Hannah Altman: The 9-Year-Old CEO

hannah-altman-interviewSchool's almost out for many children. For some enterprising kids, lemonade stands will start popping up around the country . But some children take a more serious approach when it comes to business. At their early ages, it's hard to predict whether they're going to give Warren Buffett a run for his money -- but their entrepreneurial spirit is to be admired.

Hannah Altman, of West Bloomfield, Mich., is 9 years old. But in just a year's time, she's built a mini toy empire that started with pencil toppers.

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"A year ago I went out dinner one night and I saw cool pencil toppers in the vending machine," she says. "I had never seen them before. They were really new."

That ability to spot trends before they hit mainstream has led to the success of Hannah's Cool World, a website that sells toys. And pencil toppers are hardly small potatoes; the website has sold more than 250,000 of them in just over a year. The company has 8500 registered customers in the US, Canada, and the UK. You won't find much of her merchandise in Toys R Us though; products are sourced based on what's hot in Europe.

Entrepreneurship had been stewing in Hannah's family; her parents started a home-based zipper-pull company called CoolZips.com. Hannah actually named their company and watched them build it from hand-making the zipper pulls at home to finding a Hong Kong factory to filling orders that grew from 20 to 200 per day. Now with the growth of both companies, Hannah's dad, Rick Altman, quit his day job to focus on the Web stores. 2010 gross sales are projected to reach $500,000--enough to support the whole family. Sales in 2010 have already doubled 2009 sales.

"There's a lot less stress," Rick notes, "now that I quit my other job, where I was putting in 50 hours (per week) there and then 50 hours here. To us, this is fun. We have told Hannah that if you find something fun, and you work hard, you'll be successful. It's fun; we're playing with toys."


CEO, age 9

Hannah isn't just the name behind the brand. She wrote the website, fills orders, and leads customer service. She also drives the buying decisions even if she can't personally attend toy industry trade shows -- children are not allowed. Her parents head up finance and quality control as managing partners.

"We make sure every item that we sell is in compliance," says Lauren Altman, Hannah's mom. "We hire a lead testing company to make sure toys are safe. We also look at latex and phthalates. If we wouldn't want Hannah playing with it, we won't want it in other houses."


Being a kid

Hannah still finds time to be a kid, which is important.

"I have school, I play basketball and soccer, and play hockey and baseball at home," she says. "I always just find time. I just do homework right when I get home."

She says she's not stressed.

Dan Kindlon, who teaches child psychology at the Harvard School of Public Health and has written four books on child development and mental health, says kids with entrepreneurial spirit is a good thing.

"I think in this culture we tend to downplay kids' abilities," he says. "Kids used to be economic assets for the family. We keep children as children in this culture far longer than most other cultures. Kids are usually capable of more than we give them credit for."

He says it's parents' responsibility to make sure the child is enjoying the business and set ground rules from the beginning, including making sure children get enough sleep.

"The National Sleep Foundation recommends kids get 9.25 hours of sleep," he says. "If they can't fit it all in, then something should go."

In the 1980s sitcom 'Family Ties,' Alex P. Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox, lived and breathed capitalism. Hannah, on the other hand, plays down her business side when she's at school -- which Kindlon says, is normal.

"It's like child actors going back to school -- they just want to be normal kids," Kindlon says. "They don't want to talk about being in movies with Johnny Depp."

The benefits to children being involved in business are many. Hannah has become better at math, and few 9-year-olds comprehend economics as she does. Her parents say she understands the value of money and pricing for goods and the importance of good customer service. She also knows the importance of charity, donating a percentage of sales each month to the National Wildlife Federation.


Budding Buffetts

Some children start retail businesses online such as Pencil Bugs, a 5-year-old business. Owner Jason O'Neill, 14, has a book coming out this summer about his experiences. Others head for brick-and-mortar opportunities like Umar Brimah, 14, did when he opened a Japanese anime store in Cape Girardeau, Mo. (with some help from mom).

Still other kids get the benefit of school support. The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship works with schools to establish formal business development programs for kids in middle and high school. The program has reached 280,000 students in 21 states and 12 countries.

Back to Warren Buffett. When he was only 6, he bought six-packs of Coca-Cola from his grandfather's grocery and then resold the bottles. Six-packs cost 25 cents. His bottles, at a nickel each, turned a five-cent profit. Not a bad start for the world's third-wealthiest individual.

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Carol Berman

Carol Berman

Editor

Carol Berman, an award-winning journalist, writes the blog, The Scribble Lounge, a unique take on current events and pop culture. She's New York bred and now lives outside Philadelphia.

Over more than 15 years, she spent many years in broadcast journalism as a producer, followed by a short award-winning stint in public relations and now makes a happy return to journalism.  An avid news junkie, Carol is also a runner, a recovering triathlete, and dog lover. She loves to bake for friends and family and volunteer with different non-profits.

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davidl023

I shop online at CuteCraze for all the cool stuff for my kids

October 11 2011 at 11:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
CAE5877

I wish children would focus more on achieving STEM instead of being entrepreneurs.. There are plenty of adults that are unemployed (14 million) who need to be entrepreneurs because they can't find jobs for various reasons. We need children to excel in courses like math, science, technology and engineering to make more green energy so we don't have to depend on foreign oil. Leave the entrepreneurial jobs for adults, children should focus on their education.

July 17 2011 at 6:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
AlanF

It's great to hear about kids with an entrepreneurial spirit, especially ones that are able to start up a successful business of their own. They eventually grow up into the type of people that the kolb learning style looks for.

November 12 2010 at 1:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
haldirect

About kids being economoc assets: that was true when we needed our kids to till the fields or work in sweatshops for 10¢ a day when we were immigrants living in tenements with no indoor plumbing and an alarming tendency to burst into flames. But our economy doesn’t work like that anymore. If the economy keeps going like it is, we may get back to those good old days when our children were “economic assets,” if only to be able to afford our cell phone service. In the meantime, however, I think most of us would say that, economically speaking, our children are firmly on the debit side of the ledger. More at laughs4dads.com

July 19 2010 at 7:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Craig

everyones a critic! Good job kid o' keep it up!

June 21 2010 at 9:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert

I'm tired of articles about "entrepreneurial' kids. It's all a farce. With mommy's and daddy's connections and resources she made her self a business. Give me a story about a kid who has no mom and dad or a pot to piss in and still makes a million, call me. Until then, these sensationalized stories are just pop-corn for the mind; like "The Cookie Diet" and "Hand Soap Causes Cancer in Lab Mice That Were Forced Soap For on Two Days"! Nonsense.

June 21 2010 at 3:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ryan

I just want to add that Hannah should be commended to have the forsight to see an opportunity when it jumped out at her. Some of you people out, there are just a bunch of naysayers and negative people and you know what you are negative because you do not come up with the great idea of the business. It is simple, Hannah saw a great need and she decided to do something about that need and fill the need for a product it is simply business 101 economics. I think Hannah is fantastic and as a seasoned business owner myself, I applaud her enthusiasm and motivation to act in a postive way on her idea, she is a smart young girl, and it shows you, that it does not matter what age you are, anyone can do anything they want if the apply themselves and go after their dreams and Goals !!!
Anyone who wants to speak negaitvely, should keep their comments to themselves because you know what, we need more young, bright, forward thinking kids out there. Not everyone is destined for greatness in business that is why some people have the mentality of employees which is most of you out there, but others who desire to act on their dreams and goals, and go after those goals are the ones who create either a product or better way to sell a product that has been arouond for a long time and that is just filling a niche just like what Hannah has done here, great job Hannah.
I am in my mid thirties and I started my 1st business when I was 11 years old and I have always been an entrepreneur my whole life, so when I hear of a great success story it is awesome to hear because this is encouragement for the rest of us to jump into action when the opportunity or idea presents itself, most people never follow their dreams, but the smart ones never give up on their dreams and they do follow their dreams and eventually reach their goals, some reach their dreams and goals sooner than others but the key is to not give up and keep pushing forward because, the products that we all nuy everyday in this great country started with a simple idea and someone put that idea into place and created a product and then it goes to marketplace and we all buy the product. Mnay of the biggest companies we know were stated on a shoestring budget so I encourage you all to go after your dreams and never give up, do what you love and God will bless you !!

God Bless Eeveryone,
Ryan

June 21 2010 at 2:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carla

I think this is simply GREAT!!! I hope that she will become "Miss Muffett" one day. It would be great if more parents would encourage more children to develop in whatever area of interest they have as long as it is a positive.

June 20 2010 at 10:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bufu

That's a great marketing idea. Start a company selling children's toys and make a nine year old the CEO. Imagine the free publicity when the gullible people at AOL run with a story about a pint size entrepreneur. Expect to see more of the same:

Milk free publicity from gullible media types!!!!

Start a pet toys company and make a dog the CEO!!!

I can see it now: Fido's Cool Doggy Toys!!!!

"Fido isn't just the name behind the brand. He picked the website designer by sniffing his private parts, barks incessantly unless his staff fills orders, and gives regular tongue baths to customer service personnel. The dog also drives the buying decisions even if the dog can't personally attend doggy toy industry trade shows -- dogs are not allowed. Her adopted human parents head up finance and quality control as managing partners.

June 19 2010 at 9:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John

at least she's not doing drugs??

June 19 2010 at 7:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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