Sarah: When did you start thinking about starting your own business and becoming an entrepreneur and why did you want to start?
Zoë: I started my first business when I was 7 or 8. I used to make greeting cards and sell them to people in my neighborhood. Then I started a few other business until I was 14 when I started Zoe Damacela Apparel! So I guess starting businesses always came very natural for me. I always loved being an entrepreneur because of the financial independence that accompanies it. Growing up in a low income community, I was always attracted to ways that I could improve my life.
Sarah: 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?
Zoë: I always had arts & crafts based businesses. So I had a lot of experience in making products to sell. But I did need to learn how to sew clothing and write a business plan, so I took classes to learn how to do both of those things. I knew it would be a great business because I saw a gap in the marketplace for youthful custom made formalwear. But it was a lot of trial and error until my plans were finalized.
Sarah: What do you think are the most important skills you have that help you in business and that other kids starting a business would need?
Zoë: I think working hard is the most important thing in starting a new business. Entrepreneurs need a lot of stamina to work very long hours and constantly improve and refine your business plan. There is a lot to learn and a lot to do, so be ready to be running on steam most of the time!
Sarah: What were the biggest obstacles, problems you had in getting started as a kid in business?
Zoë: I think the biggest obstacle was not being taken seriously as a fashion designer and CEO. Most people thought my idea was cute rather than a serious venture! It took a lot if work and a lot of time to prove myself in the fashion industry and the business community.
Sarah: How old were you when you started and how old are you now? How does age age affect kids starting a business or how does your age affect your business success?
Zoë: I started my first business at age 7 or 8, but I started the business I run now at 14. I’m 19 now. I think it’s a huge advantage to start young. It’s easier to make mistakes and recover from them when your business is still small and in it’s beginning stages. A young entrepreneur also has the advantage of having more time to learn and more experience earlier in life. However, it can be hard to be taken seriously as a young designer. It can also be confusing when dealing with legal issues and opening bank accounts and things like that before turning 18.
Sarah: What about college? Are you planning on going? Do you think that college is necessary for kids in business?
Zoë: I am currently attending Northwestern University. I think that college is extremely important, especially for kids in business. Besides the fact that you will learn so much about business, writing, math, and other things that can really help you run your business, college is a fantastic networking opportunity! You can meet so many people willing to help you and give you advice and guidance and even seed capital at and through your school. It also tends to give potential investors more confidence in your idea if you can back it up with your education.
Sarah: 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? Have you found that there are places to help kids starting a business to find funding?
Zoë: There was a lot of expenses involved. I had to buy sewing machines, dress forms, irons, fabric, notions, business cards, website hosting fees, and about a million other things I had to pay for. I made the money myself. I started small and budgeted my profits to be able to invest in everything I needed and still put some savings into my business account.
Sarah: What have been the best surprises that you found in starting a business?
Zoë: I think the best surprises have been the positive responses I’ve received. There are thousands of people who have sent me emails and letters and I’m so glad that I can use what I’ve learned to help the next generation of kids involved in business! People of all ages have been so supportive and enthusiastic! I’m so grateful for my incredible fans!
Sarah: 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?
Zoë: I have a team and a couple of interns that help with various tasks. They’re incredible! I used to do everything myself, but as my business expanded I found that I needed to delegate tasks to other people. Luckily for me, there were a lot of people who volunteered to help when they heard about my idea!
Sarah: 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?
Zoë: I find that in my case, word of mouth was the most effective marketing. People trust their friends’ advice, and so that is extremely important. But besides that, doing a lot of appearances and media has really helped get my name out very quickly.
Sarah: How do you balance it all? Do you find that you still have time to be a kid or is it all about business?
Zoë: I think in high school I was so focused on my business that I did forget to just be a kid and have fun. So now that I’m in college, I try to set aside some time everyday to just hang out and watch tv or hang out with friends or just relax! If you forget to have fun, you will get burned out really quickly!
Sarah: What is the best business advice or tips you would like to share with kids who want to be CEO kids?
Zoë: Choose something you’re passionate about. If you’re excited and enthusiastic about your idea, people tend to get excited too! But more importantly, you’ll have fun along the way! Don’t forget to enjoy being a kid