Alex Hart-Upendo, Founder & CEO of Build-A-Bow

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Full transcript from video/podcast below:

Derek:                  Alex, thank you for joining us today. Really appreciate you making the time. To get things started, tell us a little bit more about your business at Build a Bow.

Alex:                      Well, my name is Alex, as you said, and I am the owner and the founder of Build a Bow. Build a Bow is a custom hair bow, bow tie, and pet bow retailer startup in its second year of business. It specialized in the most creative and artistic bows for any occasion. I started my company after I tested as gifted, which meant I had a higher IQ range than other children in my age group. I was bullied because of it. I called names like nerd and dork, so I decided to take the negative term nerd and turn it into something positive and fashionable: bow ties.

Derek:                  That's really cool. That's really cool. That was about two years ago when all of this came together?

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  That's when you started?

Alex:                      And I also have a community workshop programs, also.

Derek:                  That's right, I've seen you do that.

Alex:                      It's where I teach people free of charge how to design bows. When they don't want their designs I send them off to different awareness groups.

Derek:                  So, why bow ties instead of regular neck ties or socks or whatever else? Why did you pick bow ties?

Alex:                      Because I was actually wearing bow ties since I was five years old. My mom actually taught me how to make them.

Derek:                  Oh, that's very cool.

Alex:                      It made me feel good.

Derek:                  Very cool. Okay. You're 11 years old, right?

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  As a child entrepreneur, I'm guessing that presented some challenges, as well as some opportunities for you. How has your journey been thus far as a child entrepreneur?

Alex:                      My journey has been absolutely crazy. Like the Raging Bull at Six Flags. There has been their ups and downs, but my company's growing at a fast pace.

Derek:                  Sure.

Alex:                      So, I've actually been considered for Forbes' 30 Under 30 list for 2019.

Derek:                  Wow.

Alex:                      I've been featured in New York Fashion Week, I've made national headlines, I made partnership deals with celebrities, and I've sold bow ties all over the world. So my journey has been a blessing, to say the least.

Derek:                  That's fantastic. Wow. Is there anything specifically that you've learned during that journey of the last ... I mean, it's been two years since you officially started it.

Alex:                      Yes.

Derek:                  Were you doing it unofficially before then, or has it been two years and that was it. You just woke up one day and said, "I'm going to do this."

Alex:                      Well, it actually sparked when the bullying happened, as I said.

Derek:                  Yeah.

Alex:                      Bow ties make me feel good, and bow ties will not only bring me joy, it's bringing joy to other people. So, in the beginning, to be honest, I truthfully began this journey for me. Nobody else but me. I really wanted to solve my own problems with me dealing with suicidal thoughts, depression, and me having low self esteem. Bow ties are my only outlet, and it was a way of expression.

Derek:                  Wow.

Alex:                      So, when I wasn't wearing a bow tie nobody noticed me, but when I was it made me feel different. So, bow ties were like my superpower to conversation, and once I built myself up, I realized that it was not only bringing me joy, but it was bringing joy to other people, and I realized it was way bigger than me, so I decided to use my platform to bring awareness to bullying.

Derek:                  Wow, that's brilliant. So the business was really kind of a brainchild out of wanting to improve peoples lives.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  Right?

Alex:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Derek:                  You got joy out of it, you saw you were giving other people joy in their life, you were bringing a smile to their face.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  So why not make a business out of it, right?

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  Wow, that's really cool.

Alex:                      Because it's way bigger than me to bring joy to other people.

Derek:                  Sure. It's really interesting as an 11 year old that you can conceptualize that and actually run with that. I think that's pretty cool. And you've probably got some great support from your family, as well.

Alex:                      Yeah. I really do.

Derek:                  Shout-out to your mom and everybody else, right?

Alex:                      My grandma, dad.

Derek:                  Grandma, dad, yeah. That's really cool. Okay. So, as a child entrepreneur now for the last couple years, you're still a student, right?

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  So how has running a business, starting, starting to scale this business and all these other things you talk about, you know, celebrities you're working with and these different, you know, Forbes Magazine, how is that impacting your school life, your school responsibilities, and your family life?

Alex:                      Well, before Build a Bow I had no friends, I didn't have any invites to go anywhere. Well, now I barely have time to think. I have friends all over the world, and I'm always busy, which, this is a secret, it's kind of new to me. So, for example, one second I'd be doing my math homework in the back of the car while I'm going to a keynote speaking engagement. But I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Derek:                  Wow. So, even though you're busier than you've ever imagined, you're still making school a priority?

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  You want to go through and finish school?

Alex:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Derek:                  Yeah, so every minute of every day is probably pretty well occupied at this point.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  Are you still making time just to have fun with, you know, whether it's your friends in the neighborhood or hanging out with the family, going to the beach? Do you still make time for that?

Alex:                      Yeah. Since we live right by the beach and it's really hot and I don't have any orders, you know, get some time.

Derek:                  You'll make some time, right?

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  Because you got to be a kid, too, right?

Alex:                      It's only a block away.

Derek:                  Yeah, that works. That helps. Okay, very cool. What unique challenges have you faced as a child entrepreneur? And can you share with the viewers, with us, some of the dark days, or one of the hard things that you had to go through over the last couple years that people may not know about?

Alex:                      Well, I remember competing in three business competitions all in one week, and I actually lost all three of them.

Derek:                  Wow.

Alex:                      And I remember sitting in my room feeling bad for myself. But then the hero, the knight in shining armor, my mom, she walked in the room and she told me to get up. She told me something that has always stuck with me. She said I did something that a lot of people did, and that was I tried, therefore I had already won before I even started. She said there's no such thing as losing, but a lesson for me to learn from.

Derek:                  Wow, that's huge. Thanks to your mom, right?

Alex:                      Yeah, the knight in shining armor.

Derek:                  Yeah. She kind of set you straight.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  I think that's part of the journey, though, being an entrepreneur. We hear this all the time. There are ups and downs. You referenced the roller coaster earlier, and that was one of those down times, right?

Alex:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Derek:                  But you probably learned something from each of those business contests-

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  ... That you were in.

Alex:                      Because there's no such thing as losing, it's only opportunity to learn from.

Derek:                  Yeah, that's a really good frame of mind to have to be able to think about it that way and just build upon that, right?

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  Yeah, that's cool. Yeah, I remember seeing you at one of those business competitions. My son was also there. It was really, really cool. And have to say, you probably, out of everyone there, had your act together the most. You really did.

Alex:                      Thank you.

Derek:                  You really did. It was pretty cool. Starting, building a business, scaling a business, I think we can all agree there's a lot of resources out there, whether it's online or mentors or programs at different schools, to help you get that going.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  What I noticed is that there seems to be a lack of information or resources for the personal journey that entrepreneurs go through, whether it's from a financial standpoint or just an emotional standpoint.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  Have you had any financial challenges thus far? And on the personal side, have you thought about your own personal financial situation now and into the future, especially if your business kind of does the old hockey stick, as we know about?

Alex:                      Well, to be honest, I actually considered it at the very beginning.

Derek:                  Wow.

Alex:                      I actually took some classes, adult classes, actually, at my local college. I took a few accelerated programs.

Derek:                  Okay.

Alex:                      I guess I was worried about my capital, but I have to rely on my parents because I'm underage.

Derek:                  Sure.

Alex:                      So, yeah. So I took those classes, and I raised money in unconventional ways. I hustled.

Derek:                  No, I love it.

Alex:                      I'm just going to set it straight. Hustle.

Derek:                  I don't know if that's an unconventional way for an entrepreneur, though.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  Hustling is just part of the game, almost. But you were out there hustling it right away.

Alex:                      Yeah. For example, like last week, I actually did a [Keybalone 00:07:46] Campaign, and I raised 10K in less than 33 days, which completely blew me away.

Derek:                  Yeah, that's really quick.

Alex:                      To be honest.

Derek:                  Yeah, that's awesome. Have you started to think at all, you know, as a minor, as a child still you're relying on your parents a lot for support. Have you thought about what would happen if this business takes off from a financial standpoint? What that means to you for the future?

Alex:                      I haven't really thought about it. Some people actually tried that, though. Because when I was being bullied in school nobody wanted to hang out with me, but now since I have friends and actually having a business and stuff people say, "Hey, Alex, let me be your friend. Let me be your friend. Hey, Alex."

Derek:                  Oh, wow.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  So maybe they've got this ulterior motive, like, "Hey, I can get on Alex's bandwagon here." Whether it's financially or whatever, they can try to ride that coattail a little bit.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  I'm sure your parents and your grandmother have been really good filters to help make sure you're not getting in touch with the wrong people, maybe?

Alex:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative). That are actually using me.

Derek:                  Yeah, it's too bad that that happens, but it's good that you've got a good-

Alex:                      Yeah, really sucks.

Derek:                  ... Support network to help you stay away from that.

Alex:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Derek:                  Okay. To other child entrepreneurs watching this, maybe they've started or maybe they just have an idea, they're maybe inspired watching you, what advice od you have for them about the people they associate with, and what to do with capital that they have, and with capital they're trying to raise?

Alex:                      Well, my advice to them is you should definitely take some business classes. I mean, if you can.

Derek:                  Yeah.

Alex:                      Do some programs, especially in business classes, get a SCORE mentor, definitely get in contact with their local Chamber of Commerce. [Wibick 00:09:28] has helped me as much as my SCORE, so definitely get a mentor from SCORE. It's free.

Derek:                  Oh, that's cool. Okay.

Alex:                      Yeah. It's completely free. Shout-out to mine, Ryan [Kauf 00:09:39]. You're amazing.

Derek:                  I love it. That's great. If I'm hearing you correctly, you're basically saying use the resources around you.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  And there's a ton of resources there. Get people on your team early so they can help you build the right way.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  Right? Yeah. It's work, though, right? It's a lot of time.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  You've probably spent a lot of time taking these courses.

Alex:                      You would not know. Weeks.

Derek:                  But it's worth it.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  It's been all worth it, right? You're glad you did it?

Alex:                      I took a class that actually lasted about six months, maybe a year, so ...

Derek:                  Wow. Well, and did you search this stuff out, these courses, yourself? Or did your parents say, "Hey, you should know more about this," or was it kind of a combination?

Alex:                      Well, me and my mom. My mom actually finds some stuff, I find some stuff, so, you know, works out in the end.

Derek:                  Right on. Okay, cool. Very good. Okay.

Alex:                      Some of them I'm not eligible for because I'm underage, but I just go seek out more.

Derek:                  Yeah, I'm sure there's enough out there.

Alex:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Derek:                  You mention having a mentor. Do you have someone locally that you just go to for advice and to throw ideas at and whatnot?

Alex:                      I actually do.

Derek:                  Okay.

Alex:                      My mom could be one of my mentors, too. She helps me a lot. Ryan Kauf is my SCORE mentor.

Derek:                  Sure.

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  Very good. Okay. Very good. As you're learning, your business is definitely part of who you are, who Alex is, right?

Alex:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Derek:                  So, that presents a lot of different opportunities as you grow as a person, as a business. Would you say that your identity has been changed or challenged at all because of the business? Like, are you one and the business, or are you trying to keep things separate still?

Alex:                      Well, let me explain it to you. People reach out to me a lot, and it's not because I'm young or anything, it's because of my story and my passion behind my company. It's something that people can connect with. My passion has connected me with lots of people. But one of the challenges, I have to remember, is that because I'm a brand anything I do or anything I say is now connected to my company.

Derek:                  Yes.

Alex:                      So I constantly sometimes feel like I'm under a microscope, and I have to be constantly mindful of the things I do and the things I say.

Derek:                  Do you ever find yourself wishing you had a couple minutes where you didn't have to worry about what the world was thinking or going to think about what you were doing?

Alex:                      Yes.

Derek:                  Yeah. Still, as a kid, you want to be able to just have fun and-

Alex:                      Enjoy myself.

Derek:                  Enjoy yourself, right, and get out. Do you make time for that still?

Alex:                      Yeah, I do.

Derek:                  You do.

Alex:                      I still do.

Derek:                  That's very important, because, yeah.

Alex:                      Birthdays is one of my off days.

Derek:                  Oh, right on. So you take birthdays off, right?

Alex:                      Yup. Birthdays-

Derek:                  Just your birthday, or any birthday in your family and friends?

Alex:                      Mostly my birthday, but it depends what we're doing.

Derek:                  So you take one day off a year?

Alex:                      Hard decision.

Derek:                  Working as a founder means taking loads of risk, right?

Alex:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Derek:                  You're working a lot of hours, you're not only raising capital, probably going into some debt to make sure the business can do what it needs to do. What advice do you have for other founders, as they're starting to scale their business, on managing this risk, as far as building a business with the rest of their life?

Alex:                      Be mindful of things that you say and do.

Derek:                  Yeah.

Alex:                      Because one bad day could cost you business that you worked years for. So be mindful of the things that you say and do.

Derek:                  Okay. Along that line, then, would you say that you might do things a little bit more slowly just to make sure you're doing them correctly?

Alex:                      Yeah.

Derek:                  You think about things before doing them a bit more?

Alex:                      Yeah. I kind of, like, "Maybe I should not do this. But maybe I should because of the publicity I get."

Derek:                  Sure.

Alex:                      So I'm like ... Kind of like those moments where I think about it.

Derek:                  So instead of just reacting to something, you're actually thinking about it, making sure it makes sense.

Alex:                      Yeah. Make sure I'm not getting cheated.

Derek:                  Yeah. Right. That's important. Alex, your business over the last two years has had some pretty good growth.

Alex:                      Definitely.

Derek:                  You've got some good publicity. Where do you see yourself the next three to five years? What do you see happening with the business?

Alex:                      Well, I plan on turning my company into a franchise and seeing my product in stores worldwide. I'm actually currently in the process of opening a brick and mortar in downtown Racine.

Derek:                  Oh, wow. That's awesome. So you see exponential growth.

Alex:                      Yes.

Derek:                  I think you're online already, correct?

Alex:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Derek:                  Yup. Do you see that growing, as well?

Alex:                      Definitely. I'm right now currently filling all my Amazon fulfillment.

Derek:                  Excellent. Excellent. Alex, thanks again for joining us for another edition of Intrepid Insights. It's been really fun having you on.

Alex:                      Well, thank you for having me.

Derek:                  I appreciate it. It's been a pleasure. To all of our viewers, please make sure to follow us on social so you don't miss our next episode. Thanks again for watching.

Alex:                      Peace and love.

To all our viewers, than you very much for watching this edition of Intrepid Insights. Please follow us on social, so you don't miss our next episode. Thank you very much.

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