I work a lot with middle school-aged children in the local public schools. I cannot tell you how often a simple direction is responded to with a sigh, a roll of the eyes, or a downright refusal. Perhaps some of you know what I mean – you ask your own kid to put down the game controller to come to dinner or, heaven forbid, to do the dishes or take out the trash and the response you get is one that would have resulted in a hand to the backside when you were young.
Honestly, how many times have you thought: “KIDS THESE DAYS!!!” (Followed swiftly by the thought, “Oh my gosh, did I just think that? I sound like my parents!!)
It is easy to notice the failures, the laziness, the disrespect, the complete disconnect with the real world when it comes to teenagers. That’s why I am so happy to share with you the story of seventeen-year old Damon Billington, founder and CEO of db Paracord (www.dbparacord.com).
Beginning at the age of four, Damon and his dad went camping every summer at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. Each year, they tried to do something together to remember the trip by. One year, they both learned how to make paracord bracelets. Damon’s friends liked the bracelets, so he made some and gave them away. (Think friendship bracelets for the older crowd.) After a while, Damon thought about selling the bracelets.
Nice little story. But here’s where the plot thickens. Damon noticed many companies making paracord products (bracelets, lanyards, bow slings, etc.) Like any successful startup businessman, Damon thought: “What can I do to make my product better than the others?” His answer? “I can make my bracelets carry a meaning to somebody.” Not everyone needs a “survival” bracelet, but everyone has something they strongly believe in and many like to show this belief in the things they wear.
So at the age of fifteen, Damon got to work making paracord bracelets for sale and db Paracord was born. Working in the basement of his family home and with the help of his dad (operations), his mom (accounting), and loyal friends, Damon created this custom paracord bracelet business.
In keeping with his idea that the bracelets carry meaning for the wearers, Damon has made bracelets in colors that represent the Minnesota Vikings, the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers, the Florida Gators, and every branch of the military. I’m imagining one in Chicago Maroon and Burnt Orange, the colors of my alma mater, Virginia Tech. Name your colors and db Paracord will be happy to make it.
His greatest personal reward, Damon shares, is making bracelets for those battling cancer. He recently donated bracelets to a local lady who is fighting breast cancer and has made some for children battling leukemia.
Two years later, he still enjoys making these bracelets at home. Here’s how it works: orders come in through Damon’s website, www.dbparacord.com. He sorts the orders, makes the bracelets, and ships them out. Smaller orders are still made by hand right there in his home. Db Paracord’s first large order was for Cabela’s and just last month, Damon landed a 10,000-piece deal to an as-of-yet undisclosed buyer. Operations, cost analysis, and competition are seriously coming into play. This is big-time stuff!!
When it gets to numbers like this, we might tend to forget that we are talking about a high school kid. So I asked him how he juggles his business with his school and social life. His response was straight to the point: “Has no impact. School is #1, business is #2, and social life is close behind.”
Damon has plans to attend college and he expects db Paracord to pay for it. (“Nobody is going to walk up to me and give me money for college.”) A quick assumption might be that Damon would study business in college, but in fact he’d like to get into the sciences, perhaps biology. Not too surprising, given his many summers spent camping, hiking, and fishing with his dad.
I asked Damon what his biggest challenge has been in all this. His response? People not taking him seriously because of his age. Let this be an opportunity for all of us to look for greatness and promise in others, especially our youth. Young people like Damon are out there. They are sometimes hard to see because they are quietly going about their business. They don’t stand out because they don’t talk back, storm out, or wear a sign that reads: “It’s all about me!!” Instead, they are creating businesses in their basements. They taking college level courses in high school.
Let’s make an effort to find these kids and to recognize them. Let’s all start thinking: “KIDS THESE DAYS!!!” with a nod and a smile, followed swiftly by the thought, “Yep. Thank goodness for kids like these.”