From Foster Care to Millionaire: The Entrepreneurial Mindset with Cody McLain
“If you have a job that you could just do what you wanted to all day- that’s the best job in the world.”
- Cody McLain
Do you love your job?
Does going to work in the morning, whether in an office or at home, bring you joy?
I’m not sure many people could say that it does.
At this InspirEd event, Galileo’s Director of Entrepreneurial Learning Stacey Piercey chatted with Cody McLain about having an entrepreneurial mindset and creating a life filled with meaning.
Before the age of 18, Cody had lost both his parents, had experienced the foster care system, and had watched his first business fail. And yet he kept at it, working hard and creating a life for himself.
“It’s not so much a story about success as it is about persistent effort and not giving up. Because I really had no other option. The motivating force the entire time was I’m going to be homeless if I don’t succeed.”
For Cody, starting a business was a dream that was essential to his survival. It is an extreme case, but one that forced him to decide between school and his business dream.
“School never really seemed relevant to me and I think a lot of kids have this experience. They question, ‘why am I learning this?’”.
School wasn’t a safe space for Cody. He was bullied and didn’t fit the mold. Yet his company felt meaningful to him.
“So I was the kid that was on the school bus with my little palm pilot who was answering support tickets to customer service inquiries while going to school. It literally became my life at that point, like my business was kind of my baby and that’s the first thing I really cared about. In going through all this there was a part where I was in foster care while trying to run a business and that really felt like the saddest day of my life because the business kind of crashed on the same day. So I felt like I lost both my life and the one thing that was meaningful to me”.
Why school doesn’t foster entrepreneurial skills
The traditional school system is not known for being open-minded, adaptable, creative, or encouraging of free-thinking. And yet these are the skills needed to not only start a business but to thrive in the world our kids will live in.
Cody created multiple, successful businesses because he could meaningfully engage with what he needed to learn.
“When you’re learning something and you’re applying that information directly to the thing that you’re learning, in my case it was business, that feels a lot more meaningful.”
That school is the only place to learn is an outdated idea and detrimental to the concept of education. School does not foster an entrepreneurial mindset but constrains the imagination and creativity that kids have in abundance.
Stacey and Cody both agree that a self-directed, ‘learn it as you need it’ approach results in more meaningful learning. For Cody, running a business taught him more than a classroom ever could have.
“Frankly, I think you’re able to learn a lot more while running a business. You have to learn people skills, you have to learn self-development and management skills.”
Stacey says that for Cody, “the decision between going to school and starting a business seemed to be a no-brainer.”
With being a kidpreneur, Cody received positive reinforcement from his business. Little hits of dopamine every time he received an order or reached a new income milestone.
Many kids, like Cody, don’t get this positive reinforcement from school but have a business idea they are passionate about.
So, why wait?
Cody says, “start a business if it feels meaningful to you. If it’s something that you derive genuine interest from, that you’re not doing to make money. I think the best form of business that we could do is we make a business because we see a problem and we’re genuinely interested in trying to solve it”.
And yet this mindset is not taught in school. Classrooms are not environments that foster creativity.
For so many of us, the thought of doing anything out-of-the-box feels stressful and scary. And that is not surprising, considering we were told that a life without school, without a degree, wouldn’t be successful.
But this isn’t true!
“We’re afraid to jump outside that comfort zone and everybody tells us that, of course, the way to achieve financial freedom is to go to school. But as we all know, a larger proportion of people are starting to understand that’s not the case.”
The importance of an entrepreneurial mindset
For Cody, failure was a tool for growth. Although he had businesses collapse, partners who double-crossed him, and burnout, he never lost the excitement for building businesses. He saw his failures as learning experiences and used them to grow.
“I would never have had the success if I did not have the failure, and that’s something school just can’t teach you.”
If we approach business from a perspective of curiosity, then we can solve even the most complex problems. We live in a world where answers are readily available. Google, online forums, and friends can all provide the support an entrepreneur needs in a pinch.
One of the biggest steps to becoming an entrepreneur is passion and excitement.
“That is the key differentiating factor I think sets apart the successful entrepreneurs from the unsuccessful entrepreneurs, that you find that excitement. You’re thinking about it day in and day out”.
Another key entrepreneurial skill is being intrinsically motivated and self-aware.
Cody told us, “when you have an internal desire or frame of mind for how you perceive something, that’s going to be ten times stronger than any external perception people can give you.”
Stacey has seen this firsthand with the business fair at the end of her Galileo course. She gave the kids a deadline to create a product/service to sell, but because participation was their choice, they were more invested in what they were creating.
Being an entrepreneur also means acknowledging your strengths, weaknesses and working with a team to make the most of your time.
“If you can find somebody who can do it cheaper than you would charge somebody for your own time, then I think that’s key” according to Cody. This will help you avoid burnout, which is very real for entrepreneurs.
Cody told us, “there are people out there who think that you have to hustle, hustle, hustle, and I think that’s going to lead to more people getting burnout, anxiety, and depression”.
Cody has a reverse meditation that he uses to clear his mind and give it time to process a problem. He says when we deprive our senses of stimuli, like when we are in the shower, we allow ourselves the time and space to puzzle out problems and new ideas.
What is the most essential thing every young entrepreneur needs to be successful?
“Honestly, it’s self-awareness. To be self-aware and question why you are doing the thing that you’re doing.”
For Cody, business is so much more than making money. It is important for him to give back and help others. He also believes that a business started for making money won’t grow and succeed because external factors drive it.
If we allow our kids to take control of their learning journey, then they will be intrinsically motivated to succeed in whatever they choose to pursue. They will have the freedom to explore their interests and find the thing that sparks joy and excitement in their lives.
Cody says he is still trying to connect with his purpose, which he believes is helping people in a meaningful way.
“The ultimate form of meaning and purpose is being able to give back in some way to others. And if you can do that while generating money then I think that’s really the key to not only making money but also feeling happy with the success that you’ve created for yourself”.
Sad you missed out on this one? We would be, too. It was inspirational! But don’t worry - Galileo is hosting events on different topics every week. You still have a chance to get inspirEd about learning.
Join us at the next one!