Bisnow: Yeah. Both the income of and the education of the parents, and education of the entrepreneurs, some of these entrepreneurs’ breeze through Ivys and got, graduate degrees at, you know, top schools. Some of them didn’t go to college or hated college or dropped out of college. It just didn’t matter.
Margot Bisnow: The point is that if you have grit and focus and you’re willing to work really, really hard at something, you’ll figure it out. If the first thing doesn’t work. You’ll figure out a second thing and if that doesn’t work, you’ll figure out a third thing. At some point, it’s going to work because you figured out what works and what doesn’t work.
Kelly: What are the most common traits that these entrepreneurs have?
Margot Bisnow: Every single one of these people had a passion outside of school when they were growing up, every single month and this was for many sports. But for others it was running for student government or being in the school plays or writing music or working at a nonprofit or selling things but something. They had something they were passionate about. What they were in, it wasn’t school and because they were passionate, and it was something they had chosen. They worked really hard at it. Because they worked really hard at it, they developed grit. That’s how you ended up becoming an entrepreneur like my older son, Elliot who started Summit, his passion from 12 to 22 was tennis. That’s it. He just wasn’t a great student. He played tennis, you know, five hours a day, seven days a week. He fell in love with tennis when he was 12, which is really, really late because all the other kids who are top 100 in the country are already entering regional tournaments at that point. We don’t play tennis. he just wanted to go, he wanted to play, he wanted to compete, and he kept losing and he kept saying, I know what I did wrong I’ll beat him next time and he fought his way up to 35 in country for juniors.
Kelly: Wow, that’s amazing.
Margot Bisnow: Yeah and this is like a typical story for these entrepreneurs, and now he doesn’t do anything with tennis today.
Kelly: But it just taught him that grit.
Margot Bisnow: It taught him that grit. I think it’s so important for parents, especially more academic parents. Because kids want to spend five hours a day playing a sport, or work or doing something else to save yourself. It’s okay. They’re not going to become professional tennis players or baseball players and soccer players probably, odds are like, really low. But the grit and the hard work and the determination that they’re learning is what’s going to take them to the next level. The other rule is that every one of these kids learn how to compete. Of course, you compete in sports, but you also compete when you run for student government and compete when you’re playing chess and compete when you’re trying out for parts for school plays, you compete when you’re entering sales competitions, or artists competitions, or anything, you learn to compete. When you learn to compete. You learn to work really hard and learn the tradeoff between hard work and results. You learn to fail with humility, you learn to pick yourself back up, you learn to try something new, you learn to keep going. You’ve got somebody to respect your coach, or whoever, who’s telling you something other than your parents who just say, oh, you’re so wonderful but your coach is say, no, you didn’t work hard enough this week, and I’m not going to do it,
Margot Bisnow: Most of these kids had a mentor. Not all, most.
Margot Bisnow: Having a mentor or someone other than the parents to look up to in their chosen area. To the right person. one of the people I write about in the book Benny Blanco who’s written 25 or so number one songs with a lot of artists. None of his teachers really liked him and found him really annoying. His mom found him a music teacher after school and he said, this is the most talented kid I’ve ever worked with in 20 years of teaching. That meant more to him than anything else.
Kelly: And the majority usually came later like the high school years?
Margot Bisnow: Just at some point, you know, along the way and have somebody who’s good at what you love, who believes in you. Another super important thing is that teachers have compassion. To teach them values and there’s nothing more important in life than you. none of these kids went into business to make money. the main point was to make a better product. Or a better company, or to make better art or something, you know, to make the world a better place. the last thing that I mentioned was called facing adversity. I was actually surprised. That’s what surprised me. How many kids’ significant adversity in your life, loss of a parent, divorce, parents losing their job and you know, not getting any money. Major illness of a parent or themselves. You know, it’s not something to shy away from, it gave them all strength, and resilience, and grit and they all got stronger as a result.
Kelly: What are some of the things that parents could help other things that parents do to help raise, more creative kids?
Margot Bisnow: I think one of the most important things is the attitude toward failure. Parents cannot be upset when their kids fail. Parents can say, what did you learn from it? What are you going to do differently next time? My favorite quote is Billie Jean King who said, we don’t call up failure, we call it feedback and I think that’s one of the most important things not like, you didn’t make the home run. No. I mean, even $50 million-year baseball players don’t always make the home run, right? Do you think you worked hard enough? Did you, you know, approach it the right way? Is there something you want to do differently this week? You know, what did you learn? How can you grow? What can you change? That’s the important thing is to get kids to think that way.
And by the way, you can’t make your kid an entrepreneur. You can give them the techniques and the tools to become entrepreneurial. Whatever they do in their life, whether they’re working for a nonprofit or someone else’s company, or there, you know, in a school or whatever, if they’re more entrepreneurial, they’ll do better. They’ll think outside the box, and they’ll look at new ways to solve problems. They’ll actually do a better job even if they don’t want to start their own organization.
Kelly: At what age can you start instilling some of the mindset what age can you help foster some of their independence and passions?
Margot Bisnow: One is you start young and the second is don’t have high expectations of young kids, right? So, don’t say like, oh my god, like he’s 12 he doesn’t have a passion yet, I’ve failed. No, you haven’t failed. It’s interesting. I thought about all this stuff a lot are going back to when I was raising my kids and my younger son, Austin is the musician. When he was in fourth grade, taking piano lessons, and he hated it. I said, okay, we’ll just write off the piano. He doesn’t like the piano, and then he started, it’s a longer story, but he started writing music when he was 13. When he was, I guess about 10th grade considering he wanted to take piano lessons, and he found a teacher who would teach him to play music in his head and translated onto the. And he also reads music and writes music and everything but it’s only later that I realized it wasn’t that he didn’t like piano, it was he didn’t like the piano teacher.
Kelly: That’s right.
Margot Bisnow: Who was very rigid, and she was, very see this note, play this note and he had so much music in his head? She wasn’t helping him express it because she was so rigid.
Kelly: The teachers are so important, the kind of person that is teaching him and how they are teaching it.
Margot Bisnow: if your kid doesn’t like something one year doesn’t mean that they’re not going to like it for another year and go back to it. But just exposing them to everything kind of like we don’t know anything about music, and he don’t know anything about tennis. I get someone who wrote music and someone who played tennis, all through middle school in high school. Looking back, actually think this was great because it’s kind of like super helpful parent if they wanted something, right. I couldn’t tell our son like, what racket together, who to train with or what tournament to enter and I could tell our son, like, how to record music or what software together, or you know or anything about, you know, writing songs. I just think so, you know, I wasn’t trying to have them go out on their own and recreate it and take responsibility. I just couldn’t help them really other than, you know, paying for lessons to support anything they want to do. But it turned out that was really great.
Kelly: Because they figured it out and because they are passionate.
Margot Bisnow: Yeah gave him confidence and, you know, responsibility and ability to think on their own.
Kelly: I really appreciate you sharing all this information, especially now and today on the future. Just the idea of thinking like an entrepreneur or being an entrepreneur is such an important skill set
Margot Bisnow: Well, I agree completely and so thank you so much for letting me talk about it. I just think so many parents, it’s Not what they are. So, they don’t think that that’s a one and reasonable path for the kids to follow. That their kids can have a really great life, taking that path. It’s a great path and it provides them with joy and at the end of the day, that’s really what we want is a happy kid.
About Margot Machol Bisnow
Margot E. Machol (also known as Margot Machol Bisnow) is an American author and former United States government official. She is author of Raising an Entrepreneur: 10 Rules for Nurturing Risk Takers, Problem Solvers, and Change Makers. She is also a former commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and a former chief-of-staff of President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers.