By: Heather Holst-Knudsen, CEO & Founder, KidBacker
I had the chance to speak with Zandra Cunningham, a 15-year-old entrepreneur and CEO from Buffalo, NY, a few months ago and was immediately impressed by her professionalism and maturity.
Zandra comes from a family of business and athletic professionals who focus on excelling in whatever they do. I am not quite sure the word “fail” enters this family’s vocabulary with the one exception: fail fast and learn from it. This has clearly rubbed off on Zandra who, at the age of 9, became fascinated with the art of entrepreneurship and at the age of 10, started her own natural cosmetics line, Zandra Beauty. She founded her business when her father told he would not fund her passion for lipgloss any longer. Using a small loan of $500, Zandra turned her hobby into a commercially viable enterprise and now manufactures artisan soap, body scrubs, hair and body souffle, body wash and hand and body lotion. She is passionate about both entrepreneurship and helping girls attain the education they deserve around the world.
Her website talks about her new line in the following manner:
Fun, Fresh Natural Bath + Body for the Educated + Empowered Girl on the Move!
Z A N D R A is about confidence and beauty; I believe that young ladies should be confident in their own skin and learn what beauty is from the inside out. My hope is to inspire youth to take action and make things happen for themselves and their communities. I aspire to create natural products (all of my products are paraben and sulfate free) that promote relaxation and luminous skin. I use only the finest ingredients (natural butters and premium oils) so that your natural beauty can shine through.
When she is not manufacturing her wonderful, natural, and in many cases vegan products that make you feel like a million dollars, she is busy with her studies at Nardin Academy, an all-girls private school. Zandra is a TEDX Speaker and an avid golfer on top of it, too!
Zandra has been one of TEDxYouth Buffalo’s youngest speakers. Zandra speaks about The Business of Being a Girl.
KidBacker: What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
Zandra Azariah Cunningham: Entrepreneurship means freedom. I am free to create the life I want for myself, while I help others. I am a leader and a change agent. That’s so cool!
KB: Are your parents entrepreneurs?
ZAC: Yes, My mom is a practice management consultant and my dad works in finance and business development. They both have had long careers but also step out to start their own businesses.
KB: What initiated the idea to start your business? What pain point do you solve?
ZAC: It’s actually a funny story. When I was little, I was obsessed with lip balm, and I would always ask my dad to buy it for me. One day when I asked him to bring it home, he told me no. He told me that I should make my own. So I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to do just that. My business has grown a ton from that point on. I expanded into soap making, making body butters and other products that customers would ask for. Soon, I figured I would make all the products that I would normally buy at the mall, many of which would break out my skin and make me itch. I wanted to solve this problem and create products without all the yucky chemicals that were added as fillers. I used only good quality natural ingredients.
KB: How did you fund your business?
ZAC: I took a loan from the bank of my mom and dad. Once I had all my recipes and ideas written down, my dad helped me purchase the first ingredients to make the lip balms. I sold those at the farmer’s market and my granddad’s church.
KB: Are you a single founder or do you have (a) founding partner/s? How did you meet?
ZAC: No, It’s just me. My parents are really involved, however. My mom helps me manage and balance speaking engagements, interviews and school, while my dad handles the financial part.
KB: What were the biggest challenges you faced when launching your business? How did you overcome them?
ZAC: In the beginning, it was tough trying to get people to take me seriously. I learned early on that my age was a real impediment because people simply could not believe I could own and run a business. I was able to overcome this by staying focused on my plan. Eventually, those who had originally doubted me realized that I am very serious about building my empire.
KB: What tools do you wish were available to you when you launched your business but weren’t?
ZAC: I really wish there were more business classes or networking opportunities for young people. I often felt alone and really wished I could connect with other kids like me. Today, I am addressing this gap by creating networking programs that I wish I had then. I know they are necessary.
KB: How did you secure your first customers?
ZAC: That’s a funny story. My first customer was a nice lady I met at the farmer’s market. She had spent all her cash on other items and offered me a basket of strawberries for one of my products. I agreed, and she is still a customer almost 6 years later.
KB: Do you have any mentors? If so, who? How do they help you? On what frequency?
ZAC: Yes, My first real mentors have been my parents. They have worked really hard to support my dreams at all costs. After my parents, I have a business mentor, Ms. Michelle Barron. She is the founder of a women’s business network called Women in the Spotlight Goinglobal. I love Ms. Michelle because she always keeps it real and tells me the truth. I have been the junior ambassador of that group for over a year now, with her support.
KB: If you had three tips to give other young people who want to start their own business, what would they be?
ZAC: Oh wow… I would say the most important thing is to connect with like-minded people. There is nothing worse than trying to work hard for your dream and not have friends that support or understand you. Secondly, you must have a plan, write it out and stay focused on it. Lastly, is to do a ton of research. Don’t just take no for an answer. Take the time required to search for what you need to build your dream. There are a ton of resources out there waiting for you to discover them.
KB: Why should young people consider becoming entrepreneurs?
ZAC: Because it’s a way to live the life you want and be free. Besides, we all have so much to give to the world why should our age keep us from that?
KB: Do you have anything you would like to add in closing?
ZAC: I want to thank you for this opportunity. I am working hard to build a brand that stands for something. Zandra stands for girl power and education. It stands for inspiration and empowerment. I want young people to know that regardless of your circumstances you can fight for whatever you want in life. We all have a purpose and duty to help and give back to those that need it. 10% of all Zandra net profits go back to support education for girls. Girls education is a passion of mine, and I am hoping to be able to travel all over the world and inspire people.
Zandra Beauty At-A-Glance
Location: Buffalo, NY
Business: Beauty Products
Mission: Empowering girls through natural beauty, education and self-confidence
Interested in purchasing Zandra’s vegan body wash, all natural lip balm, or hand and body souffle? Visit her website and take a tour.
Are you a young entrepreneur? Do you have a great story to share? We want to hear from you! Sign up below.