Mention the words “business opportunity” to some college sophomores, and chances are they’ll frame the phrase in terms of the entry-level job they’ll seek upon graduation. Mention the term to St. Louis University student and North Carolina native Lachlan Johnson, and you’ll hear an entirely different take. Johnson is in the midst of creating not her first, but her second business – at the age of 19. And these aren’t just any businesses. Her first business landed her an appearance on the ABC-TV program Shark Tank. Venture number two connected her with billionaire Warren Buffett.
Now that’s a business major.
Johnson’s first venture was started eight years ago, when she, her older sister and younger brother, created Flipoutz, a combination toy and fashion accessory for kids that is now carried online, and in hundreds of retail stores across the country. The product got a boost in 2011 when the Johnson kids pitched it on Shark Tank. Flipoutz received a commitment of $100,000 from the show, and the Johnson kids formed a relationship with Shark Tank investor Daymond John, helping the bracelets become a bit of a national phenomenon. Flipoutz went from being carried in ten stores, to more than 300 nationwide, including ToysRUs and Hallmark stores.
Johnson sold that business two years ago to Wild Craze Inc., a consumer-products holding company, for an undisclosed sum plus stock in the company.
Now, Lachlan Johnson and her now 15-year-old brother Jake have turned their sights on men’s fashion: Their latest venture is called Beaux Up. Essentially, the company sells self-tie bow tie halves, which are interchanged on a clip. Customers can select any two of a wide assortment of tie “halves”, then connect them on the clip which slips beneath a shirt collar. When tied, the first selected half becomes the bow, and the second half becomes the center knot and back bow. Customers can combine two different colors or patterns for a unique, more edgy look, or simply wear two of the same half to appear more traditional.
Brother Jake came up with the idea, says Lachlan Johnson. “He and his friends are really into wearing bow ties. Bow ties are coming back in a really big way. But nobody wants to look like a grandpa when they’re wearing one. We needed to find hip, edgy bowties for young men to wear. My little brother is kind of known as ‘the bow tie guy’, but he could never find a bow tie on the market that really expressed how he was feeling or how he wanted to come across. So we created Beaux Up, which is a completely customizable bow tie option.”
The Beaux Up design is eye catching, in more ways than one. The concept caught the attention of Warren Buffett after Jake Johnson entered Buffett’s “Grow Your Own Business Challenge” competition last year. The Beaux Up team won one of two $5,000 grand prizes, for creativity, entrepreneurship and inventiveness.
Johnson says while Flipoutz moved along a fast track to success, Beaux Up will proceed at a slower, more methodical pace. Johnson’s parents invested a large sum in Flipoutz, but she says “Jake and I are trying to fund Beaux Up completely by ourselves, so we want to take it one step at a time and move forward as we’re able to afford it. So while the product is available online at BeauxUp.com right now, we’re going to fix the website up a little bit, make it easier to understand and then we’ll do our mass media push.”
That means no appearance on Shark Tank, as least not for now, says Johnson. “We looked at going on the show last season but we didn’t have any sales. Once we have a little bit more to show to the sharks, we’d like to appear again. We’ll keep working on it in hopes we’ll have some really nice numbers when we go back on. We want to be as prepared as possible so they won’t try to destroy us.”
Until then, Johnson expects her summer to be consumed with business development issues, patent applications, marketing ideas and the courting of investors – all of the necessary requirements for growing a business. Of course, that’s right after she completes a necessary task for most college sophomores: her final exams begin May 6.