Success is all about persistence and determination, and 14-year-old entrepreneur Henry Burner has proved this adage. While most teenagers his age are prepping for competitive exams or training to be athletes, Burner decided to chart his own route for success. The young teenager runs a US$20mn retail company Buttonsmith, which already has more than 250,000 customers.
From a school trading project to building a company, which as per the latest reports value at US$20mn, Buttonsmith has come a long way since its inception in 2013. Can you tell us about the journey so far?
When I was younger, I was really struggling in school because of my dyslexia. The spring I was 10, I had a trading post for frontier life. My mom asked me if I wanted to make cupcakes or cookies, but I said, “Mom, the baked goods market is going to be totally over-saturated. We need to make something durable.” So, I pulled out my mom’s old button machine and made buttons. Sure enough, there was table after table of baked goods. At the end of the day, I ended up with more beads than any other kid at school. It was the first time I felt really successful at school. When I got home, I asked my mom, “Can I make real money doing this?” So, we started selling at farmers’ markets before expanding online to Amazon. Since then we have greatly expanded out product lines into many affordable high quality products that allow people to express who they are to the world.
What is your strategy to procure funding? You have a unique patent for the Tinker Reel – how is this a crucial part of your business? Why is it important to have patents ready in your line of business?
We have bootstrapped so far, but are working on getting ready for an investment round. Protecting the investments we have made in engineering and design through patents and copyrights is critical for our success, allowing us to reap the rewards of what we have sown.
As per online reports, Buttonsmith’s sales showed a significant upward graph after the business went online. Tell us about the difference you have seen between online sales and sales in brick-and-mortar stores?
When we started selling online, the ability to reach millions of people was transformative to the company. We reach a bigger audience, and our margins are better selling online than they are in brick and mortar stores.
Right now, 1,600 Walmart stores are selling Buttonsmith’s products. Compared to the revenue generated from the e-commerce platform, is the revenue from Walmart more or less?
Walmart generated less revenue – and considerably less margin – than selling online. We have, however, learned a great deal from the experience, and we are grateful for the opportunity to make our products more widely available and for the impetus to fine-tune our processes to scale.
There are also a handful of additional brick and mortar retailers that carry Buttonsmith products, but most of our focus is online.
As reported by Fast Company, the company’ssoftware, hardware and geography enable Buttonsmith to stay ahead of Chinese competitors. How does the company ensure this?
We are optimised to have custom products made within minutes of the order being placed, and in the hands of customers within two days. That’s very difficult to do, and nearly impossible if an ocean separates you from your customers.
Given that you’re a school student, how do you manage the responsibilities of your company? Do you get help from your parents?
I get significant help from my parents, who deal with much of the day-to-day management while I’m at school, though I have a large role in all strategic decision making, and I spend my breaks and weekends working on the company.
What is your dream as an entrepreneur in the future? Do you see yourself continuing your journey as an entrepreneur or do you want to try a different profession?
We are preparing to expand our offerings to Europe, and are looking at other markets. I believe Buttonsmith will continue to be important for me in the future. I love being an entrepreneur, though I’m also interested in history, politics, and how we build functional societies.
To read the entire story, please check our May issue.