When I was five years old and my father was still trying to make a living off our way too small farm, we went to visit one of the richer farmers in the area. On that visit, I saw something that would ultimately end up shaping my life to this day: a Dragon Castle made out of Lego, complete with secret entrances, trap doors, hidden treasure and everything else you would expect in a castle of dragon knights. In my young life, I had never wanted anything as badly as I wanted that castle. So my parents sat me down and explained that although that castle costs the equivalent of five birthdays worth of presents, they will give me one of the most valuable gifts I have ever received. They will show me how to earn the money myself.
Now although I already had a list of chores to do around the house, they started to list additional chores I can also complete to gain a level of income. It soon became clear by comparing my income to my goal, that chores will not get me over the line in any reasonable time. If I wanted to buy my dream castle I will need to look beyond our household for income. So that is how, with lots of support and encouragement, I found myself spending my weekend lugging a tin of homemade cookies, or a bag of oranges from our orchard to the workers’ compounds on the farms in our valley. Gradually as my business skills and capital grew I upgraded to buying chicken heads and feet in bulk on our drives to town and selling it from the deep-freeze at our house, saving me the five-kilometre round trip to all the compounds. In less than a year, at the age of six years old, I proudly marched into the toy store and bought the Lego castle, that still stands in my house to this day.
But the story doesn’t end with the Dragon Castle, because without realising it I gained more than the coolest toy in the world from my experience. I gained a healthy habit of looking for opportunities to add value and earn money every time I wanted something. I’ve since set my eyes on motorbikes, cars, climbing equipment, trips overseas, an apartment and every time I ended up buying them, not from debt, not by asking my parents, not by hoping I win something or just “get” the money, but from cash I earned. Looking for ways to earn money comes naturally to me now, thanks to my parents who set the foundation years ago.
And this habit has done much more than simply help me satisfy my wants. In times when life inevitably takes a rocky turn, this instinct to look outward and strive forward has served me just as well. While studying when my car broke down and I spent my monthly food budget getting it back on the road, I didn’t phone my parents asking for a bailout and I certainly didn’t borrow it from somewhere. My instinct that money should be earned ran too deep for that. I improvise and found ways to make a little more and make it through the rocky patch. By the age of twenty-six, I had built up a company along with some friends with over forty staff members. A year later when the market changed and we were caught backpedalling I didn’t panic. The gift my parents gave me served me well even when facing the threat of mass retrenchments and possible bankruptcy, while everyone started panicking I started looking outward finding ways to move our teams to customers, sell the parts that had value and eventually find a way forward that ultimately resulted in everyone being better off financially. Habits formed while you’re young don’t break easily.
I’ve since been given the opportunity of a lifetime, to design the financial platform used by schools, parents and children across South Africa thanks to Sticitt. For those who don’t know this yet, Sticitt was specifically founded to embed healthy financial habits into a generation of children. This is done by providing schools with a payment system that minimises their administration and receipting and using this as a foundation to introduce children to money for the first time. Sticitt is now launching a set of tools for parents to oversee and support their children’s first interactions with money, which I was ecstatic to design. And when it came to choosing the first habit to introduce, the first block in the success of our children, I didn’t hesitate for a second. Let’s teach our children to earn.