My name is Maya Penn. I am a 12-year-old entrepreneur, artist, animator, and I’m the CEO of my own successful business called Maya’s Ideas. I started my business in 2008 when I was just 8 years old. I liked to find different fabrics around the house and make combinations and say, “This could easily be a scarf or a hat,” and I had all of these ideas for different items. My mom taught me how to sew, and when I first started, I was making little headbands out of ribbon. I noticed when I wore them, I got a lot of compliments, and people would stop me and say “That’s a really cute headband.” I told them that I made the headbands, and they would ask me, “Do you have any more that I can buy?” So I thought: “I can start my own business.”
I knew two things when I started my business: 1) All of my items had to be eco-friendly, and I had to use materials that didn’t harm the environment; and 2) 10-20 percent of the profits I made would go to local and global charities and environmental organizations. A lot of people ask me, “Why is your business eco-friendly?” My parents taught me at an early age about recycling and environmental awareness. I heard all the time about how the dyes in clothing and the process of even making the items was harmful to the people and the planet. So I started doing my own research, and I found out even after the dye has been completed, there is waste that negatively impacts the environment. I thought, “How can helping the environment tie into my business?” I immediately knew it had to be eco-friendly.
Before I knew it, Maya’s Ideas was featured in blogs and websites, and half of them didn’t know I was a kid. Then, one day, I got contacted by Forbes Magazine, and they wanted to do a story about me. They wanted to know who this kid selling items all over the world was. They were doing an article about grade school entrepreneurs, and they wanted to feature me and my items, all of this while I was about 10 years old. After the article was published, features in Redbook, Huffington Post, FOX 5 News, CBS Better Mornings Atlanta, National Resources Defense Council, Black Enterprise, Ebony and a host of other publications followed. My items are sold all over the world, including in Denmark, Italy, Australia, Canada and more.
I’ve been in business for 4 years. I had to learn a lot about my business, like branding and marketing, social media, learning about my audience and my customers, seeing what items sold the most and what items sold the least, and listening to the feedback of my customers. The benefits of being a young entrepreneur are that you learn and experience things at an early age that will help you in the future, including how manage your money. Young entrepreneurs also have less “creativity inhibitors,” which leaves you open-minded to take more risks that can make your business flourish.
The advice I have for other start-up entrepreneurs is, it’s important to know what your ideas are. Start an idea book, a journal where you can write down all of your ideas for your business. Whether it be a small thought that crosses your mind, or the next big idea, it’s important to have it written down. Even if it doesn’t seem important, it may be very useful in the future. You also have to research what you want to do and what field of business you want to be in. Most importantly, you have to believe in yourself and what you’re doing. When people know that you have a passion, and you truly want to achieve something, you’ll be amazed at how much support you will get. Don’t get discouraged if things are going more slowly than you expected. If things seem to be going wrong, don’t give up too quickly. It’s good for things to go wrong in a business because it’s a learning experience, and it helps you and your business grow.
Many times people ask me what I want to do in 5 years or more. I see myself doing exactly what I’m doing now — being an entrepreneur, philanthropist and animated filmmaker and doing everything I can to help the planet. I may be one person, but the smallest actions can lead to the biggest changes, That’s why everyone should get involved with saving our environment and giving back to our communities through doing what you love.