When I was 16 years old, I was serving popcorn at the local movie theater and mowing the lawn for $7 per week. Lani Lazzari is experiencing teenage years of a different kind. Since age 11, she’s been president and CEO of Simple Sugars, an all-natural body scrub company in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
CEO at 11 years old?! Upon hearing this, I immediately thought yeah right... until I spoke with her. Turns out, Lazzari was born with incredibly sensitive skin and cosmetics of all kinds caused severe irritation. In late 2005, her mother asked her to make Christmas gifts for family and friends. Lazzari took this as an opportunity.
“I decided to make my own products,” she says. “My dermatologist told me that the preservatives in cosmetics were hurting my skin, so I started doing research on the Internet on oils that are good for your skin.”
She drove (well, her mom drove) down to a food co-op nearby and picked up sugar, olive oil, vitamin E, vanilla essential oil and almond essential oil. From there, she formulated her first body scrub and distributed it over the holidays.
“Everyone loved it,” she says.
By Valentine’s Day 2006, friends were asking for more.
“This is when I realized that I could make this into something real,” she says. “I applied for a tax identification number, under my mom’s name of course, and officially established the business.”
A few months later, Lazzari’s mother told a friend about the scrub. The friend wanted to try it, ended up loving it and wanted to buy en masse for her company, thus becoming Lazzari’s first corporate client.
Not long after, the press got wind of Simple Sugars and came calling. “I was featured in some newspapers and on a local television station; it was really cool,” she says.
Since then, Lazzarri has traveled on two media tours and is getting ready for her third. While 80 percent of her sales come from her website, she also signed a big client recently.
“Last summer, my product starting appearing in my local Whole Foods store,” she says. “I had to go through a very long process for them to accept the product and ended up making a vegan line of body scrubs.”
How she does it
How does an 11-year-old maintain a normal life while running a company?
“It was really hard for me in middle school,” Lazzarri admits. “The business was growing pretty slowly back then, but it was still a little crazy. I wasn’t in many sports so I would just come home from school, work on my homework and then work on my business. I still got to see my friends a lot; I don’t feel like I really missed out.”
Things became more difficult when she entered high school. She is a member of her school’s crew team and for the first two years (she’s currently a junior), she would go to school and practice—not getting home until 7:30 p.m. “I would get my homework done and then work on my business,” she says. “I soon realized that I was working in my business and not spending as much time working on it. I needed to focus on growing it.”
This year, Lazzari is participating in an independent study from home. She goes into school a few times per week to take tests, Skypes with teachers during classes, and manages to finish it all. She also recently moved into her first office space -- a nearby warehouse.
“Next year, I will go back into school full-time,” she says. “I still plan to graduate on time.”
How does she deal with money at such a young age?
“I’ve always been taught to be responsible with spending,” Lazzari says. “I am too young to legally own a company, so the money is technically handled by my mom. I get paid a salary.”
Lazzari hopes to hire a part-time employee to “help put scrub in the jars,” she says, adding that she is also setting her sights on national distribution of her products very soon.
Advice for business owners
She might be young, but Lazzari has a few solid pieces of advice for business professionals:
“First, set high goals for yourself; don’t limit yourself,” she recommends.
“Second, don’t be afraid to ask for help. And third, be careful about not taking on too much overhead in the beginning.
“I worked out of my house, in my tiny room, for the first 4.5 years of my business because it was free. That has allowed me to be successful.”