By Marie Griffin, Director of Content Strategy, KidBacker
Does entrepreneurship in youth require a rare combination of innate characteristics or can it be taught? In Alberta, Canada, a seven-year-old serial entrepreneur appears to be a strong example of the latter. Sophia F. (whose last name is being withheld because of her age) has been coached in entrepreneurship skills by her father Trevor since she was four years old, when she first asked if he would help her start a business. Sophia’s dad has tried to encourage her and provide age-appropriate business experiences, but he has left it to Sophia to take the initiative.
Trevor has a long-running passion for youth entrepreneurship. He launched a program called NoMoreAllowance.com, created a curriculum and learning program for a number of schools, and acted as a business advisor to young people involved in entrepreneurship programs.
With Sophia, “I prompt her and primarily act as a coach,” Trevor tells KidBacker. “I show her what’s possible and give her options, then I let her make the decisions.” He has made sure Sophia is surrounded with other adults who can help her develop as an entrepreneur. “My primary role is to be the parent,” he notes.
When Sophia was recently invited to attend a prestigious Chamber of Commerce event, in fact, her dad did not attend. With a mentor at her side, Sophia met many of Edmonton’s most influential business people, including the mayor, and demonstrated and explained her new product, DecalsBySophia, at a tabletop exhibit.
Following that philosophy, KidBacker interviewed Sophia by phone, and spoke to her father in a separate interview. For the convenience of our readers, though, we have put both Sophia’s and Trevor’s answers together when they answered the same question in the Q&A that follows.
(Note: A core component Sophia’s innovative new product line is the hook-and-loop fastener. Readers are probably most familiar with the trademarked hook-and-look fastener called Velcro.)
KidBacker: Tell me about your business, DecalsBySophia.
Sophia F.: It’s a product that holds phones, is pretty and isn’t prickly [like the “industrial” hook-and-loop fastener her father was using to keep phones in place in his car].
Trevor F.: Previously, Sophia said she would like to do a business with art, so I said, “Find something ugly and try to figure out how to turn it into something pretty.” Not long after that, about two weeks later, she saw me using the [hook-and-loop fastener] to hold onto the phones. So, she goes, “Why do you have that? It’s prickly and ugly.”
I knew that it was possible to get a softer type of hook-and-loop fastener, called micro, that is used in disposable diapers, and I immediately said to myself, “That’s a great idea.” What I said to Sophia was, “There’s nothing stopping us from making this softer, prettier, and more useful.”
It turns out that when you reduce the sizing of the hook-and-loop, you don’t lose a lot of holding strength. You’re only trying to hold something that weighs less than a pound, like a phone or tablet, so I knew it could work.
The product is a set of two identical decals. Each one has a sticky side that adheres to your phone or tablet as well as the surface where you want to keep it. The other side is the hook-and-loop material. The product can be totally customized in terms of size, shape, and colors.
KB: Who do you sell to?
SF: I sell to businesses because I know that they’ll use it, and those people will tell other people. That’s called word of mouth.
TF: We have a challenge on the marketing side because there’s an education component to this product. You could market it as a sticker that has utility or you could market it as a phone mount that is attractive and fun.
We chose to distribute the decals through the promotional product industry because we could take advantage of the existing sales channel. Promotional products go through distributors who can explain or demonstrate her unique product. Also, the price point for Sophia’s product is similar to a printed sticker that has no functionality, so the distributors and the customers find it appealing.
From our standpoint, it’s much more efficient to sell in bulk to distributors rather than one-offs. Our minimum order is 100 units. The reason for targeting companies with logos is because this product has two sides, which is double the real estate for the brand.
KB: How long have you been doing this business?
SF: I’ve been doing it since August (2015).
TF: The business idea was formed in January 2015, when she first came up with the idea. At that time, I established the supply chain so that we could produce the products. Then I let it sit to make sure Sophia had a real interest. In August, she goes, “Dad, why didn’t we start doing [the business]?” I said, “Because you weren’t asking about it.”
So, I reestablished the supply chain, and we went out to do sales in September and October. After approaching eight businesses, she got purchases from five companies. Then we went out to some small distributors in the promotional products industry. They said, “We love this. We have never seen anything like it.” We decided to work with 5 Star Promotions as our distributor.
KB: How many products have you sold?
SF: More than 700 units. We sold them to a Krystals clothing company, Stuart-Olson Construction, a day care center, and RALCOMM (a distributor for TELUS a Canadian mobile product and service provider) because they sell phones.
My industry size is $8 billion, [which is based on] 3% of the smartphone industry and 4% of the promotional product industry.
KB: What do you like about your business?
SF: I love it because it’s art, and I love art, and it’s fun. I don’t want people to have to repair their phones because it costs a lot of money. And I want to create jobs. I like making money also.
KB: Are you saving your money?
SF: Actually, yes, but sometimes I buy stuff at the store, like toys and treats.
KB: Is this the first business you have had, Sophia?
SF: No, I’ve had two other ones. One was a cookie business, and the other one was a coffee business. The reason why I stopped the cookie business is because it tied up my life. It used up my play time because cookie dough mix takes a really long time to make. Then, the coffee was too stinky and I didn’t like it. All I would do was get into my dad’s car or my mom’s car and drive to my dad’s work, go in, take the money, go back to the car, and go home. It was too simple.
TF: About three years ago, when she was four, Sophia approached me and asked me what I do. I said, “I help kids start businesses.” Eventually, she came up with the question, “Why aren’t you helping me start a business?” I said, “You have a point.”
So I brought her to the farmer’s market and said, “Out of everything you see here, what would you like to do?” She said baking, one, because she understands it and, two, because she enjoys helping in the kitchen. We used my office building as the distribution point. When she was selling the cookies, she would drop them off at the people’s offices directly and they would give her the money. So, she experienced the relationships, the affirmation, and the compliments.
Next, I asked her, “When you see someone using a product of yours, what else are they doing?” Naturally, she realized they were drinking coffee. So, she started supplying coffee clubs. I brought her to the grocery store and she bought the coffee, sugar and milk, then I brought her to the office to drop it off. She made about $100 to $150 a week in about four hours of her time, but she didn’t like the smell of coffee, she found it tiring, and she didn’t find it rewarding because she didn’t have the personal contact.
KB: What is your plan to grow the business from here?
TF: We are looking to raise $10,000 or more to improve the packaging and the website. At the end of January, Sophia was invited to the Edmonton Chamber Ball, where she received a Edmonton Chamber of Commerce award of (Canadian) $1,000. She is also preparing for an audition for the Dragons’ Den, a Canadian TV program similar to Shark Tank.
She is getting a lot of advice and support. She has a board of advisors that includes a lawyer, an accountant, a marketing person, a salesperson, an operations manager, a local business owner, and two people who invest in businesses. She has already practiced her investor presentation and gotten feedback from local organizations. The most helpful team has been BusinessLink Alberta, and others that have helped are the Alberta Treasury Board and TEC Edmonton, a joint venture between the City of Edmonton and the University of Alberta that helps community members commercialize their inventions.
Sophia F. At-A-Glance
Location: Edmonton Area, Alberta, Canada
Age: 7 years old
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