Hard Work Pays: Teen Turns $350 into $250m Company!

All Isabella “Bella” Weems really wanted was a used car. That desire set in motion a chain of events that led to the Arizona teenager spearheading what is now a multi-million dollar enterprise that she may someday control. When she finishes school, that is.

Weems, now 17, is founder of Origami Owl, a custom jewelry company whose direct sales business model turns would-be entrepreneurs into salespeople and evangelists. The company, which she founded in 2010 at age 14, generated $24 million in revenue in 2012 and this year expects to reach $250 million, according to the company.

Origami Owl takes on independent associates – known as “designers” – who buy products at a discount and then peddle them to others for a marked up price. One of the favorite points of sale are “jewelry bars,” or private parties at someone’s home or another venue operated by a “hostess” (the hostesses get discounts and some free products too). The company has about 50,887 designers.

In a sense, what Origami Owl is offering is a canned small business that could appeal to would-be entrepreneurs interested in making a few extra dollars. That motivation is really what got Weems herself started in the first place.

At 14 Weems announced that she felt a car would be an appropriate gift for her 16th birthday, but was told by her parents, Chrissy and Warren, that she should earn her own wheels instead of relying on their funding. They suggested she start a business.

“I started researching and looking for ideas,” she said. “The locket’s been around for a long time and I thought, ‘well, what if you could make a locket with charms?’” Weems asked her parents to match the $350 she’d earned for babysitting, which she then spent on wholesale components to make her lockets. She quickly leveraged her network of friends to find buyers. “We started selling our product at house parties and boutiques and selling at any jewelry show we could. The product started selling itself.” In 2010 Weems opened a kiosk at the Chandler, Arizona mall in time for Black Friday shoppers.

The company adopted the direct sales platform in 2011 and generated about $280,000. The following year revenue took off like a rocket, multiplying 86 times.

Weems is taking a practical, measured approach to assuming control of her business. So important is it that she learns about her company from the ground up that she’s taken on the role of intern at her own enterprise. After school she visits the company HQ and helps out and, in the summer, spends time in each department. “She’s definitely hands-on but we want her to have as normal a life as she can and to have the opportunity of college,” Crossman explained.

How did Weems’ dream of getting a car work out? The founder that started it all is the proud owner of a white Jeep which she acquired in 2012 and named Alice.


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