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Small Business School: An Interview With A 12yr Old Entrepreneur

Alyssa Nguyen

Small Business School: An Interview With A 12yr Old Entrepreneur

Earlier in the year (in January), I received an email that caught my attention. As you can imagine, my inbox is rather full and I would normally have assumed this particular email was spam. But boy am I glad I clicked on it!

The email was from a 6th grader who had written an incredibly concise email about how she was interested in doing her apprenticeship (a requirement for her school for credit) at The Paper + Craft Pantry. The email was extremely well worded and she even ended the email asking if we could schedule a phone call to discuss further. My first instinct was to say no, because honestly,taking on an intern, especially a 12 year old one sounded like a ton of work.

But I agreed to a phone call with her because I was interested to learn more about if it would be a right fit for both of us. The day before our scheduled call, I received an email from Kate (the 6th grader in the email) to confirm our call the next day. I mean, what kind of 12 year old does this?

Our phone call went wonderful and I asked Kate to put together an email as well as send me a reference before I would decide if the next step would be an in person meeting.

Fast forward to our in-person interview, Kate walked in and shook my hand with the confidence that I wish most adults (even myself) would have. I was immediately blown away by how well she carried herself and how professional she was. Kate proceeded to inform me during our conversation that she had first dabbled in small business ownership in the fourth grade at her school’s children’s fair.

Needless to say, I decided that taking Kate on would be a great decision for both myself and The Paper + Craft Pantry! Kate spent over a month with us assisting with workshops, helping with marketing efforts, and really anything else we needed support on. And before it was time for her to graduate 6th grade, I sat down with Kate to ask her some questions about her experience working at The Paper + Craft Pantry.

Who are you AND what do you do? My name is Kate Metteauer, and I am a 6th grader at Acton Academy West.

Tell me about your school! My school is centered around the Hero’s Journey and learning at your own pace. I know it sounds crazy, it’s the most amazing school ever. We learn about entrepreneurship and learn the basics of running a business. I don’t have any homework, but what I don’t finish at school I do at home. Everything is done on the computer and we are on a year round schedule.  It’s small, only around 45 total students, in the ENTIRE school, and only 12 in Middle School. There are a lot of Acton Academies, in the U.S, but also in the world.

Tell me a bit about how you started your business! When I was nine (which really wasn’t that long ago), I was surprised to get a sewing machine for my birthday. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I now appreciate it  and have realized it was the best gift I have ever gotten. Soon after I learned to sew, I started my first business. I sold mostly bags and scarves that I had sewn. I had very little inventory, and a booth at The Acton Children’s Business Fair, but I loved it. After about two years of sewing, I realized that my products weren’t selling because I was trying to sell $40 bags to seven year olds and my materials were too expensive to sell things for any less. If I wanted to sell bags and scarves it would need to be for a different audience, so I completely switched gears and started making soap.

How has it evolved? I've gained a lot of knowledge about talking to customers, how to lay out my products at fairs, and how to better make products. I even started funding it myself, instead of asking for money from other people (aka my parents).

What has been your biggest lesson in running a business? I have learned that it’s okay to try something different while also becoming better at managing my time so that I can make more inventory to sell more at each fair. I like trying new things and want to experiment more with different soap recipes, packaging, and so much more! 

While apprenticing at The Paper + Craft Pantry, what was your biggest learning or takeaway?      I have learned so much while apprenticing at The Paper + Craft Pantry, but my biggest takeaway has been that it takes time to start a business, and you have to be very flexible with everything going on around you, and you have to take it slow in the beginning to build up from there.

What were your tasks and responsibilities while apprenticing? Did you get to lead any projects?  I got to restock the cards in the shop, help prep for activities, and clean up after workshops. Although my favorite thing I got to do was probably help people paint pots and make bath salts at some of the events. I loved talking to everyone and guiding them through the process of making something.

What has been something you learned that you really enjoyed? I really enjoyed just being in the studio and seeing what people will create during the classes and at events.

What was something you learned that you didn’t expect? I didn’t expect anything honestly, and with that there were so many amazing surprises around every corner. The biggest was how many classes Pei organizes and hosts every week, and the amount of people that come to those events. Everything has been a learning experience for me, which has been amazing.

What is one thing you’ve learned at the Paper + Craft Pantry that you think has made the biggest impact on your journey as a small business owner? At my school we believe that every student is on their own Hero’s Journey. A Hero’s Journey is the basis for almost every book and movie. Everyone is on there own one and will have many of them throughout their lifetime. This apprenticeship has taught me SO many things, starting from restocking shelves to collaborating with other business owners! Through the lessons that I have learned and the welcoming nature of the Paper + Craft Pantry, this experience has greatly impacted me on MY OWN Hero’s Journey providing me with lessons I will use and cherish throughout my life.

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs - Ones who are afraid to get started. What about ones who can’t decide what to do? Take the time to figure out what really makes you happy, and go for it. It’s okay to start small and work your way up from there. Anyone can start a business, you just have to believe in yourself, your work, and your ideas. At my second business fair a tried to sell way way too many things at one time and it ended badly. Instead of giving up I tried something different and used the lessons I learned to make it better than it was before. Don’t be afraid to at least try, even if you fail you can always try again, and this time with more knowledge and experience to do better.



About the co-author:

Kate is currently a 6th grader at the Acton Academy in Austin. Kate completed a 2 month apprenticeship as a part of her school credit where she learned the ins and outs of small business ownership with The Paper + Craft Pantry. She also is the co-author and editor of this blog post. Kate is a fellow small business owner who owns a soap company called Ridiculously Clean