[quote style=”boxed”]I try not to think of things that don’t go our way as “failures” because we’re just getting started and everything has been a learning experience.[/quote]
Sydney Loew is the 14-year old “Cuteness Control Officer” of Poketti LLC. After being inspired by her 7th grade entrepreneurial class, she convinced her parents to turn her idea into a real company. Poketti Plushies with a Pocket are adorable plush animal pillows with a useful back pocket to hold a phone, notebook, glasses, or anything you might look for in the morning.
Between school, ballet and running her business, Sydney exemplifies the endless possibilities of being an enthusiastic young entrepreneur in today’s marketplace. Her designs are simple, iconic and irresistible, and she has big plans for them: more plush characters, stationery, notebooks, figurines, trading cards, online games, and more. With youth on her side, and creativity in spades, she’s definitely an entrepreneur to watch.
Where did the idea for Poketti Plushies with a Pocket come from?
In 7th grade, I had an entrepreneurial class where we worked in teams to create a company, write a business plan, design and manufacture a product, and sell it to our community. At the end of the class, we pitched our companies to real venture capitalists. My team all loved animals and it seemed that a simple animal pillow would be fairly easy to sew. I built a prototype and added a pocket on the back to hold a phone, glasses, or a notebook, noting that if our stuffed toy had a function, it would be more compelling to buy. We sold out at every show, and made more money than any other entrepreneurial team in the school’s history! I was so inspired by the entire process, and over the summer, my family and I decided to turn my idea into a real company. We used Kickstarter to launch Poketti Plushies with a Pocket and raised $20,000 for professional manufacturing. We are now selling Series1: Sydney the Penguin, Toni the Bunny, Baxter the Puppy and Roxi the Kitty.
What does your typical day look like?
I’m in 8th grade so on the weekdays, I start with school. My mom emails me questions or things she needs my input on during the day. When I get home, I do my homework, attend ballet classes — and then get caught up on anything my mom did while I was away. Usually this means editing anything she has written, posting to our social media sites, or talking about upcoming events or shows. On the weekend, we go on photo shoots or sales calls, or do any necessary errands. Office Max is my favorite store! During summer and breaks, we do bigger projects. On my winter break, we attended the San Francisco International Gift Show, and this summer, we are producing our first TV commercial!
How do you bring ideas to life?
I sketch a lot. I draw on just about anything – napkins, placemats, envelopes, notepads, windows, erase boards, chalk boards, sketchbooks, bags, and of course, paper, which we have all over our house. The first sketches of our Poketti characters are on a napkin, and we decided on the four characters in Series1 by vote on our chalkboard wall in our TV room.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I love small things, and there’s a trend now to release miniature versions of a toy. I would love to make baby Poketti Plushies that fit inside the back pocket or to hang from my backpack. And I’d love to explore making Poketti figures with 3D printing, too. It’s such great technology to experiment with, to see if an idea works on a smaller scale.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Since I have to balance school with my business, I definitely make sure I am efficient with my time. I do my homework right when I get home from school so I can concentrate on Poketti in the evenings and weekends. If I have a lot of assignments, I make a schedule to be sure I keep up with everything with minimal stress.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I haven’t had a real job yet, but I have had to work in collaborative groups at school. I like to generate ideas and get things done, and I’ve had a bit of a tough time working with people who are less motivated and focused than I am. Although it is sometimes challenging, I have learned when working in teams that it’s okay to take breaks and have fun. The work eventually gets done and it’s pretty satisfying to see what a group of people can come up with together.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
When we started Poketti, I had a ton of designs. We narrowed our choice of characters down to four to keep our costs down, but we also needed to keep the manufacturing quantity high enough to keep our cost-of-goods low. I wish we had explored the cost of making a fewer number of more styles, such as 2500 of eight styles, rather than 5000 of four styles. The production quantity would have been the same, but we would have a larger product line to sell. I really hope to have the chance to make a pony, panda and hedgehog!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I think creatively about how we represent our products online. So, I post on Instagram and Twitter “over and over” in different ways so Poketti remains fresh and gives our customers new ways to think about our products.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Crowdfunding on Kickstarter was a great way to launch our business, and the work we did there continues to impact our company. It gave us a clear foundation of our characters and established our brand early on. We had pre-orders and interest before we even received our product. And many of those early “backers” have come back and ordered more.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I try not to think of things that don’t go our way as “failures” because we’re just getting started and everything has been a learning experience.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
When I was in fifth grade, I had to come up with an idea for a writing assignment. We had just gone to a dance performance. My sister and I were sitting in the theater seats, and, of course, a big, tall man sat in front of us. I wished I had a booster seat so I could see over his head. A booster seat would be a little hard to carry around, and you never know when you might need it, so I thought an inflatable “booster” seat would be a very useful idea, and easy to transport — when you need a “boost” or a cushion.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I’m pretty easy going and don’t really like conflict. But, in fact, I am very competitive and I don’t like to lose!
What software and web services do you use?
I love Adobe products: Illustrator for drawing, and Photoshop for photo-editing. I am learning Flash and html. We use Shopify as our ecommerce platform. I also love making Keynote presentations, iMovie videos, and stop-motion animation.
What do you love about them?
Illustrator gives me quite a bit of control when drawing, especially when using a Wacom tablet, and, of course, Photoshop is amazing. I love editing photos, removing imperfections, and having fun with photos. The iMovie trailer app is really fun. My sister and I make movie trailers all the time, especially Horror ones!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Well, I am only fourteen, so my reading list may be limited. I did recently read I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai. It taught me about courage and endurance, standing up for your values, and speaking out for what is right, even if it puts you in danger. These seem to be good lessons for business, as well as life.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I did a biography on Ty Warner as a part of my 7th grade entrepreneurial project. I read about how he started Ty Beanie Babies, and how he managed to keep control over his products and his brand by selling to smaller stores rather than big box stores. The “limited edition” approach made his products instantly collectible, and while I was just a baby, I have heard “Beanie Babies” created a buying frenzy! We refer to our first round of Poketti Plushies with a Pocket “Series1” because we plan to release only a limited number of each series, just like Ty, Inc. I hope people collect them! www.ty.com.
I have also watched episodes of “How I Made My Millions” for Ugly Dolls and Pillow Pets to learn how they got started, and how they each grew their companies into household names. I was surprised to learn they started out just as small as Poketti, and their stories gave me some really good ideas!