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Rachel Zietz was only 13 when she founded her company, Gladiator Lacrosse, and started making lacrosse practice equipment. Now 14, Rachel is a freshman in high school who runs on successful company on the side. She talked to Like A Boss Girls about how it all got started, what she’s learned along the way, and how she balances it all.
How did Gladiator Lacrosse get started?
I’m a lacrosse player myself. I play on my school team as well as two travel teams, and I’d constantly practice with my competitor’s products. They were poor quality and would rust and tear, and I’d have to buy new gear almost every year. That’s not practical for me, because it’s expensive. I thought, there’s got to be a better way. In my family, we always say “When there’s a problem, there’s an opportunity.” For this, my opportunity was, “why don’t I create one myself?”
So I entered the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, and we were taught how to make a business plan. At the end of the program, we pitched investors for funding. The investors took no equity in our company—it was essentially a grant. I used that money, and along with a little loan from my parents, as able to purchase my first container of goals and rebounders.
How did you find manufacturers?
Luckily for me, my father knew someone in China that found a manufacturer. But if father hadn’t, I would’ve found it myself. I could’ve talked to any of my mentors. We had lots of mentors come to speak to us, so I had a lot of connections.
It took long Skype calls, and I’d have to call late at night, because the factory is in China. We do a lot of email back and forth, a lot of sending sample products. I wanted products that had a thicker steel content and thicker netting on our goals, so they last longer and are more durable, because that was the issue I was trying to solve. After lots of back and forth with the factory, we finally came up with the designs, tested it out and decided on the one we want to sell.
Between school and lacrosse, how do you find time for running a company?
I’ve definitely gotten better time management skills. I go to school and then I go to lacrosse practice, and after lacrosse, I’ll do some homework and I’ll spend an hour to two hours working on the business. That’s on a weekday. On the weekends, I’ll work for the business all day. It’s a lot of answering customer issues, taking calls, checking on quantities, making sure everything runs smoothly, and sending out packages. Sometimes I get up and I don’t even brush my teeth or brush my hair—I just get up, turn on my laptop, and start working—and then I’ll actually go eat breakfast.
What are the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced along the way?
Finding balance between my work world and my lacrosse world. I’ve definitely overcome that. Also, when I first started, I didn’t anticipate the high demand for my product, so when it started selling, we sold out. To get the new container of goals and rebounders was going to take months, so I learned to order container after container in order to make sure that I never run out again. I recently had another issue like that, so we had to raise the price, but we kept selling. Now I’m definitely aware of how soon I have to order these containers.
What has your favorite moment been, since you’ve been running your own company? Are there any memories that stand out in your mind?
When I told my team about the business, they were all so happy and proud of me. They were like, “Oh my god, she’s fourteen—she’s doing this? That’s crazy!” And I went to a tournament in Maryland one time. I was getting ready to start the game, and I was talking to this other girl on the opposing team. I was telling her about my business, and she was like, “No way! I have one of those.” I thought that was so cool.
What’s next for you? Where do you see Gladiator Lacrosse in five years?
I definitely want to increase our product line. I’m looking into lacrosse sticks, goggles, protection equipment, compression socks, lacrosse balls, and targets to complement the nets.
What advice would you give other teenagers who want to start their own company?
If it’s something you’re passionate about, like my passion for lacrosse has overcome my life—but if you’re not sure whether to start a business around it or not… just go with it. I saw a problem about something that I loved, and I just ran with it. Just run with it! Anyone who has doubts about whether they can start a business, YOU CAN.