"This is supposed to be that I’m making money from it, but I’m also helping communities. So even if I’m not donating money, I’m helping create an economy in certain neighborhoods because I’m connecting adults with kids that need money and getting the adults’ needs met."
Avante Price wanted a pair of designer gym shoes. But his mom, Victoria Reeves, wasn’t buying it. “I told him, that’s not a value of mine,” she says, “So I’ll pay you fair market value for regular gym shoes and you can make up the difference."
At the time, Avante and his parents—both of whom were born and raised in Chicago (Avante’s dad, John Price, graduated from ETHS)—lived in Seattle. It was summer, so Avante decided he’d get the shoes he wanted by selling lemonade at the Ballard Locks at Seattle’s Salmon Bay, where there were lots of tourists. With his mom’s help, he built a portable lemonade stand, which he wheeled to the Locks every day. He made $500 and decided then that he was going to be an entrepreneur. He was nine years old.
Last week, I met Avante, now 16, a Junior at Evanston Township High School, and President and CEO of ChoreBug, to talk about his most recent business venture. ChoreBug connects ETHS students who want to work and community members who need help with anything from mowing the lawn to moving a desk, deciphering Ikea instructions, or even doing the laundry—folding included.
I’d read a post about ChoreBug that Avante had placed on the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 "Parent and Guardians" Facebook group, and I was intrigued. First, by a high-schooler posting on the page; second, by the promise of help with my to-do list; but most of all, by Avante’s stated goal: “to bring together the community of Evanston … to bring a better name to youth, and teach them the value of entrepreneurship and hard work.”
I wanted to talk to this guy, who, in addition to running ChoreBug, I learned, manages a Junior’s work load, wrestles for ETHS, and co-chairs the business club with his friend Michael Barrera, who’s also a member of the ChoreBug team.
I met Avante at Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center last Monday, right as school was letting out, and I got to know a bit about the teenager whose mom told me on the phone a few days later is “not afraid, has incredible amount of energy, and is really hard to keep up with, to be honest.”
She’s right. Even sitting down, Avante, dressed in a crisp, blue-checkered button-down, seemed to be moving as though he has electricity running through his veins. He leaned in, spoke at lightning speed and with confidence and conviction, his fingers furiously keystroking to show me this website or that app. I barely took a breath until we parted ways!
Here’s our interview, which is followed by short excerpts from my phone chats the next day with Avante’s mom and with Michael Barrera.
DE: Avante, how did ChoreBug begin?
AP: I had an idea two summers ago, in 2015, to make money. I was working at my first job at Youth Job Center as a counselor at a summer camp and I was making $8.25 minus tax. I felt like I was giving away my time and my summer—things I value—for, like, nothing. So my friend and I went to Starbucks and thought about how we could make money. We thought we could do yard work because it’s easy and we like being outdoors. So we put up some flyers in the Dempster-Dodge area, which is around where I live.
We had about 10 jobs that summer, and I made about $2,000 from yard work, but mostly I worked for YJC. Last year, I started the summer knowing that our yard work idea was going to work, so I pushed harder. I made more flyers and a Facebook page called E-town Yardwork Co. A couple of weeks ago, I changed the company name to Chorebug, because we’re trying to expand our service area and the services we provide. This summer I set some financial goals—I want to make $10,000 of profit and $25,000 in revenue.
DE: How does it work?
AP: People call me or fill out an online form with jobs they need, and now I have 20 kids working for me, so we have “group chat” on all our phones. I post the job request there and tell them what I need and someone responds. If they go out on their own, I take a 25 percent cut from what they make.
Most the kids who work for me right now are on the wrestling team, because I know wrestlers are really hard workers. For now, I’m kind of wary about including people who I don’t really know, because I want to get my name out there and make sure that I keep my five-star review on Facebook. I don’t want any negative reviews.
DE: What kinds of jobs do you do?
AP: Yesterday, for example, I had four jobs, and two of them were moving things. We move shelves, take things to the alley, work with older people who just don’t have the strength. We do furniture assembly, errands, sweeping and vacuuming, laundry, cleaning, scrubbing, event assistance—that’s something I hadn’t even thought of and people approached me to do it. I also offer some weekly packages, like lawn-mowing.
DE: What’s the weirdest job you’ve been asked to do?
AP: Once, a woman made me clean off her deck and throw things out and organize them. While I was organizing, I picked up a plastic container and saw it had water in it with a recently dead bird floating in it along with hundreds of tiny maggots. It was so disgusting. And the woman gave me a plastic grocery bag and asked if I could take it out and throw it in the alley garbage. I was really reluctant, but I was just starting out, so I did it. It was very nasty!
DE: And the hardest?
AP: The hardest was when my friend Michael and I had to carry an eight-foot tall dresser down a flight of stairs about five-feet wide, load it onto a truck, unload it on the other end and take it up to an apartment.
DE: How much do you charge?
AP: We have different prices, ranging from $20 to $25 per hour — so yard work is $20 an hour, but moving is harder, so it’s $25. Also, most jobs will take more than an hour, like yard work is usually a two- to three-hour job, so we charge a little less. We charge an hour minimum for any job.
DE: And pay?
I pay kids $15/hour, so if they want to make a quick $30 to hang out with their friends they can just do two hours of work and it’s immediately paid into their bank account. They don’t have to wait two weeks. If you want money right now, you go on my website and see if there’s a job and accept it. Eventually it will be a mobile app.
DE: How long in advance does someone have to book you?
AP: When someone requests a service, we respond immediately because I have 20 kids that are working on my team, so if I’m not available I send someone else out. Two of the jobs I did yesterday were booked yesterday.
DE: Are all the kids who work for you students at ETHS?
AP: They’re all juniors and seniors at ETHS, and that’s my vision for the future. We have two sophomores on the team, but I try to keep it to older kids because they can drive, that’s is the main reason.
My vision is that we can expand to other schools, because we can't drive all the way to deep Niles, but we could have Niles North kids serving that area. I want to have a manager who’d run Niles North. The manager would work for me, but would manage local kids. Eventually it could expand to a national platform, kind of like Uber for odd jobs. Our competitor is Task Rabbit, but it charges much more than we do and it doesn’t offer the whole community aspect. Because even if we become a national thing, you’d still be hiring a kid from your own community.
DE: Do you see yourself expanding to include more kids in Evanston?
AP: Yeah, so that’s the whole thing. Right now I’m keeping it to people I know. Even now, parents ask if their kids can work for me, and I have to say no because I want to make sure we’re doing it right first. I’m trying to get more clients too, because if I have too many kids and no clients, the kids are going to say, ‘where are my jobs?’ So at a fully expanded stage, it would be that. Kids could just go online and apply and someone would review it—10 questions—and they could probably get a job within a week.
DE: So you developed this company yourself?
AP: Well, at first my friend and I decided to do yard work, just him and me. But it’s hard for people to keep up with me. I’m a very productive person and I develop things really fast. People don’t have the same drive as me. So it ended up just being me.
DE: Did you get help?
AP: I made the website myself and I do the marketing. I run different campaigns. Right now I had the people who work for me put up five flyers in their neighborhoods and I told them in return, I’ll guarantee them a job.
Sometimes I ask kids to help me. But a lot of people are flaky and they don’t pull through, or it takes them two weeks on something I can do in a day, so I tend to not want to partner with people, especially when I have to give them half the equity to do half the job.
DE: And your parents?
AP: My mom’s a freelance resume writer and a career coach. But this isn’t really her field. And my dad’s an English teacher, so my parents don’t really have an interest in the marketing aspect.
DE: So where do you get your drive from?
AP: I think just from myself. I want to make money, I guess. The kids who I’m employing, I know what they want. Because I was that person. I don’t want to work for eight hours a day and make $50 if I can do that in two hours.
DE: You lived in Seattle as a kid. When did you move to Evanston?
AP: I came here freshman year. I like it here. There are a lot of opportunities. That’s another thing. I’m trying to encourage kids to find the opportunities that are near them. Honestly, I feel that kids who live on this side of Evanston feel like they have fewer opportunities than the other side over there [west of Greenbay]. But that’s not true. Evanston as a school has the same opportunities for everyone, but kids put themselves in their own box. So I’m trying to showcase that kids can do things no matter where they’re from or which part of Evanston they live in.
I think Evanston is very segregated, and I’m trying to stop that. What I do can bring the whole community together. So bringing students together with adults, and black and white people.Building an economy so people can connect through money and demographics.
I’m also in the business club at school, and I’m trying to bring kids together there as well. We have a lot of white kids come but I’m trying to expand it to minorities. Michael runs it with me. We’re both minorities, but we know the white crowd.
Michael is more of a people person than me. He brings them in and I develop the slide shows and programs. There are so many racial stereotypes, like well, that’s a black club, or that’s a white club. That’s what we’re trying to stop. We have about 47 members now and we’ve only been around for a month. We’re trying to expand it so next year there are a lot of members, and especially more minority students.
The phrase that I live by is "age is just a number," because I truly believe that not only I, but anyone can achieve anything they put their minds too with effort and proper use of resources no matter how numerous or nonexistent those resources may be.
DE: What’s your immediate goal for ChoreBug?
AP: I really want to expand it over the summer so I can put it on my application for college as experience, because I want to go college for business or computer science. I want to make my own tech company, so even though I’m more of a business-type guy, I have to know the inner workings of apps.
DE: If you made a ton of money from this, what would you do philanthropically?
AP: Well, eventually this is supposed to be that I’m making money from it, but I’m also helping communities. So even if I’m not donating money, I’m helping create an economy in certain neighborhoods because I’m connecting adults with kids that need money and getting the adults’ needs met. I guess they could donate to organization for kids who need money or they can get their needs met and make a connection to a kid in their community. And then I would also donate to other businesses that are similar to mine—in the very far future. Right now, I’m just trying to build the business.
Here’s more insight about Avante, and about people of color, entrepreneurship, and Evanston from Michael Barerra and Avante’s mom, Victoria.
DE: Michael, What do you think motivates Avante, and how does he inspire you and others?
MB: Avante always seems to surprise me because he never sets limits on himself. If there is a goal he wants to achieve he will work his hardest at achieving this goal. Whether it's on the wrestling mat, school or business.
DE: Avante told me that the two of you are working hard to get minorities to join the business club, especially since both of you are minorities. Why do you think black and brown students are less likely to join the business club, and what do you think inspired you and Avante, as minorities, to run it?
MB: Business is a predominantly white field, and this stigma carries on in clubs and classes that involve business like DECA or business classes at ETHS. The Business Club was one of the biggest clubs when I was a freshman with over 80 students but when the president graduated last year there was a lack of leadership for the business club so me and Avante decided to step up. We want business opportunities to be accessible to everyone not only the white students and the members in our club is growing everyday. We have speakers, activities and field trips. If you anyone or are interested in coming to speak at the Business club please contact me or Avante.
DE: How long have you lived in Evanston, where are your parents from, and what do they do?
MB: I've lived in Evanston most of my life. My parents come from Mexico and my mom has her own cleaning business and my dad has his own construction business and I think this is what motivates me to work hard in anything I do.
DE: What do you want to do “when you grow up?”
MB: I want to be able to work as an international businessman.
DE: What’s the most important ingredient for someone to have to succeed, especially if they aren’t from a wealthy family or if they have to overcome obstacles based on income, race or ethnic background?
MB: A good work ethic, this is crucial in any field. If you want to live your dreams you have to dream big and believe in yourself.
DE: Victoria, what do you think motivates Avante?
VR: That’s a fantastic question. I have my own business—I’m a business writer and career coach, and I’ve done this his whole life. Avante would come with me when I met with clients. He’s seen me as an example of entrepreneurship and figuring out a need and serving that need. My husband is competitive —he’s a coach, and a personal trainer and he has discipline and ambition. I’m very curious; I read five books a week, I need a lot of stimulus to be happy. I think this all contributes. And Avante is not afraid. He jumps in and says ‘let’s see if this will work.’ He’s not afraid to fail. And he has incredible amount of energy. The thing about Avante is that he hates schmoozing. I think he feels like, you know, life’s short, and I’m busy!
DE: How long have you lived in Evanston? Did you grow up here?
VR: We’re from Chicago originally. I was born and raised in Homewood-Flossmoor We moved every year when Avante was little but we lived in Seattle for six years. My husband is from South Side of Chicago, but came to live in Evanston for high school. We moved to Evanston specifically so Avante could go to ETHS. We knew he'd get a great education and go to a school where he could have role models, other African American men to look up to.
DE: What are the benefits of living and raising kids in Evanston?
VR: Well, we love ETHS, and also the intellectual and progressive environment in Evanston. People are responsive to new ideas, and the diversity, not just the racial diversity, but economic too, has been very beneficial for Avante. The way he is received here has helped his self esteem.
DE: Is there a discussion in your family about about the business world and whether race is an issue?
VR: I’d say for the past four years it’s been a conversation around table. My husband tells Avante things like, make sure your shirt’s tucked in, keep you hair well cut, and do on. He tells him it’s a racist world and you have to be better and smarter to get equal treatment in the world.
DE: How does Avante respond to that?
VR: His approach is pretty much, ‘thanks for telling me the reality, and I’m going to work hard and see beyond limitations and show what I have to offer.’ If anything it makes him stronger. So, he has a dress code and clear roles for the kids who work for him. And he trains them in code switching, how to present themselves to white, wealthier people. He teaches them the language of commerce. He actually approached Marcus Campbell and is working with him on a club that will introduce minority students to different career options. He wants to address issues of self- perception and business opportunities and how to get mentoring. He’s been the target of racism in some cases. He wants to go to Stanford or Penn, or NYU, or Carnegie Mellon. I do think about that. He hasn’t been in an environment with an elite class of children. I think he’s kind of protected in Evanston. But Evanston’s not the world. Will he handle it? Yes. But it might be a bit shocking at first.
To learn more about ChoreBug visit ChoreBug on Facebook at Facebook.com/ChoreBug, or learn more at www.chorebug.com. To talk to Avante or to knock a chore off your to-do list, call (206) 883-7072 or email@example.com.