Earning money as a kid doesn’t always mean running a lemonade stand, selling cookies or working part-time at a fast food restaurant.
Sometimes it means creating your own product, putting your talents to work or even taking over a piece of a family business.
Lily Sandler helped create a nationally successful lip balm company. John Livaditis took over a portion of his family’s Christmas tree business. Tyler Reid fixes computers for some 30 clients in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody. Maxwell Estis has put his musical talents to work.
These four local high school students talked to Reporter Newspapers about how they became entrepreneurs, and what motivates and inspires them. Here are snapshots of their young businesses.
American lip balm
“This is my office; it’s kind of messy right now because we’re making some prototypes,” said the North Springs High School 11th-grader as she walked through BLAMtastic’s offices on Peachtree-Dunwoody Road.
Lily’s business, which she runs along with her mom, Renee, and sister, Melanie, has turned into a multimillion-dollar venture.
It all started when her mother, Renee, read a Wall Street Journal article about a dearth of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, and asked her daughters what they thought about that.
“We were 9 and 10 at the time and we said, ‘Well, that stinks, mom,’” Lily said.
Her mother told her and her younger sister that she didn’t want them to feel limited because of their gender, and that she’d support them if they ever had an idea for a business.
“A couple of weeks later I was looking for my lip balm and I said, ‘Mom, where’s my lip blam?’” Lily said. “She said that would be a great name for a lip balm company.”
Lily said they started cooking lip balm in their kitchen after researching ingredients on the Internet.
“We literally took all our pots and just started making lip balm,” she said.
They started selling their product, which has a base of aloe and beeswax, at school fairs, then “kicked it up a notch” by opening a mall kiosk to test the market, and went to trade shows.
Then, Lily wrote a letter to Walmart.
“They had just done this huge ‘Made in America’ campaign,” Lily said. “So I wrote them a letter and said, ‘Hey, we’re American made.’ They agreed to a meeting with us, and we got our lip balm in their stores.”
Lily said that once Walmart agreed to carry the product, she had about 10 seconds of relief, then started worrying about what to do next.
“Getting it into Walmart was one challenge but then keeping it in Walmart and being able to do enough sales is another thing,” Lily said. “And we’ve been able to keep the sales up.”
Any advice for her peers? “Find something that you’re really passionate about and something that you enjoy,” she said. “Because then it’s not work, it’s just turning your interest into something that’s useful and that can make you a couple of bucks in the meantime.”
Driving for success
John Livaditis said he was excited but a little overwhelmed when his uncle handed over to him the tree removal portion of his family’s business, Big John’s Christmas Trees.
“I never had to make so many phone calls and be so social with people; that kind of threw me off,” John said.
“I’m in charge of everything,” he said. “I do the actual jobs, make the phone calls and emails, the hiring, if I need it. It’s all me. I use my own vehicle.”
He managed to surpass goals he set for himself. That allowed him to buy a new truck. Last year John managed 78 tree removals, a number that grew to 125 this year, and his goal was 100.
John says he likes to be constantly moving and loves driving – both skills that have come in handy with his business. “I drove 1,200 miles in 14 days,” he said. “I want to be moving; I don’t want to be behind a company desk.
He may keep the business once he graduates from North Atlanta High School, but he hasn’t decided, and says that taking over Big John’s one day is a possible goal. First, he’ll go to college and play baseball.
John said he’s learned some business lessons. “You’ve got to be very mature, responsible and patient,” he said. “It helps to have a goal in the back of your mind.”
A knack for fixing computers
Tyler Reid started his own business several years ago at the advice of family members.
“I always had a knack for fixing computers,” said Tyler, a North Springs senior. “All my relatives would come to me with computer problems and I would fix their stuff. They said, ‘You should do something with this. Turn it into something,’” he said.
Tyler is also captain of his school’s football and baseball teams, and says juggling school – he has a 4.0 grade point average – sports and his business can be a challenge.
But as sole proprietor of Tyler’s Computer services, Tyler can set his own schedule. He has about 30 customers in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, and performs services such as repairs, software upgrades and setting up networks. And if he can’t figure out why something isn’t working, “I’ll take it apart and find out,” he said.
Tyler said that time management and responding to clients in a timely fashion are two of the biggest lessons he’s learned.
“I’ve had my share of failures where somebody asked me to help and I didn’t get back to them because I didn’t know when I would be able to, and they later said, ‘You didn’t respond so we went with someone else.’”
Tyler incorporated his company in 2014. “[Incorporating] is really teaching me to run a business,” he said. “I’m having to file income statements and mark down all my expenses. If I buy a cable, I have to write it down. If I get paid, I have to write it down.”
He says he hopes to continue his business when he goes to college, and that he would tell his peers to pursue running a company if they want to.
“Go for it,” Tyler said. “It’s not that difficult, and at this age there may be some risks but not as big as if you’re trying to feed a family. If you fail you’ll be alright, and you’re dipping your toes in the water and getting experience.”
Music for fun and to get paid, too
North Atlanta High senior Maxwell Estis has turned his musical talents into a career. He’s played his cello and keyboards as a member of various bands, and also arranges and composes songs for other groups. Maxwell is a staff musician for Cooper Piano, too.
Maxwell has played for weddings and “lots of Sweet 16 parties,” he said, estimating that he plays a professional gig about once a week.
Currently in the middle of auditioning for various music colleges, Maxwell said he’s been playing music since he was about 6 years old, but it wasn’t until his father showed him “the funner parts of music, like jazz and pop, that I began to understand how music could be fun, and I could have a little more freedom, and get paid to make music.”
Maxwell said playing music professionally is preparing him for a career.
“Seeing it as a career has made me a better person as far as teamwork and problem solving go. Being part of a group, being in a dynamic of a band, has taught me about how important communication is,” he said. “And, it’s helped me hone my craft.”