Interview with Lani Lazzari, 17-year-old CEO of Simple Sugars

Simple Sugars Inc
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Beautifying the masses—it’s a tough job but someone has to do it! And 17-year-old entrepreneur Lani Lazzari is doing it one jar at a time with her all-natural body scrub company, Simple Sugars. This go-getter cosmetics guru started her business at age 11 and has been going strong ever since, selling her products online and at a range of retail stores including Whole Foods and Giant Eagle. Get the scoop on her inspiring story below:

Simple Sugars started organically with you making gifts for your family. What was the turning point for it becoming a business?

Lani: I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I was in elementary school, I actually sold handmade hair scrunchies out of my backpack. When I saw how well-received my gifts were, I realized that I had a great opportunity to turn Simple Sugars into a business. There was a need for all-natural products for sensitive skin and I realized that Simple Sugars had huge potential.

You became an entrepreneur at age 11, which is amazing! Running a business can be such a steep learning curve—how did you manage it at such a young age?

Lani: It was definitely really difficult for me to start a business at such a young age, but starting a business is hard work no matter how old you are. I just refused to see my age as an obstacle. I would never let myself think “I can’t do that because I’m too young.” Despite this, my biggest challenge has always been getting people to take me seriously. Especially when I was younger, people had a really hard time believing that such a young person could have a serious, legitimate business. So, I had to work that much harder to prove to them wrong—to prove that I was a real businesswoman and not just a little girl with a hobby.

Your motto is “If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin.” How did you go about formulating/testing the products and researching the optimal ingredients?

Lani: I spent about 9 months researching before I ever started selling products. It was really interesting to me. I have had sensitive skin and eczema since I was a baby and I can’t use most commercially produced products because of the artificial preservatives, scents, and colorings in them. Your skin is your biggest organ, and everything you put on your skin gets absorbed into your bloodstream – just as if you were eating it. Would you want to eat your lotion? Nope, didn’t think so. My goal was to find the gentlest, all-natural ingredients that also had great benefits for your skin. Every ingredient that goes into a Simple Sugars scrub is technically edible (although we don’t recommend snacking on your scrubs!). I started out by testing the scrubs on myself and my family, then giving them out to some friends and asking for their feedback. Now we have a rigorous testing process and a panel of individuals (most of whom have sensitive skin, eczema, psoriasis, etc) who test and critique every new product before it is introduced.

Your life must have been a major balancing act between school and getting the business of the ground. What was a typical week like in middle school and/or high school?

Lani: Ha! A balancing act is an understatement. In middle school it was manageable, but once I got to high school it became almost impossible to do everything I had to do. I would go to school in the morning, go to crew practice (I was on my school crew team), get home around 7pm and still have to take a shower, eat dinner, do all of my homework (I went to a very challenging small private school so I had easily 5+ hours of homework a night) AND do all of my Simple Sugars stuff. I usually got about 4 hours of sleep a night during the week. When I finished my sophomore year of high school, I realized that I was spending way too much time working in the business (on the day-to-day operations) and not enough time making plans to grow it. So, I did a year of independent study for my junior year and worked full-time on Simple Sugars and did my schoolwork on the side. Then I had to go back full-time for my senior year, which was really tough. I ended up missing 6 weeks for a media tour along with many more days throughout the year that I had to take off for business functions, meetings, etc. But I made it all work in the end. I just had to be really good at prioritizing and spending my time on what was most important.

What are your tips on marketing your product and getting it into stores?

Lani: Never take “no” for an answer. Someone saying no isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning.

What do you think would surprise people about most skincare products on the market? What do you want them to know about all-natural options?

Lani: There are a lot of really serious chemicals in personal care products—chemicals that have been linked to things like breast cancer and hormone disruptions. The alarming thing is how little people know about them. Consumers know that there are negative consequences to smoking and tanning and that they should eat organic food, but most people aren’t aware that the products they use on their skin every single day are also loaded with chemicals. The fact is, if you think about how many times you use lotion or shampoo your hair from the time you’re born until you’re 30—that’s a lot of products and a lot of chemicals.

Where is Simple Scrubs headed? Will it be your main focus now that you’re graduating from high school?

Lani: I am committed to George Washington University in DC, but I am taking a year off before I head to school to focus completely on Simple Sugars. The goal is to grow it over the next year to the point where it is more self-sufficient and I can hire some additional employees to manage Simple Sugars while I am away at school. I’ll still be very involved, but I won’t have to worry about the day to day operations quite so much. And luckily DC is a short drive from Simple Sugars HQ in Pittsburgh!

What’s your top advice for other teen entrepreneurs?

Lani: My top advice to any young people, but especially entrepreneurs, is to do what you’re passionate about. When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to be your own motivator. You don’t have a boss to give you deadlines or someone to tell you what to do when. You have to really love what you do so you can motivate yourself to actually get out there and do it. Don’t start a business because your parents want you to or because someone else tells you it’s a good idea. You have to really want it or you won’t be able to motivate yourself enough to succeed.

Is buying organic or all-natural beauty products important to you? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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