How I Started My Company At Age 17
One of the questions we get asked often is how did Sticker Guru begin and how did Lisa start her company at age 17. In episode 11 of the Big Plans Podcast we decided to do something fun and have Lucy interview Lisa to share her origin story of Sticker Guru.
Where did your business idea come from and how did Sticker Guru get started?
Lisa: It all started when I watched a YouTube video from Elle Fowler of her planning using stickers in an Erin Condren planner and was interested in planning, but I didn’t have any money to buy an Erin Condren planner or stickers. I saw how expensive stickers were on Etsy, like a single sheet was $3-4+. So I wanted to DIY my own stickers. It wasn’t until I was researching materials that I needed to make my own stickers that I realized that it was pretty cheap to make stickers, so if I could make them and sell them for $3-4 a sheet that seemed really profitable. Side note: growing up I always found side hustles to make some money. I was not allowed to get a job because my parents wanted me to focus on academics, my parents did not give me an allowance, and I never asked them for money, the only time they would give me money would be for school related items, or if it was during Chinese New Year. When I was 13 I had a Tumblr website that had Google Adsense ads, and I made ~$350 from it. So I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset.
What kind of market research did you do? How did you figure out who your customer was and what they wanted to buy from you?
Lisa: I didn’t really look at the market to be honest. I didn’t know that was a thing back then, I was only 17 so I had no clue about market research. But I made stickers that I personally wanted to use and hoped that people would want to buy them. I decided to make stickers specific to the Erin Condren sized planners. What I did spend a long time researching was what materials I needed to start a sticker shop.
Where did you obtain your initial financing to get started?
Lisa: I saved up some Amazon gift cards from one of my random side hustles. I didn’t even have a debit card, but I had PayPal linked to my checking account that I used for purchases.
Since I spent a long time researching materials I needed to start a sticker shop, I tried looking for the cheapest materials, the cheapest place to get cello bags, envelopes, etc. I think the total cost I spent to start was under $200. I made a list of all the basic items I needed to get started and wrote down the cost of each item to come up with a total budget. I bought the silhouette portrait during Black Friday so it was $99 instead of $150 back in 2015. I used the laser printer we already had at home because it could print color.
What were the biggest obstacles you faced in the first year?
Lisa: In the beginning the biggest hurdle for me was a lack of experience and cutting machines not working or printers not printing correctly. This just takes time to learn and gain experience, and I think it is an unavoidable part of the learning process. Another big obstacle was not having enough equipment (i.e. printers, cutting machines). My biggest bottleneck was the amount of time I spent cutting stickers because I only had 2-3 machines. I actually hired my best friend over the summer, this was about 6 months into starting my business, to help me cut stickers. I think the minimum wage in 2016 in San Diego was $9/hr, so I paid her $10/hour to help me cut stickers to free up my time to work on other aspects of the business.
QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE:
Did you take any business courses on how to start a business like this?
Lisa: I didn’t take any courses and just got started on Etsy and it was easy to list products. But I did spend a long time doing my own research and watching YouTube videos.
When did you know you needed to: use quickbooks to monitor money, create spreadsheets to monitor sales, start sending newsletters, marketing, etc?
Lisa: I knew I needed to use QuickBooks right away because I needed a way to organize things and monitor expenses for taxes. As soon as you start running sales you should start using analytics and spreadsheets to view how sales are doing. When I first started out I did not use newsletters or marketing because I didn’t know that was a thing, but I wish I had and I definitely recommend that you should use it right away when you start a business.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Lisa: Do your own research. Everything can be found on the internet. I figured out solutions to my problems just by using Google. The other advice I would give is to hire help. Maybe not right away, but as soon as things start picking up with your business and you find yourself not having enough time to do all the things, you need to hire someone.
We hope you enjoyed this interview with Lisa as we learned more about how she started her business at a young age and what she learned along the way.
Be sure to check out the episode for the full interview!
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Thank you SO much for being here. See you in the next episode!
xo, Lisa & Lucy