Ep 202: Money Mindset For Self-Starting Teens

Episode Summary

Erik Huberman, author of The Hawke Method, joins us to talk about how we can empower teens to be self starters. Plus, how teens can pick a career path and think critically about what they spend their money on.

Show NotesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

We hope to prepare our kids for all of life’s challenges: staying healthy, maintaining relationships, and of course, managing money! The last thing we want is for our adult children to run home to us, bankrupt and ready to live in our basement. We hope that they’ll make wise financial decisions, fund their own lives and maybe even have enough to start families of their own someday!

But money management isn’t something that’s typically taught in schools…and there’s no script for how parents should teach it either! Parents have bickered for ages about the best way to set kids up for financial success. Should kids be getting allowances, credit cards and bank accounts? Is it wise for them to get a job while they’re still in school, or should they simply focus on their education?

To give us some perspective from the other side, we’re talking to Erik Huberman, successful entrepreneur and author of The Hawke Method: The Three Principles of Marketing that Made Over 3,000 Brands Soar. Erik is the CEO and founder of Hawke Media, a marketing agency that has worked with over 3,000 different brands! He’s here to share some brilliant ideas about how we can teach young folks the ins and outs of financial responsibility.

In our interview, we’re debating whether or not teens should follow their passion or pick a more responsible path. We’re also discussing how we can prepare kids for the brutal financial realities of life, and why we need to encourage teens’ to think critically about social media marketing.

Helping Teens Find Their Calling

So your teen wants to be an artist…or an actor, or a professional soccer player, or a movie director. And you’re wondering…should I encourage them to chase their wildest dreams or pick a safer avenue? In Erik’s eyes, the solution is somewhere in the middle. Humans spend the majority of their waking hours working, he says, so trying to force our kids to spend all of that time doing something they hate isn’t exactly sustainable.

In his eyes, we should stop using the word “passion”, as it’s too nondescript. Instead, we should encourage teens to pursue something that brings them energy, something they’re good at and willing to work hard at! Instead of a passion, he refers to this as a “calling”. Lots of kids love the idea of being a rock star, but rarely actually feel motivated to sit down to play the guitar. Even though music might be their dream, they’ll find themselves becoming mediocre players. And if this is all they’ve got careerwise, Erik warns they might find themselves stuck in a bad spot.

Erik explains that he loves to ski, but he doesn’t think he should become a professional skier. Only a select few skiers are good enough to truly make a living skiing, and there are other things he can do–things that make him excited and enthused to go to work in the morning. He suggests that kids go for the safer, more reliable route, so that they’ll have something to fall back on and not get stuck. This doesn’t mean they should do something they hate, however. They can still find something they’re good at and bring in some income, he assures.

No matter what they choose to do with their lives, teens are going to be up against a lot of challenges in the adult world. Erik and I are discussing how we can start preparing kids now so they’ll stay afloat when grown-up obstacles come their way.

Raising Self Starters

To equip kids with tough skin they’ll need to handle adulthood, we’ve got to empower them in a healthy way, says Erik. Giving kids the confidence to take on the world doesn’t come from flattering them at every corner and giving them empty compliments, he explains. Instead, we’ve got to help teens realize that they have the ability to tackle their problems –if they work hard and find creative solutions, that is.

Erik believes that one of the biggest issues with today’s society is that we don’t encourage kids to solve their own challenges. Too often, we fix their issues for them before they have the chance to figure out their own solutions, says Erik. He suggests that we prompt kids to pay for their own movie tickets, or encourage them to bring their concerns up to teachers without our help. It might seem small, but solving these lighter problems will prepare teens to take on bigger problems in the future.

In the episode, Erik dives deep into his own childhood growing up with an entrepreneur for a father–and how this shaped him into the smart businessman he is today. When, at the age of eight, he asked his father for a guitar, his father told him to go get a job and pay for it himself! So Erik took the few bucks he made in weekly allowance and turned it into a business reselling beanie babies and made more than four thousand dollars! This encouragement from his dad pushed him to build something for himself–and we can do the same with our kids.

Good money management is about more than just making money–it’s about spending money too! We’re also discussing how you can help your teen become a more educated consumer.

Creating Smart Consumers

When kids see their favorite internet influencers promoting sneakers or skincare, they suddenly have to have this sparkly new object. They beg you for a bump in allowance so that they can purchase these shiny, trendy (likely overpriced) goods! Kids are remarkably impressionable, and advertisers know that if they market to kids, they’ll likely see some engagement, says Erik. Plus, now that every teen has an iphone loaded with Tik Tok and Instagram sitting in their pockets, it’s easier than ever to reach them.

Erik recommends that we try to have conversations with our kids about consumerism while they’re still under our roofs. Prompting teens to think critically about the advertisements gracing their screens can help them see behind the marketing smoke and mirrors. Marketers are trying to hit the reptilian part of teens brains–the part that craves the satisfying dopamine hit that comes with hitting “complete purchase.” Helping teens see that they’re being manipulated can help them make smarter choices as consumers.

It’s not bad for teens to spend a little money on something that brings them joy, but it’s important that they think critically about what they’re buying too. Erik suggests that you encourage your teen to think about the functionality of each purchase before they make it. Sure, their favorite make-up influencer says they need to buy a new eyeshadow palette…but they already have six at home they barely use! With parental input, kids might realize that their extra cash might look a lot better in a savings account.

In the Episode….

Erik has so much advice about finding financial success, drawn from his own entrepreneurial experiences! On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about:

  • How Erik built his own company from the ground up
  • Why young adults should experience being “broke”
  • How tobacco is marketed to kids
  • Why teens need to fail before they thrive

If you enjoyed listening, check out Erik on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook at @erikhuberman. Don’t forget to share and subscribe and we’ll see you next week.


Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: Talk to me a little about this. I read this book of yours, The Hawk Method, The Three Principles Of Marketing That Made Over 3000 Brands Soar. Why do you like that and what inspired you to write a book about it?

Erik: Speaking of teenagers. So I, growing up always had an entrepreneurial kind of focus. I always wanted to build something, start something, et cetera. The funny thing is my dad was an entrepreneur so I had mentor support in the sense of I watched someone do it, but when I’d want to do things like I tried to start an online music business selling music equipment when I was 12. So that was 2000 or so 1999, I tried to start a music e-Commerce site. I called all the different music suppliers, got catalogs and accounts with all of them. And when I went to order, they sent me the form and I needed a seller’s permit. I was like, “Oh, shoot. Okay.” So it turns out a 12 year old can’t apply for a seller’s permit. So I went to my dad I was like, “Hey dad, can you go with me to the courthouse and get me a seller’s permit?”

Erik: And he’s like, “No, what are you talking about? Absolutely not.” And so that was the end of that dream, but I always had that motivation. And one of the biggest things that happened to me as a young person was in eighth grade my friend’s dad actually convinced our school to let us do, it was a half day once a week for eight weeks to go tour a local business. So we literally would go check out the local bank or the local health store with the owner. So just between that and my own family, it solidified itself in my head that, yeah, you can go get a job. And so I just figured I’d do that. And so went to college, got out and in 2008 is when I graduated college and went into real estate on my own, tried to start building my own real estate sales practice. So no income, hopefully a lot of commissions and I had a knack for sales. So I ended up immediately getting like $35 million in listings, which with the commissions I was going to generate, probably make a million bucks as a 21 year old.

Erik: Except for one week after I started in real estate, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in the entire economy collapse.

Andy: Yep.

Erik: Fun. So to fast forward, was in real estate for a year, made $350 that year, went into debt, was really rough. And so I ended up starting my first online business, circling back. I started an online music company, but actually for business coaching for musicians. The guy that actually ran my eighth grade class that took us around to local businesses. He had been observing me over time and he called me and said, his son was actually the drummer in my band in high school. And he said, “Hey, he’s pursuing this music thing. I saw that you’ve become this young entrepreneur. I really want to find a way to help these musicians figure out how to make money. Do you have any ideas?” I put a business plan together and came back to him a few months later. I’ve had nothing else going on, just to be blunt.

Erik: He disappeared for a few months and came back. It was like April of 2009, by August of 2009, he called me and said, he’s like, “Hey, I raised us a million dollars. You’re running the thing. You get 5% of it, minimum wage. Let’s go.” By the way, minimum wage is a lot better than 300 bucks a year.

Andy: Yep. Right.

Erik: So I was like, “Yeah, I’m in. Let’s go.” And so we start. So for two years, we built this online business coaching for musician company. And so after two years I hired a CEO to replace myself and I moved on. That’s when I really got into e-commerce. I started a t-shirt subscription company called Swag Of The Month. And by the away this was just me at, I was 24 at that point, sitting on a couch with a friend and going, “I hate shopping. What if we just picked out a t-shirt for someone and just shipped it to them for nine bucks a month and just picked out t-shirts.”

Erik: And my next-door neighbor happened to have built a t-shirt company at one point. So knew how to manufacture t-shirts. So he and I partnered up, we launched it and ended up being this whole new, innovative business model that no one had seen, subscription e-commerce. And so it took off and then we sold it after a year and a half. Within three weeks, I didn’t know my worth, but I got offered six figure salaries to be the head of eCommerce for Warner Music, the head of business development for Live Nation, or to join this little incubator in Santa Monica called Science, which when I told my parents about that, they’re like, “You’re obviously going to work for Live Nation or Warner Music

Andy: Well, yeah. Come on.

Erik: Yeah. But I live in Santa Monica and those are in Burbank and Hollywood, that commute sucks. I don’t want to be on the road all the time. And I kind of like startups. I’m like, yeah, but you’ve done this startup thing. Again, I’d been in startups for three years at that point. And to them, they were like, “What are you talking about?” Everyone that cared about me is advice. I took the startup and this incubator had just launched a little razor company called Dollar Shave Club. And so I got to join up with that.

Andy: Wow.

Erik: And they ended up launching a bunch of e-commerce companies. I ended up advising on all of them and then focusing on one, they had this vitamin company that was failing. I looked at it and said, “This isn’t a good business.” And they said, “Well, what if we pivoted to copy your t-shirt company but for women’s active wear?” I’m like, “Yeah, that’ll work.” And at that point I was 26, but I had two exits under my belt in e-commerce.

Andy: Totally.

Erik: I had a great track record. And that was 2013. There was no one out there that had all this experience. Digital was still pretty new. Facebook ads were like four years old. There was no one out there that had a ton of experience. And now all these brands are going, “Shoot. We really need to look at this digital thing.” So I started consulting for a bunch of people. A bunch of people offered me jobs and I was like, no, but I’ll consult. And all of a sudden, within a couple months I had eight clients paying me to consult and I’m 26 making 30 grand a month. And I was like, this is fun.

Andy: This is nice.

Erik: And remember, a year before I was making a minimum wage. When I joined that company, they paid me a 100 grand at Ellie. And then all of a sudden I’m making 350 grand a year. And a year after that. And I was still living off of three grand a month, I was still trying to budget. So I was just saving money.

Andy: Yeah. Totally.

Erik: And I got a few months into it and realized there’s something here. I called the guy that I hired to run the music company and said, “Hey, that hasn’t grown like I thought it would and you’ve done a great job running it for three years, but I think it’s time to put it to bed. It’s basically livable wage for a few people and not that interesting. But I think I have something here, why don’t you come join me with this?” And he came in to run client strategy, but then quickly became my partner and he and I built it. So fast forward now it’s been eight and a half years. We’re 300 people. We run marketing for 600 brands. We have a $50 million second venture fund. We have a financing arm that we’ve done I think about $20 million in loan to our clients.

Erik: We haven’t announced it yet, but we bought a software company that we’re going to be launching soon that coincides with everything we’re doing. My book came out in March. Yeah. So we’ve really just hit the ground running and tried to build as we call it a mini conglomerate of how we make great marketing accessible to companies.

Andy: That’s really an interesting story. And I think it’s so telling in terms of how often as parents, we want our kids to do the safe things and take the most safe choice all the time. I think that’s just so natural.

Erik: And I think it’s important to share. And I’m pretty open about this, my dad was super, super successful as I grew up. I was born in a small place in west LA, but as I got older, my dad hit a really incredible amount of success. I was the oldest boy. He was so concerned that I’d be a spoiled rich kid. He went the opposite. And honestly, to an extent that I don’t think that’s necessary, but he would say things like at eight years old, he’d tell me, “Just remember the dog gets all my money. You get nothing.” Like I was thinking about money at eight years old but he kept that tone. And so I just never looked at what my dad had created. But even though there was points where I came to realize there was going to be an inheritance.

Erik: I, Erik have a crazy appetite for risk because zero to me is not zero. I think that in the back of my mind, I still know that I’m not going to be broke on the street so I can take big risk. It didn’t become conscious until he pointed it out because I also knew I work harder than everyone I know. And still to this day and I don’t mind that because I enjoy what I do. It’s fun. But if I built a company, like we got offered to sell our company a year in for 14 million, which was absurd, but that’s not a win for me, to make a piece of 14 million pay tax on it. And said, I look at that. I’m like, that’s that doesn’t change anything for me.

Erik: So some people might take that. I didn’t. And so we kept building and now the last time we were valued was 150 million. So it’s.

Andy: Wow.

Erik: Glad I didn’t take that. It’s only been eight years. 10 X in eight years, I’ll take that. I didn’t have any interest in marketing specifically in college. Or growing up it wasn’t like marketing was my dream at all. In fact it was the opposite, I thought it was bullshit. And I look at that again, relating back to teenagers and kids. I wanted to be a rock star till I was 12 or 13. I wanted to be a professional guitarist until I got to that point where I realized I just wasn’t that good. I hated the technical practicing.

Erik: I loved performing. I loved being up on stage. I loved playing songs that I loved, but all the other stuff that went into it, I hated. And you come to these realizations and I think that’s okay to have these dreams and then realize, oh maybe that’s not what I want to pursue. And my parents said something to me along the way, that was really poignant too, which is, it’s really hard to make a living as a musician so maybe have a backup plan. And then when I was 12, same timing, I watched Behind The Music with Sting and he was ripped off like $25 million by his manager. And I was like, “How’d that happen?” My parents were like, “He didn’t understand business.” Okay. So to be a musician, you have to understand business. So that’s where I started balancing the two.

Erik: And by the time I got to the end of high school, I went from being a guitarist to, okay. Maybe I’ll be a manager in music to it’s okay to have a hobby. I’ll just go find something else for work. I have a guitar sitting behind me. I’m still not that good, but I love playing. The difference between having a passion and a hobby and having a profession can be different. I think we teach our kids to pursue their passions, which I agree with in some senses. But I also think professionally it’s okay to have something that you really love that you’re really good at, I think is where people actually find their sweet spot versus just what I’m passionate about. If I currently did what I was passionate about, I’d either be an airline pilot or a professional snowboarder. Neither I’d be that good at, neither would make me as much money as I’m making being in marketing, which I’m really good at and I enjoy.

Erik: If I had to put on a list, would I list marketing is my number one biggest passion? No. And if anyone did, I think they’d be lying. It’s doing it? I’m fascinated by it and super into it. Yes. But if I was being told to pursue my passion, I don’t know that I’d be starting a marketing agency. But what I do love doing is building and growing and running a business and doing all these things. It’s the confluence of things I love to do and things I’m good at.

Andy: I think a lot about passion and how it’s like a buzzword that parents just want, oh, I want my kids to be happy. I want them to find their passion and do things they’re passionate about. And kind of, maybe you need to reframe that a little bit or just think about that a little bit.

Erik: Yeah. I think things that give you energy. Things that you’re excited about, I think passion is a little too in descript is the problem. I think people believe that they have a passion and that’s where you get in trouble. I am very passionate about what I do. I’m excited about it. I get energy from it. That is incredibly important. You’re going to work more than you probably do anything else, obviously or sleep, but the eight hour work day is not really a realistic thing anymore. So let’s assume you work 10 hours a day. There’s not anything else you do 10 hours. I don’t think most people sleep 10 hours. I think that’s a little overkill, so.

Andy: Right.

Erik: That’s going to be the majority of your waking time is going to be working. And so the idea of doing something you don’t enjoy is absurd, if you care about your life. But I think the idea of it being your calling or your passion, I think that’s the difference. Actually. I’d say I feel like I found my calling. I do, because I feel like I am really good at this and I enjoy it and I’ve been able to find a niche and I’ve reminded myself over and over again the fact that I found that at 26 years old, I feel just fortunate. I think that was an accident. Again, 26, so five years before I started a marketing agency, I was literally making fun of marketing majors in college. And I was a management major. I was not like I had any high ground to stand on. I was just like, what’s marketing? Drawing pretty pictures. What is marketing? This stupid buzzword. That’s how I felt about it. And so I think when we’re talking to our kids, it’s okay to try things out.

Erik: I always do a lot of speaking at colleges at high schools, things like that. And when I do that, one of the things I always advise is your teens and 20s are about learning. Learning what you want to do, learning about the job. Just focus on education. Make money to live, don’t get me wrong. But most kids in their 20s can live off of minimum wage. If you really buckle down, and I mean, in California.

Andy: Totally.

Erik: It’s double the federal minimum wage and you should be able to live, figure it out. Not saying you’re going to live lavishly, but it’s more about figuring out what you like, what you’re good at, trying things out because the perception of a job and the reality of a job, very different. The perception of what I do all day versus what you think I do all day running a marketing agency are very, very, very different.

Erik: And so getting your arms around it and starting to figure out again, that confluence of what are you good at and what do you enjoy doing? I think is really the goal with profession. Not again, pursuing your passion. Now, if you’re one of the fortunate few that your passion is also what you’re incredibly good at, and one of the best in the world at. You’re Shaun White, pursue your passion. I want to be clear on that. Society is leaning more and more towards this idea of pursuing that and whatever you love doing. And I think that just creates a lot of pain, frankly. If you’re mediocre at it, but you love doing it, you end up pursuing this thing. You’re not realistic with yourself. You struggle for 10 years, you don’t get that education and maybe something else that you could be good at and you could actually accelerate at and you end up now in your 30s where you actually need money. Whether it’s, you’re starting a family, et cetera, you have some needs now and you don’t have that baseline.

Erik: So I think that coaching, you kind of need to look at how do you help people figure that part out. And by the way, before you’re an adult pursue all these things. You look at there’s Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier. And I think Malcolm Gladwell’s an idiot in some ways, but I really like that book. And I think there’s a lot of points made there. One of the biggest ones is the idea of the 10,000 hours and starting early, Bill Gates was in a computer web junior high, Steve Jobs was working, I think was for IBM. Right. And Atari as a young kid, there’s a benefit for kids to start doing things and getting an education and things that they may pursue as professions. But I think exploration and curiosity become critical as a kid.

Andy: That’s such a good lesson for kids to believe in them, but also make them do things for themselves.

Erik: Yeah. It’s the balance because I think that’s where, I’m about to be a parent myself. I’m having my first in two months actually. Yeah. My wife is 32 weeks.

Andy: Ooh!

Erik: Yeah. So when we talk about how we want to raise our kids, it’s similar with a little more support. Where it’s, love how I turned out. I’m very fortunate that I have this chip on my shoulder that I want to be motivated. But I think there’s a way to do it with your kids where it’s positive encouragement while also letting them fail, letting them see that failure isn’t that bad. The helicopter parent is not good either.

Andy: No.

Erik: But neither is beating your kids up and making them feel shitty. The goal here is to enable them to feel like they can take on the world themselves because they’re going to have to at one point, parents won’t be there forever. You’ve got to enable your kids to stand on their own two feet. So I talk to my wife a lot about, build confidence.

Erik: I’d rather to have a absurdly confident kid that’s almost an asshole than an insecure kid, just being blunt. I’d want to build a lot of confidence in my kid, but confidence doesn’t come from telling your kid they’re amazing all the time. Confidence also comes from your kid actually seeing that they can do things themselves. And so setting them up for success. And I don’t mean my parents never bought flowers or lemonade for me. You know what I mean? They didn’t come and be my customer, et cetera. But they helped me figure out to put my stuff in a wagon and walk it down. Just give them a nice nudge in the right direction and feel the accomplishment for themselves.

Andy: Yeah. Because then you don’t feel like this is something that your parents just did for you. It’s like a formative memory in your life, looking back.

Erik: I will say, from what I’ve seen, most kids don’t actually take that away from. Everybody wants to believe they did it all themselves, that’s just you and the ego. But I do think it’s more, when you gain the ability to work through challenges you become so much more confident. Running a business, you’re going to deal with some crazy stuff. Every successful business these days deals with lawsuits, deals with crazy employees, deals with crazy clients, deals with all sorts of stupid stuff. On a daily basis you’re hearing another bullshit thing coming. And if you haven’t been set up to work through problems yourself, it can be soul crushing. And so you’ve got to come from a place where it’s like, “Yeah, but I’m going to be fine. We’ll figure this out.” When you get those big problems, you have to have worked through smaller problems over time and gone through challenges and got good mentorship and guided through.

Erik: It’s hard to do it yourself. So I think it’s okay to mentor your kid to give your kid advice, but you can’t do it for them. You can walk them through it, I think that’s fine. I still talk about, I think the best advice my dad gave me, which he was never a good teacher, but he was a good person to watch. And a month into Hawk, I had an employee blow off half our clients, oh, it’s a long story but I thought it could be the end of us. I had just signed a lease and had a team of seven and I had to make money to pay for this. I didn’t have money in the bank. And so, my clients were all angry. I call my dad and tell him this five minute story about everything that just happened and I’m ranting.

Erik: And I still remember it vividly. And I get through this whole story and he goes, “uh-huh. Anyways. Yeah, Erik, that shit happens all the time. I got to run, talk to you later.” And just hangs up. And to me, it was like this devastating blow that could be the end of my career. He’s like “Yeah, it happens all the time. I got to run.” And he just hangs up. And I’m like-

Andy: Yeah, welcome to running a business. Yeah.

Erik: Yeah. Which again, it took me probably three years to realize how right that was, that there is no break from that. But thankfully, that was one employee going off the rails. I had to work through that, figure it out, come out the other side. We’re still alive, so that I could deal with the next problem, the next problem, the next problem, which just get bigger as the company gets bigger and your problems are relative.

Erik: And I really believe that for everyone, if you don’t have a job, your problems are like, “Oh God, I have an appointment to get my hair done today. And I got to make it across town.” That is a problem to someone that has nothing else going on. And so again, helping your kids work through issues on their own and figure out how to solve things. And Gallup just did a poll that last year was the most anxious, depressed year in the United States history on record. And part of me thinks that, listen, people have been beat up by COVID and then we have a recession. There’s a lot of stress in the world so I don’t want to add glaze over that. I also think that because we’ve coddled society in some ways, we’ve built a group of people that don’t have resilience. And because anxiety comes from again, I think anxiety and depression and there’s chemical.

Erik: I’m not talking about the chemical side. I’m talking about if general society is more depressed and anxious, it’s not chemical, unless there’s something in our water or food, which could be too. But I also think that society we’ve created a place where we don’t allow people to work through their own problems and like kids, we try to jump in for them and try to shelter and that’s kind of how we’ve become a society. And the problem is if you don’t build those muscles of dealing with the tough stuff, when it happens, it’s so devastating and you don’t know what to do. And so I think it’s, again, going back to the point, it’s important to give our kids the tools and the confidence to work through things themselves, but let them do those things.


About Erik Huberman

Erik Huberman is the author of The Hawke Method.

Erik is the founder and CEO of Hawke Media, a marketing agency that’s worked successfully with over 3,000 brands worldwide, from startups like Tamara Mellon and The Sill to established companies like Red Bull and Verizon Wireless. The company is valued at more than $150 million. Hawke Media has expanded in recent years to include Hawke Ventures, the HawkeTalk podcast, and HawkeZ, a Gen Z-guided marketing agency. Before founding Hawke Media, Erik founded and sold two other successful e-commerce companies.

Erik is also a speaker and thought leader among marketing and e-commerce spaces. His work has been featured in Rolling Stone, Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, Inc., and more. He’s spoken at Shoptalk, Groceryshop, Social Media Week One, Mobile World, INBOUND, and others. He’s the recipient of many awards and honors, including Forbes 30 Under 30, CSQ’s 40 Under 40, Inc. Magazine’s Top 25 Marketing Influencers, The International Business Awards’ Entrepreneur of the Year, and a Telly Award.

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