Young Guns: Under twenty and overachieving entrepreneurs
Published on 12 December 2019
Finding the courage to start your own business can be a challenge at any age, but imagine balancing being an entrepreneur with the pressure of finishing high school.
Elize Hattin, SmartHub Business Manager sits down with two very young, very different entrepreneurs taking the business world by storm; Emily whose business sells earth-friendly yoga mats and Cooper who is building an instant billing platform to help small businesses with their cash flow challenges.
Together they talk about ‘youthism’, the importance of networking and constantly reminding contacts you’re in the market.
The last 20 weeks has been a giant period of growth for 20-year-old Emily, who is about to enter the US market with Settle Petal; a completely biodegradable and eco-friendly yoga mat design and production business. Before buying her first business, Emily worked in pharmacy six days a week.
“Buying the Settle Petal business happened so fast. I was just working all the time and then I found something that I was really interested in.
"When I found Settle Petal, I said to myself I just can't miss this opportunity. I decided to take it and have been building it ever since,” she said.
When asked what gave her the courage to transition from a full-time employee to being her own employer, Emily said it was the flexibility of being in business for herself.
“I think it was just the lifestyle and being able to just work for myself, doing something I'm actually passionate about and just enjoy it,” she said.
Emily became involved with the SmartHub by participating in the Turbo Traction Lab Program, designed to help entrepreneurs break into international markets.
Serendipitously, the Turbo Traction Lab was about to commence at the time Emily was purchasing Settle Petal. After her father suggested they visit the SmartHub for some business advice, Emily found out about the Traction Lab; promptly applying and being accepted in the 80-day program.
“It's been amazing for me to learn about business and how to get traction not just in Australia but all over the world. And the mentors we have…are incredible,” Emily said.
Just 20 weeks after purchasing Settle Petal and having completed the Turbo Traction Lab, Emily is now entering into a wholesale market in the US.
“I've been contacting a lot of studios in the US…one was really interested and I sent a mat over for them to try, they absolutely loved it and they want to start a wholesale agreement in the new year,” Emily explained.
Settle Petal’s unique selling proposition (USP) is using completely natural materials to create its yoga mats, from the bottom layer which is made from tree rubber to the microfibre suede topper, featuring printed designs using natural inks.
“While Yogi’s are finding their inner peace, they can also have peace of mind their yoga mat doesn't harm the environment at all.
“It's completely non-slip as well so if you're a sweaty little Yogi, you're not going to slip at all,” Emily added.
There are currently 16 designs of Settle Petals yoga mats in the product range, including four children’s designs.
While Emily may have her sights set on international markets, her yoga mats are available locally and online.
“Locals can find me either at settlepetalyoga.com or we are going to be at the Rivernites markets on the 20th of December at the Riverside Precinct from 5pm onwards,” she said.
T-SHIRTS TO TECH
At just seventeen, entrepreneurism comes naturally to Cooper, who is currently building his second business, Zeit; a zero-touch payment platform allowing users to find, book, and pay for services online. A game changer for small businesses, Zeit allows them to be paid in real time.
After starting his own T-shirt printing business at just 13, Cooper was invited to design and print T-shirts for the SmartHubs’ Start-Up Weekend, after his TV news interview caught the attention of its’ members.
“At every Start-Up weekend, participants get a branded t-shirt so when we were planning the event someone suggested we get that guy who has the t-shirt business they saw on the news. We tracked down Cooper who not only supplied the t-shirts for us, but also attended the Start-Up weekend and went on to become a valued member of the SmartHub community,” Elize recalled.
The now 17-year-old recalls being approached by the SmartHub who said they wanted to support his local business.
“I thought that was awesome. I didn't know a space like this existed, so I wanted to be involved immediately.
“I said yes to printing the shirts. I've done the last three shirt orders for the SmartHub’s Start-Up weekend and it's been a ball. I’ve loved connecting in with the space,” he said.
Cooper joined the SmartHub community at fifteen and quickly became involved in the Start-Up weekends; an experience he recommends to others.
“It's such a good weekend in meeting and networking with people…that's where the idea for Zeit was initially borne and it was very different to what it was initially.
“It's pivoted a lot, but the concept was borne there…being surrounded by mentors and people that could help me, giving me a support network to give me tips,” Cooper explained.
When asked what problem Cooper was solving and how, Cooper said the Zeit platform was all about freeing up cashflow.
“For small businesses getting paid on time is a big problem and most of them must wait up to 30 days for invoices to be paid that might be as little as say, $50 for lawn mowing.
“So, they're there waiting for payment and for a lot of these businesses, they might be turning over big money as well, but they'll have times where there's actually very little money in their bank accounts.
“They are not able to pay workers and they're not able to pay people that are their providers of the service.
“Through Zeit’s new payments platform, we're able to pay them instantly by getting the money into their account in real time using zero touch payments.
“Zeit effectively stores a credit/debit card and once the service has been completed, businesses can get the charge off that card…similar to what Uber uses in the fact that once you get out of the car, the transaction is complete,” Cooper said.
Zeit is currently still in development, with Cooper shifting his primary focus to completing Year 12. He said juggling a business with study was a real challenge that required sound time management…and a supportive mother.
“Having a mum that's kept me organised and helping if I have an appointment straight after school, she'll kind of run me there … that's helped me be able to keep on top of everything,” he said.
FORGING YOUR OWN DESTINY
Elize Hattin, SmartHub Business Manager said one of her big passions is for people to be able to forge their own destiny in the world through entrepreneurship.
“I think one of the greatest things of being an entrepreneur is you can actually solve real problems, which means you can make life better for people. Plus, you can create a job for your own self and maybe jobs for other people. So much good around being in business,” Elize said.
For Cooper, the biggest lesson learned from his involvement with the SmartHub and building his own business has been finding a problem that exists and solving it.
“Finding a hair on fire problem that really exists and is really bad for people, then being able to solve that. You can make money if you’re be able to do that.
“I've always found ways to do different things to be able to work for myself. I'm always open to give different things a go,” Cooper said.
For Emily who describes herself as being naturally shy, her biggest lesson has been in persistently contacting people and never giving up.
“You just need to get inside, keep reminding them that you're there and remind them you have the solution to their problem…don't let them forget that!”
“Pitching is something I've certainly had to work on. I'm a very shy person naturally and I've grown a lot during the Traction Lab in reaching out to people. I've become a lot more confident talking to people, especially in the US which has been a lot of fun,” Emily said.
Cooper agreed on the importance of networking to business. “Initially I didn't know how powerful going to different conferences could be but taking that step to go and meet that person, introduce them and just then connecting on LinkedIn. Powerful tools like that where you can your network all in the one place and then using it later...you can never network with enough people,” Cooper said.
While the young duo both realise the importance of networking, Elize posed the question about whether their youth worked in their favour, or against it.
For Cooper, his experience has been mixed; some people have been sceptical about the credibility of a high school student developing an online payment platform for businesses, whereas others have been impressed by his initiative and achievement at just fifteen years of age.
“It was kind of interesting, that whole stereotype of what young people really are and then talking to people and networking and them saying they’d love to help mentor you or provide advice because you are young. It has been awesome for me to be able to learn as well and grow in my experience.
“It can also be a struggle because I am younger, people sometimes ask if I’m really serious…but you get that in anything I think,” he said.
Cooper has met any ageism he encountered head-on by staying in the conversation and talking in a business-like, relatable manner.
He said while he might only be 17, he can still have the presence of an older person when communicating.
“I think that's key; being able to communicate with people on the same level in a mature, professional way,” Cooper said.
With most of her business negotiations happening over the phone, Emily has not directly experienced ‘youthism’ when dealing with prospects.
“Generally, I call them to see if they're selling yoga mats already or yoga accessories and testing the market. The response has been pretty positive…some people said they don’t have time or already have a supplier or product they were happy with, but a lot of people were really excited and when I threw in they were from Australia they were really excited about that. If you want to do business with an international market, America seems to really love Australians,” Emily said.
LESSONS AND LEARNINGS:
- Diss the doubt: just take the first step and sort out any the problems along the way
- Be present: get your business out there, talk to people, tell them what you're doing, and you’ll get an amazing response. If you’re not a confident networker, seek out tips and tricks from the SmartHub
- Test it out: try it, get some validation for your idea and go for it
- Find a mentor and support community: Cooper said he wouldn't have the gained the knowledge, learnings or the connections he enjoys today if it hadn't been for the SmartHub; with “access to world-class people, giving their advice, giving their lessons, wanting to mentor you and being with like-minded people where we can bounce ideas off each other and support each other,” he said.
- Turbocharge your business: Emily admits she wouldn’t be looking to break into US markets if it hadn’t been for her participation in Turbo Traction Lab. The SmartHub will be running more Start-Up weekends in 2020, with applications currently open for Turbo Traction Lab 3, which will commence on 10 February 2020. Contact the SmartHub or click here to find out more.
- Age is irrelevant: According to Cooper, being a young entrepreneur can be a bit daunting because people think business is “an old person thing” but both he and Emily are proving youth is no barrier to business success.
Both Cooper and Emily are members of The SmartHub. Being part of the SmartHub gives local business owners opportunities to meet with and learn from mentors, to help them learn the discipline required to succeed in business. If you’d like to learn more about becoming part of the SmartHub, message SmartHub Rockhampton on Facebook or just head over to Customs House at 208 Quay Street, Rockhampton for a tour.