8 Business Lessons from a 9-Year-Old Entrepreneur

Based in Michigan, Zollipops has received shelf space and exposure for its “cavity-prevention lollipops” at big name brands such as Whole Foods Markets in California, as well as those of office superstores OfficeMax and Office Depot.

There’s no doubt that “Generation Z,” which comprises today’s preteens and young teenagers, has gotten the entrepreneurial bug. The Wall Street Journal recently mentioned, for example, that more toy companies, including Mattel’s American Girl line, are “rolling out new products designed for young girls that tap into an influential marketing concept: the aspirational allure of an entrepreneur.”

“Be enthusiastic about your product; wow the media; nurture early; write your ideas down; solve a problem or create a need; question the norm; and plan your expansion opportunities.”

Along with her father, Tom Morse, a former consultant to Deloitte for CPG clients, Alina came up with the concept of a lollipop that is based on non-sugar sweeteners and actually cleans kids’ teeth, sort of like toothpaste. They sold $70,000 in Zollipops last year, and that was before the Whole Foods deal.

Here are eight basic but timeless insights on doing business derived from this bright, precocious—and successful—young entrepreneur. There’s also advice for other families who want to launch kids into their own businesses.

1. Be enthusiastic about your product or company. Alina Morse lights up the phone, if that were possible, during an interview, and it’s clear that her winning personality is one of Zollipops’ best assets. She’s even taking time off from school to go to candy-industry and retailing trade shows.

And on an appearance on Good Morning, America with George Stephanopoulos, during the network’s kids’ version of its popular Shark Tank franchise, Alina wowed the TV audience with her pitch for Zollipops. “You’ll enjoy every last lick,” she enthused, “and have a clean mouth and a healthy smile for years to come.”

2. Have a strategy for wowing the media. Especially in this era of viral and digital marketing, it’s crucial for a new company to get a foothold in the news and entertainment media. In addition to her ABC gig, Alina also has been featured in The Detroit News and in Intuit’s branded content on its QuickBooks site. Each media mention, of course, builds on the others.

3. Start the nurture process early. Tom Morse read Rich Dad, Poor Dad to Alina as a “bedtime story” beginning when she was three years old. “We’d talk about the three different ways you can make money,” he said. “So she applies those principles to things in a much purer way than most people do. Having a foundation of looking for entrepreneurial opportunities comes naturally to her.”

4. Write down or verbally record every idea, no matter how small for potential customers, new products, and new businesses. Alina puts all her ideas in a binder.

5. Solve a problem or create a need. As has been too often the case lately, Zollipops filled a marketplace opportunity that had been lost on the big CPG companies and even other startups.

6. Question the norm. Alina’s idea for Zollipops stemmed from their visit to a bank. The teller gave her a typical lollipop, but at the same time told her it wouldn’t be good for her teeth because of the sugar. Then Alina asked her dad, “Why couldn’t we make a sucker that would be good for kids’ teeth?” Zollipops was born.

7. Plan your expansion opportunities. One of Zollipops’ biggest boosts came when Tom and Alina thought about where they run into lollipops besides the grocery store. The answer: in the offices and waiting rooms of thousands of doctors, daycare centers and other small businesses across the country. Then they thought: Where would those people buy lollipops? The answer forged their relationship with OfficeMax and Office Depot.

8. Think globally. This is where it comes in handy to have a business consultant as a father. Tom Morse believes that his daughter’s invention could have global potential. But to do so, he says, Zollipops prices have to come down to mainstream-market levels. So he’s working with the company’s contract manufacturer to scale up production and cut costs.

Hopefully, these suggestions will shift your thoughts away from the day-to-day and remind you to think outside the box. The next new invention could be yours.

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Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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