The history of entrepreneurship is filled with student startups, but they’re not as easy to run as many people think. Launching a business while going to high school classes and playing varsity basketball like Eli Zied, 17, or studying accounting like his brother Spencer, a junior at the University of Miami, can require an air-traffic controller’s mindset to pull it off.
That hasn’t stopped the duo from growing their T-shirt and sportswear business Habits 365, based in New York City, to five-figure revenue, with 150% growth year over year, according to the founders, since they founded it in August 2017. The brothers funded the business with $3,000 they made from a previous business where they bought and sold sneakers.
The name Habits 365 springs from the brand’s mission to encourage positive habits. The founders aim to encourage wearers to stick with the daily activities that will help them reach their goals.
“We wanted to create a brand that’s relatable to everyone,” says Eli. “Everyone
Spencer Zied, 21, and his brother Eli, 17, juggle running their motivational T-shirt business with a … [+]
has habits. Our brand encourages positive habits year-round.”
The brothers went into business by putting up a simple Wix website connected to Shopify to sell the shirts, posted flyers to advertise the business, and texted friends to let them know about it. Recently, they starting to use paid Facebook and Instagram ads to spread the word.
What helped them turn their concept into a real business? “Budgeting and managing your time are the most important thing,” says Spencer.
Recently, I caught up with them to discuss their suggestions for other student entrepreneurs who have a business idea but can’t figure out how to take it past the idea stage while juggling school and other responsibilities. Here are some of the strategies I gleaned from our conversation.
Create a business with purpose. When homework and exams loom, it will be easier to stay focused on a business that you feel is achieving a higher good than one that’s only about making money.
“Knowing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it is important,” Spencer says.
Don’t try to do everything yourself. Rather than tackle every step of the business singlehandedly, the brothers invested several hundred dollars to hire a logo creator who’d worked with Spencer on a clothing brand he’d started previously to create their first designs.
That was an efficient way to get to the point where they could place their first order from a manufacturer Spencer knew from his previous business. Now they also rely on a group of “ambassadors”—contractors who help them with various aspects of the business, from design to social media.
Make scheduling a priority. That’s not always easy to do for someone like Eli, who is still in a high school with a set schedule and sometimes has four evening basketball games a week.
On days he does not have basketball, he may schedule two hours after school to work on his homework, take a break to do something active, and then spend another two-hour block of time later in the day, working on his business.
“I balance it out like that so the business doesn’t get in the way of school,” says Eli, recognizing that the business could easily take over his whole life if he let it. “The more breaks I take, the more efficient I’ll be.”
Spencer has more flexibility in his daily schedule as a college student. He likes to work on the business in the morning and then reserves 5 to 7 pm for homework.
“You have to sacrifice a little,” says Spencer. “This week I have three fraternity events. I’m going to two. If I have schoolwork tonight, it’s going to get done. I’m moving around my priorities and still handling them efficiently and effectively. I’m sacrificing the amount of time I’ll be spending on them.”
Spencer has learned there are times he has to put the business on hold completely, even if something exciting happens—such as a key social media influencer wearing one of the brand’s products. In those cases, he may reach out to others on their virtual team for help.
“When you are in an accounting exam, you are helpless,” says Spencer. “You can’t do much. But when you get back, you are responsible for anything that happens.”
Communicate efficiently. Conference calls aren’t always convenient when you’re a founder going to school. “If something big happens, I’ll text Spencer,” says Eli. “We’ll communicate to our whole team and make a strategic plan through a group chat we have. That’s where more of our communication takes place.”
Cultivate a positive outlook. Eli finds that telling himself he can get it all done is important to making it happen. “You have to be in the right mindset. I say to myself ‘I can do this. I need to make time for this. I need to talk to this one ambassador and have him help me with this task,’” he says.
Let perfectionism go. Many people say they want to start a business but get so caught up in the planning stages or are so afraid of making mistakes they never take the leap. It’s easy to let a big entrepreneurial dream fade if you let that happen, especially if you’ve got to contend with the demands of school.
“At the end of the day, you’ve just got to do it,” says Spencer. “Make a mistake. See what happens.” Once you get in the daily habit of working on your business, you may find it surprising how quickly you build momentum.