My 13-year-old daughter and two friends decided to sell lemonade on July 4th. It seemed to be a pretty normal – and likely money-losing – proposition. Cute hawkers of sweet-tart beverages appeared to occupy every corner that day. Competition was fierce. And their decision was last-minute.
When the girls arrived home after 1 ½ hours of work, they counted their plunder.
Um, excuse me? How can I get into that business? I did a quick calculation using the usual price of a cup of street-side, kid-brewed lemonade. They would have had to sell between about 200 ($0.50 per cup) and 400 ($0.25 per cup) cups. In 90 minutes or less.
I was flummoxed. So I asked a few questions. And I was subsequently schooled.
Their thinking is outlined below, and it’s pretty close to being in their words:
Our neighborhood parade seemed like a good place to make a lemonade stand but we knew there would be a bunch of other kids selling lemonade, cookies and other stuff, too. We also wanted to make sure there were lots of kids around so the adults would pay for them, too.
So we decided to be different. We, like, decided to make it fun for the adults first since they have money. And we wanted it to taste good.
We decided to make lemonade to order like they do with burritos at Chipotle, so we designed our stand where people ordered lemonade and then they added ingredients as they walked along the table. They paid at the end of the table. $1 for a cup of lemonade and $0.25 per ingredient.
We set up in the place where they stage the cars and bikes for the parade. It took about 30 minutes. That’s where there were lots of adults and kids. And until the parade started, they were bound to be pretty hot and bored. The parade was over in about an hour.
We pooled our money. One of us went out to buy real lemons, sugar, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mint, little cute umbrellas and ice. One made the sign and one got the table, water and cups to our location. It cost us about $40.
Our cups were pretty easy to see cuz of the umbrellas. Plus we yelled a lot.
That’s a 156% return for a summer lemonade stand. What did these kids do that we can all learn from?
They were flexible enough to take advantage of an immediate opportunity.
They designed the experience of their customer with the end in mind. They weren’t burdened by stale or commonplace design and they didn’t have anyone telling them what to do or how to do it. They took ideas from other sources and made them their own. So they were able to sell the “freshly-made, custom lemonade experience” for $1 per cup and $0.25 per ingredient, well over “market rates.”
They followed basic rules of murmuration: alignment, cohesion and separation.
They had a clear experience blueprint for what they were creating, so they were collectively aligned on the primary goal. It’s interesting that their first goal wasn’t about making money; instead they focused on creating a superior experience.
They weren’t afraid to fail. They shared and invested time and money into the gig. They had cohesion.
They trusted each other to get their assignments done. They were willing to give up control over the entire process by trusting that each person would take care of their job. Given the fact they had alignment and cohesion, they became really comfortable with the separation they needed in order to be efficient.
When was the last time your team acted as quickly, with as much alignment, cohesion and separation as these three 13-year-olds?
Lessons Are All Around Us
Today, businesses must identify and take advantage of opportunities swiftly. Strategic advantage lies within, where employees and interactions become the strategy, not top-down edicts. Employees are know to engage when their voices are heard and they can take part in decision-making, because that leads to being part of a meaningful, robust murmuration.
What’s the end of the story? The girls decided not to reinvest their profits. They spent every dime at the mall. But I still can’t wait to see what lessons I will learn next July 4th.