Let’s Get Down to Business with Teen CEOs Sydney and Toni Loew of Poketti Plushies®
Tell us about your business.
Poketti® Plushies with Pocket Powers are stuffed animal pillows with pockets on the back to store your phone, glasses, and other small items you want to keep nearby. Our mission is to inspire kids to pursue their passions using Poketti Pocket Powers, which are positive character traits such as Confidence, Kindness, and Innovation.
How old were you when you started?
I’m Sydney, and I was 13, and my little sister, Toni, was 11 when we launched Poketti LLC in 2013.
Where did your idea come from?
Poketti was inspired by the products I designed in my 7th-grade entrepreneurial class, where we learned how to write a business plan, prototype, and pitch our ideas to real venture capitalists. My target market consisted of girls ages 11-14, so my goal was to create irresistibly cute animal plushies. I didn’t want to sell ordinary stuffed animals, so I added a pocket to make them functional and more compelling. Our plushies sold out at every school sale, so my parents were compelled to say yes when I asked them to help Toni and me to turn Poketti into a real business.
What’s most fun about running a business?
Our favorite part of running Poketti is selling them at direct-sales events. Watching the reactions of little kids who grab our Poketti Plushies off of our display shelves is one of the most rewarding parts of having a business. We’ve had middle schoolers ask us for advice to start their own businesses because they were inspired by Poketti; these moments remind us that we are not only trying to spread Poketti to everyone, but we are also trying to spread the entrepreneurial spirit.
What’s the hardest?
One constant in entrepreneurship is rejection. We’ve had opportunities to pitch Poketti to incredible organizations, including licensing deals with major manufacturers, an hour-long meeting with Walmart’s VP of Toys, and interest from the TV show Shark Tank three years in a row. In the end, each of these experiences ended in a no. Even so, we’ve learned that there is no such thing as failure, because as young entrepreneurs, everything is a learning experience. Through good and bad, we’ve learned that our biggest strength is our optimism.
What are your plans for your business in the future?
As the world moves online, we want to give Poketti a larger presence in the world of social media and gaming. Our plans for the future involve apps, an online virtual world, and a YouTube web series that will guide and motivate aspiring young entrepreneurs. Also, we would love to bring our characters to life with an animated series featuring the Poketti animal characters and their Pocket Powers.
Tell us what a typical day looks like.
On a typical day, Toni and I go to school at Castilleja, an all-girls high school in Palo Alto, California, and our mom prints out shipping labels and looks online for events to sell Poketti. After school, I manage our social media accounts (@poketti). We often pack up a couple boxes of plushies to send to Amazon and drop them off at UPS. Later, we interact with our followers on Instagram and maybe get ready for a giveaway. We head off to ballet class, do our homework, and prepare for a Poketti sale on the weekend.
Do you have a role model or mentor?
In my 7th-grade entrepreneurial class, I wrote a biography on Ty Warner, the creator of Beanie Babies. He is responsible for one of the largest stuffed animal crazes in America, where people traded, bid, and practically fought over his animal characters. I learned from his marketing methods and incorporated them into the foundation of Poketti. Like Ty Warner, Poketti releases animals in small collections, creates fun personalities for each character, and emphasizes their collectability.
What was the biggest mistake you made? What did you learn from it?
Every entrepreneur knows that you shouldn’t buy inventory without prior demand. Knowing this, we launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 to raise $20,000 for our initial order of manufacturing. We attracted the attention of Huffington Post and our local newspapers who featured us during our month-long campaign.
Running our campaign was a stressful, yet exciting experience, but the amount of money we raised didn’t come close to how much we needed to order Poketti overseas. It was a huge investment that we are still trying to make up for today. Perhaps ordering smaller amounts of Poketti more frequently would have been a more effective strategy, but I believe the magnitude of our order is what got us moving fast out of the gate.
What do you do when you’re not conquering the business world?
Toni and I love to draw, and of course, collect stuffed animals for inspiration. We’ve both danced ballet for the past ten years. Toni loves playing piano, and she is currently in an alternative indie pop band. I started an entrepreneurial club at school called the CEO Club, and I am also the cartoonist for the school newspaper. I’m so grateful to have received a Trustee Scholarship from the University of Southern California, where I will major in Art, Technology, and the Business of Innovation at the Iovine and Young Academy.
What habits or skills contribute to your success?
Our positivity, confidence, and hopeful attitude when facing a new idea or obstacle is what keeps us moving forward and dreaming bigger. Also, we are always prepared to pitch Poketti with a bag of brochures, samples, and business cards on hand.
Any advice for other girls starting a business?
We encourage other girls to be the captains of their own ships. We tell them to never be intimidated by a risk, always be prepared, and keep their eyes open to new opportunities. It’s important to celebrate each success, learn from each failure, and always support others along the way.
You can find Toni and me on social media (@poketti) or, to learn more about Poketti or buy one for yourself, please visit www.poketti.com. Also, use the discount code, “PocketPower20,” on our website for 20% off your order!