Twelve-Year-Olds Like E-Commerce Too

Perhaps inspired by David Lewis’ Cross The Red Cross of Your List I had my own epiphany this weekend about fundraising which is part rant and perhaps part idea.

As usual, my daughter brought home yet another fund raising endeavor from her school. Being a private school I often feel like it is an ongoing PBS telethon. There never seems to be an endless supply of these sales projects- chocolate bars, magazine subscriptions, usually stuff I don’t need but I am obliged to buy something for the sake of the cause. Call me old fashioned but I want my kids to be educated not turned into sales people.

This time Ariel, my 12-year old daughter, brought home a book of bulbs- tulips to be exact, in order to raise funds for her trip to Washington D.C. next year. Having spent some time working with the FTC in Washington I could think of no better way for a child to learn about our government and the incredibly slow pace in which it runs. Ariel was charged with the task to raise funds for her share of the trip and any shortcomings good old parents like me get to cover the bill.

Fortunately, flowers were a sweet spot for me as I have a green thumb and spent much of my youth gardening so I agreed to purchase a $100.00 worth of bulbs to plant in our back yard. Ariel dutifully filled in her order form and promised me my bulbs by the end of October. It was a fairly painless process but I felt the lesson didn’t need to stop there and I was right.

This immediately put an idea in my mind and I asked Ariel if she ever used Excel.

“Of course I excel dad, I get straight A’s every semester” the over-achiever replied.

I went on to explain that Excel was a spreadsheet and very useful for forecasting her sales, keeping her customer contacts up to date and keeping track of who had paid and when the delivery of the goods had been made. Immediately she was intrigued.

We fired up her student copy of Excel and I showed her how the various rows and columns could be used to tabulate the number of units sold, the price per unit and how changing one cell would effect the totals in the other cells. She caught on immediately and in true 12-year old grandiose fashion, she began to up the number of bulbs I could buy and showing me the impact on the bottom line. That’s okay – she was learning and I felt that was one of the most important aspects missing from all of these fund raising drives. We teach children how to sell useless products, how to go door to door to annoy neighbors and guilt trip family members into magazine subscriptions.

Now I have nothing against sites like SchoolPop, Box Tops for Education and Upromise or other sites that raise funds for schools but I find something fundamentally lacking in that they lack ANY educational value to the students who are reduced to automatons driven to sell as many products as they can for their school.

Here is the kicker. Ariel approached me at dinner this weekend to ask me if I would help her build a website and integrate micro-transactions or better yet, PayPal into her checkout process so she could expand her reach into a global marketplace. She had been watching an infomercial on eBay and was wondering if she could take her fund raising drive to the auction platform. She figured with PayPal as a convenient form of payment and the mass reach of eBay should could easily treble her earnings allowing her to pay for her trip and have extra spending money. I had to admire her ambition but I nixed the plan. I told her once she had mastered the charting and graphing of her earnings and perhaps the creation of pivot tables we would talk about her schemes.

Sparked by her interest I have asked my wife, in her copious spare time, to draft a series of lesson plans this summer. (Incidentally Kim is now using blogs in her sixth, seventh, and eighth reading classes and for those of you who are not bullish on blogs I assure both students and parents like the fact their teacher blogs and communicates outside the classroom- you can check it out at

Hopefully these lesson plans will blend fund raising and teaching the use of tools like spreadsheets and word processors (to send thank you notes) and utilizing a mailing list program so students can contact customers and update them on the status of their orders and send thank you notes. I feel these are the vital skills that will move students ahead in the global marketplace; making them ready for the information and e-commerce age to come. If my twelve-year old can master Excel in minutes, surely there are legions of children ready to enter the fray.

I also promised Ariel that I would assist her in launching her first web store once she mastered the various skills that every entrepreneur needs to survive in a hyper-competitive environment. If you are in the product sourcing business and want to try an experiment I have an eager twelve-year old ready to jump into the world of e-commerce head first and I guarantee you she has far more energy than me. I say let’s put her to the test and she what she learns.

For the educational sites out on the web take heed. Let us move beyond cutting box tops from cereal boxes and get serious about educating our youth with a curriculum that teaches them something beyond how to use scissors to chop up cereal boxes and mail them in for a few bucks – a skill even I mastered in kindergarten. Then and maybe then we can move them along to malware hunters.

ADDENDEUM: Wow! Thanks to all the Revenews readers who expressed interest in purchasing bulbs to help finace Ariel’s trip and her education in running a simple business and mastering Excel. Those interested please drop me a line at and I will put you in touch with her for a personal tulip bulb consultation. Looks like I am going to have to integrate PayPal for her after all.

About Wayne Porter

Wayne Porter is one of the original founders of, and served as the CEO and founder of XBlock Systems a specialized research firm on greynets and malware research before being acquired by unified communications security leader, Factime Security Labs. His work includes serving as a panlist at the Federal Trade Commission to shape legislation on software and the creation of two patent-pending technologies for corporate networks. Wayne is a frequent speaker at e-commerce & business events including CJU, ASW and RSA and frequently cited in the press. He has been designated a Microsoft Security MVP three times and is recognized on Google’s Responsible Security Disclosure page- in addition to receiving the first Summit Legend Award. Wayne currently works as a Security Consultant on Social Media and operates a consultancy on digital worlds. His hobbies include reading science fiction, playing chess, fishing, writing, collecting shiny digital gadgets, playing racquetball and studying memetic engineering. He maintains a personal weblog at detailing his explorations in security, web 2.0, and virtual worlds.
You can follow Wayne on Twitter: @wporter.

4 Responses to Twelve-Year-Olds Like E-Commerce Too

  1. Tim Storm says:

    I think Wayne just earned some "good dad" points.

    Maybe the 201 class will include thoughts like "you're not selling tulip bulbs, but the dream of having a beautiful yard and/or the dream of a growing youth's knowledge and awareness"

    What about the "Value added" opportunities? For just $5 more when we deliver it, we'll plop it in to the ground for you and use the right fertilizer!

  2. Wayne Porter says:


    ACtually in the case of a tough sell or with her elderly customers I armed Ariel with the knowledge that she would come to their house and plant them for the customer. That little added service closed the deal every time.

    Now if only large companies' employees were empowered to make such decisions and value ads. Today I dealt with yet another drone from Cingular…

  3. Tim Storm says:

    Yes, but if they weren't drones, how would they possibly keep their employees under control? (this isn't a real question)

    If big companies actually "got it", wouldn't that take away some of our entrepreneurial edge?

  4. Wayne Porter says:

    I hate it when you make sense. Still innovation can take place in larger firms- look at JetBlue!