Sarah: Michael tell us how you got started and where CEO Kids and parents can find out more info about you.
Michael: My dad and I were thinking about some fun word games, playing around with color phrases, and decided to make a GO (green) shirt. My dad works at Weiskamp Screenprinting in Champaign, and he has access to much of the printing equipment. Once we made the GO shirt, we kept thinking of more phrases that would work and be sellable. It just started rolling from there.
You can find a slideshow/video of me printing and some other info about me on Facebook at Facebook.com/subtletees You can also find info about me in the “about me” section of my website www.subtletees.net as well as purchase shirts there.
Sarah: I loved watching the slide show on Facebook! That is a pretty intense process and you do it all yourself! Amazing! When did you start thinking about starting your own business and becoming an entrepreneur and why did you want to start?
Michael: It started once we started making shirts that we thought people would buy. I have always wanted to sell stuff, since I was little. I have sold bracelets, snowcones, etc. My mom started looking for sustainable living and garden type shows to sell the GO green and green THUMB shirts. I started at a show in a small coffee shop in my town, Monticello, and a lady that runs a show in a bigger town, Danville, asked me to participate in her show. It was very successful and I sold around 20 shirts there. By then I had designed 6 different shirts. One was the THINK pink shirt. I decided to donate $1 to the American Cancer Society from the sales of that shirt. At that time both of my grandparents were dealing with cancer, so it just seemed like a good thing to do, and besides THINK pink connected with breast cancer awareness.
Sarah: I love the Think Pink shirts too because they are right in line with the direct sales company I work with! Where did you come up with your idea and what investigation did you do to help you know that this would be a great business?
Michael: My dad works at the screenprinting business, so he knows how well t-shirts sell and what people are looking for. The idea was fun and unique and every time someone would hear about it, they would spend time thinking of more ideas for us!
Sarah: I love that! What a great way to use “crowd-sourcing” to grow your business and line of T-shirts! What do you think are the most important skills you have that help you in business?
Michael: You have to talk to people in any business, and I am pretty confident with that. I am a hard worker and I am responsible. Sometimes I need a kick in the pants to get something done, but I am pretty good at self-motivation. I enjoy web design and have worked on my own site.
Sarah: You touched on some really important skills Michael! What were the biggest obstacles, problems you had in getting started in business?
Michael: Learning how to do taxes, paperwork, etc. Time is an issue since I am in high school and on track, cross country, etc.
Sarah: Taxes and business paperwork can be hard no matter how old you are in business! That’s why I send all my tax stuff to a book keeper! How old were you when you started and how old are you now? How does your age affect your business success?
Michael: I started the business when I was 13, last winter. I was in 8th grade. Once people heard how old I was, they were amazed that I was doing this. I think it drew in some business. I am now 14 and in high school. People will talk to me more easily at shows since I am a kid.
Sarah: So true! Being young does have it’s advantages! What about college? Are you planning on going?
Michael: Yes, I plan to go to college. I am saving money from my business to help pay for it. I’m not sure what I will study.
Sarah: Way to go on the saving! What kind of expenses or start-up costs did you have when you started your business and where did you find the money or capital to start?
Michael: Since my dad has access to printing equipment, we were able to use it, thanks to the owner of the company. Costs for shirts were low as well, but my parents put up the money for those. I started making money pretty quickly, so was able to pay for it on my own. My first show was free to get in and I made $70 right away. The next show was $35 to get in and I made $250. So, it turned around very quickly.
Sarah: I love that you were able to turn a profit so quickly in your business! What have been the best surprises that you found in starting your business?
Michael: I am surprised at how easily the shirts sell and how quickly I have made money. I have also been surprised at the interest from TV and media people.
Sarah: The media does seem to like young entrepreneurs! Do you do EVERYTHING by yourself or do you have people on your team that work with you? If so – how did you find people to help you along the way?
Michael: My family has been a great help. My dad helps me print, and with the book keeping. My mom helps with taxes, advertising and finding venues to sell. My little brother helps with odd jobs. We all wear the shirts to help advertise!
Sarah: Yeah! It sounds like it has really brought your family together! That is awesome! What ideas and approaches do you use to market your business and what do you find works best for you in getting the word out about who you are and what you are doing?
Michael: Facebook has helped make people more aware of the business. I have business cards that I pass out to people at shows and at school. I have been on the news Kids to Know spot two times now and in the paper a few times. We donate to different causes like ACS, Kirby Hospital Imaging Dept., Bement School District Athletic Dept., Willow Tree Mission which is not only a great thing to do but it helps to spread the word about who I am and what my company is all about. Word of mouth works best and wearing the shirts. I have placed the website URL on the back of my shirts and people can see that when the shirts are worn.
Sarah: All of the things you are doing are so important! I love that you are giving back! It speaks volumes for who you are as a person as well as who you are as a leader in business! How do you balance it all? Do you find that you still have time to be a kid?
Michael: It’s been fun. It is sometimes hard to make time to update the website, print, etc. It usually gets done. It’s exciting and I enjoy the shows.
Sarah: What is the best advice or tips you would like to share with young entrepreneurs?
Michael: Just go for it. It’s worth it. It’s fun and I have learned a lot.