My Story About Becoming Financially Independent as a Gen Z
Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I spent most of my childhood at my mom’s office, enamored with the comings and goings of running a business. I thought it was so cool that my mom was the BOSS — she did not have to take orders from anybody.
As one of six kids, we were taught to be very independent because — let’s face it — there is no time for six kids. I was always thinking of that next great product that I could make with becoming an entrepreneur in mind. I was fourteen at the time, so my ideas usually involved fixing problems that affected me.
At fourteen, I was playing on a club volleyball team that had tournament after tournament. Every weekend it seemed like we were waking up at 5 a.m. to drive 2+ hours to a big convention center to play another 8+ hours of volleyball then. I think you can imagine the amount of body odor and sweat that ensued.
I was sick of sitting in my sweat for the break times between games and then the long car ride home. To make matters worse, I usually carpooled with other guys—so double, triple, or even sometimes quadruple the stench. Yes, it smelled bad in the car!
The Ah-Ha Moment
Well, one ride home, I finally came up with the idea for a wipe to “shower” me before sitting back in the car. So, I immediately started looking online for people who were already making wipes, and I tested them all out. But none of them worked as I wanted them to. Some were too dry, others too sticky, and many were just not big enough. Being the little inventor I was, I decided to take it upon myself to perfect the “sweat wipe.”
Luckily, I had the best mentor in my mom, Jennifer Adams. My mom is a maverick in manufacturing as her prior business helped companies manufacture goods in the U.S. and other countries. She was an invaluable resource to help me find the right factories and chemists to create the perfect wipe. I could not have done this without her.
I got to work right away, researching the best natural ingredients that were also effective in moisturizing skin while getting rid of sweat and grime. I wanted to make my business as eco-friendly as possible, so all-natural ingredients were the way to go. My mom helped me find factories from all corners of the world to check out. I will admit that this process took forever!
We received probably 100 samples from various producers—with even more possible combinations of substrates (the wipe material), sizes, formulas, and packaging options. Then came the tedious part, trying out all of the samples. I can’t even imagine the stuff I was rubbing on my body. At least it was all-natural—haha! I tried out so many samples. I think I cleaned my skin to the bone. Finally, we had a product that I felt was undeniable in terms of efficacy, utility, and marketability, and we knew no one else had it. Our wipe is even biodegradable. Insert “Aaaaahh” sound. We were almost ready.
Picking a Name
Next came the most challenging part of the product development cycle: the name. My vision for the company was an active, fitness-oriented lifestyle, and the name had to represent that. I learned how to brainstorm names from my mom. “There is always a process to things,” she would say, like baking a cake. I wrote down different adjectives that I felt resembled an active lifestyle (go, hyper, fast, etc.) and tried to combine them until I found a name I liked.
This part took forever.
It took countless yellow note pads and brainstorming sessions until I found HyperGo. Of course, someone else had found it, too, so we had to buy the domain.
Packaging and Design
After we had the formula and were able to finalize the name with trademark protection, we were finally able to move on to the branding and packaging design. Otherwise, we could have wasted time and money on a brand that we couldn’t legally use. I did not have the budget to hire an expensive, full-suite design agency, so I used Upwork (a freelancer website) to find an experienced and talented designer for a price I could afford.
It’s not as simple as it sounds. When you create an account on Upwork (or Fiverr, or any of the other sites), and put out a listing, dozens of people will respond even for small jobs that don’t pay a whole lot. I think our initial budget for logo and package design was around $1,000.
The Screening Process
I just looked at each applicant’s portfolio and zeroed in on one person’s work that I liked. Then I worked virtually with him for a couple of weeks, going back and forth to refine designs—he would send what he thought we were looking for, and then we would send feedback and request changes. He would send a couple of designs to choose from on some sub-projects, and then we would pick what we liked, with additional comments, etc.
He was probably not aware that I was fourteen and juggling math homework, feeding and cleaning up after animals, and volleyball practice while managing this design process. In this case, the designer looked like a professional adult from his profile, but I guess he could just as quickly have been another fourteen-year-old or someone of any age working his or her side hustle.
I love the gig economy and the fact that I can quickly get help on just about any project, and it’s completely scalable—I only use contractors as long as the project demands. What I hear from contractors is that they love working to make extra money on the side if they have a regular job or work from anywhere on their terms.
For design work, in particular, I like having a unique perspective and sensibility for each brand, so I don’t necessarily go back to the people I’ve used in the past—I usually start a brand new project listing. I don’t think anyone I’ve used in the past has even applied to other projects—the online project-based universe is just enormous.
Mom knows best
My mom also made me talk to some of her design friends to get feedback on the name and vision. It is hard as a fourteen-year-old to listen to adults give advice. I remember going through the process of asking for advice, but to be honest, I can’t think of anything I changed as a result of it. I feel like it was an excellent backstop to make sure I wasn’t off the rails, and I know my mom appreciated both my listening and others’ feedback.
We were going for a super sporty look for the original packaging, and everyone told us, “Hey, that’s a really sporty look,” so I felt like we got confirmation of our vision. Finally, we were ready to get this wipe produced at a big enough scale to test its viability in the market.
Financial Independence is the Goal
My main focus in building HyperGo, besides innovating a product to fix my “sweat” problem, was financial independence. While I have achieved that, running the business is still a lot of work. I am always checking to make sure my cash flow is positive because you need to make money to stay in business.
Also, I check on cash, QuickBooks, and Amazon Seller Central all the time—those are the first windows into the business that I check like the weather many times daily. I downloaded these apps on my phone, and to be honest, I check them way too often. Not much can change minute by minute, yet I am there looking.
I’m a business major in college, so I just finished my first year of official accounting. Still, honestly, it hasn’t changed my relationship with QuickBooks—if anything, it’s giving me a vocabulary to communicate better with my team about things I’ve been working out in my head for years.
I’m pretty autocratic in my business. I don’t have to report results to a board or a bank, so I have a vision for what I want to achieve for the next 6-12 months. I have some big “North Star” goals, but I don’t spend time writing a bunch of PowerPoint decks at the beginning of the year or each quarter.
Good habits mean good business
I tend to focus on a monthly rhythm, comparing my prior 30 days’ sales to the current month/week, knowing. I know the anatomy of this business inside out, probably so well that I don’t know exactly how I know what I know, but I know it.
I’ve kept my business very simple and stable. Thankfully, I’m not at the whim of commodity price fluctuations, and I turn inventory quickly, so I don’t worry about aging, spoilage, expiration, etc. I am aware of how lucky I am to have created a business and product that resonates with so many people worldwide.
How I manage my personal finances
On the personal side, I am just as crazy as an overbearing mother when it comes to money. I use an app called Personal Capital to track all of my spending, income, investments, and any other fluctuation with my money. It is incredibly convenient to see all of my bank accounts and other financial statements in one place. I don’t know what I’d do without Personal Capital. I have different accounts for different aspects of life, so it would be impossible to track everything without an app like this.
Keep in mind, I’m 19, so my finances are relatively simple and straightforward. I’m technically a GenZ, and I feel like there’s a lot we do different from older folks—starting with our mindset. I think we are more go-with-the-flow—possibly lazier. And, we aren’t willing to do certain things, not willing to sacrifice our time or relationships unless it pays well, or is for a cause we are passionate about.
We Gen Z’s are different
Of course, we are also more tech-savvy. Our entire mindset ok assumes ubiquitous information and convenience, so there are whole categories of buildings we just don’t go into—like banks. Why would you go into a bank, for example? The only time I go into a bank is to get foreign currency, and I’m too cheap to pay the ForEx kiosk guy at the airport. My bank even has Vietnamese Dog on hand, standard.
Post Offices are another category—how many GenZers do you see at the post office? Probably none, because you’re not there, either!
And government buildings—if they privatized the DMV, I wouldn’t object.
Anything that can be delivered should be delivered
We do a lot of Amazon Fresh, especially in Seattle, since I’m at the University of Washington. Anything that can be delivered should be delivered—they’re already on the road!
I’ve had a uniformly bad experience with food delivery, though, except standard old-school pizza. Something ALWAYS gets messed up. And besides, who wants a French fry that wasn’t in hot oil mere seconds ago?
How I Invest
So when it comes to investing in stocks, I have a very modest portfolio that I bought with my first HyperGo money back when I was 15 or 16, and I don’t manage or touch it. Once my first payroll check came in, I immediately opened a Charles Schwab account and researched the best stocks to buy. A rookie mistake, I know, but somehow, they have been good investments. And I can see it from Personal Capital.
Since being environmentally friendly is HyperGo’s top mission, my investment strategy is the same: I like to invest in green energy and other eco-friendly stocks to benefit the world we live in.
At 19 years old, my expenses are relatively low compared to most adults. However, college tuition eats a big chunk of my income. To maximize my money, all of my income is deposited into my Marcus by Goldman Sachs account, so while it’s sitting there, I am earning high-interest rates. From there, my money gets spread between paying off my monthly credit card bills, paying tuition, and keeping cash on hand in my savings.
If I buy real estate and other things, I will have to start monitoring those tax implications. And I do hope to start investing in real estate soon. However, I do live in the Bay Area, where real estate prices are sky-high, so I am looking for other areas to start investing in potentially.
My biggest investments at 19
My biggest investment is HyperGo and expanding into new brands with their own products, personalities, and people who will buy them. This is a pretty risky strategy since I’m not taking money off the table right now by bringing on cash investors, so I’m essentially trying to reinvest retained earnings.
During the summer quarantine of COVID-19, my mom and I co-founded a new wellness startup that aims to create innovative products at a low cost to allow everyone to live a wellness-filled lifestyle. The Wellery’s mission is approachable wellness. It means we are breaking through the wellness sector’s classism to allow everyone the chance to use high-quality products.
For too long, the wellness industry was only enjoyed by the upper echelon. We want everyone to have the opportunity to build a wellness routine filled with quality products at a fraction of the cost. The Wellery is launching at the beginning of 2021.
I love connecting to readers and fans of HyperGo, so please feel free to reach out at info www.hypergo.com, or tag me on social media @hypergowipes. Thanks for reading, and #findyouradventure!
So for those of you who made it to the end of this article—congratulations! You have more patience and determination reading about my path to financial independence, and you’re probably not a Gen-Z’er.