Madison Robinson has enjoyed more success as a teenage entrepreneur than many ever will in a lifetime. As Yahoo! pointed out in a recent feature on the 15-year-old phenom, one of the only things that she hasn’t experienced yet in her short career is rejection. Maybe that’s a clever play on words — after all, we’re sure there are some stores she’s approached yet to make a buying decision — but what’s for certain is this: the girl’s a human dynamo.
To date, she’s sold more than 60,000 pair of her Fish Flops for Kids shoe brand. She’s also maneuvered her product in to Nordstrom’s and received a request from Macy’s to design a similarly themed product line for women. Last but not least, according to her father and fellow business partner, Madison has made enough in profits to effectively pay for her college, and she isn’t even a junior in high school.
How did she do it?
As is often the case with successful entrepreneurs, the answers will seem like a whole lot of work. This is where we separate the entrepreneurs from the wantrepreneurs.
One: She Built A Product That She Enjoyed.
As a young girl, Madison focused on a product that she understood. One that she could devote her passion to without getting wrapped up in the fine print. Her Fish Flops for Kids are colorfully, creatively designed flip flops that any little girl would love to wear. Madison knew they were cool because she knew her target audience. After all, they weren’t much younger than she was! Madison showed passion and creativity and tapped in to her experience, all for the joy of creating a product that she had no idea would succeed. This brings up:
Two: She Sacrificed Her Time.
While many 14- and 15-year-old kids are human slugs who can’t stay awake through an hour of class, let alone design a pitch-perfect product, Madison worked with her dad, a former banker-turned-T-shirt designer, to develop a product and figure out how to market that product so that it would have a chance at making money. She forsook what came natural for her age group and instead pursued an improbable dream that took a lot of time and attention with no guarantee of success.
Three: She Took A Shot.
While many wantrepreneurs won’t approach a retail store like Nordstrom because they figure they don’t know anyone so there can’t be any possible way they’ll be accepted, Madison wrote a letter to the buyers and got a yes. “I didn’t think I would get in, but I did,” she told Fox Houston. There’s a lesson in that. Instead of trying to overthink things until you’ve thought your way out of taking a shot, do what Madison did and just write the letter already!
Four: She Tweeted.
Social media has bridged the gaps between the little guy (or in this case, girl) and the big companies. Today, you can take hundreds of mini-shots in a single day, and if just one of them pays off, it can mean big moves for your business. Madison dug her heels in to social media. Using a single platform of choice — Twitter — she was able to convince the daughter of Entertainment Tonight host Nancy O’Dell to wear her shoes. She was also able to win the attention of Yahoo! for a national feature piece that would become the service’s most popular article of the year. That’s a lot of press for a couple of free 140-character messages. Point: Get on social media, especially Twitter.
Five: She Walked The Walk.
The Madison of today isn’t the same person she was when she first designed her original pair of flip flops. Today, instead of being an inexperienced girl unsure of where to begin, she’s a bright young businesswoman capable of a number of high-end business functions like what it takes to make a quality product and not just one that looks the part.
“When I go shoe shopping now, I look carefully at the quality of the materials,” she said, adding that her Fish Flops “are sturdy and made without punch-out holes in the soles so the straps don’t pop out the way they do in generic flip-flops.”
She’s also had to learn how to explain her product at industry expos and in formal presentations to experienced buyers, honing her public speaking skills along the way. to stone-faced department store buyers, she says, “makes it easier to get up in class and talk.”
Six: She Gave Something Back.
Charity really is good for business, though that isn’t the reason Madison first offered free Fish Flops and volunteer work for a charity that supports the children of fallen military heroes. (That led to a major order from the Army’s Post Exchange stores.)
It also wasn’t the reason she got celebrities to sign and donate 300 pairs of Fish Flops to Texas Children’s Hospital patients at the 2011 Teen Choice Awards.
No, like the product itself, her charitable efforts started because she was being true to herself. From there, she’s reaped some pretty worthwhile benefits.
If you had to distill Madison’s success into a final concoction, it would consist of passion for product (or service); the willingness to sacrifice her free time for the betterment of the business; eagerness to take shots, even half-court shots that have little chance of going in; social media savviness; an ability to learn the details of her industry; and a belief that giving something back to society is important, regardless of whether it comes back to you. How many of these qualities have you shown in your business?