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If you're a college student or have recently graduated, you might be wondering: Do I have what it takes to be an entrepreneur? Zack Leitz, the 24-year-old co-founder and chief operating officer of Modl Outdoors, says you do. He started his first business in sophomore school and, as a freshman, started a non-profit organization called the Backpack Project. He founded a nonprofit think tank called Wethink before starting his fourth company, Modl, in his senior year.
Leitz says he has always been drawn to being an entrepreneur and has never subscribed to the idea that he is a "child" and that he is an adult company. "I believe in the tremendous power of young people to dream and innovate, and I think a lot of young people underestimate their ability to start and scale businesses at any age."
Leitz spoke to Jessica Abo to provide advice for anyone in their twenties involved in entrepreneurship.
Jessica Abo: Zack, tell us about your company.
Zack Leitz: Modl Outdoors is a flexible design company. We take important items that you are likely to carry with you every day, often outdoors and with a single function, and turn them into flexible, multifunctional products that adapt to you and your everyday life, rather than you customizing your products. In a perfect world, this allows you to have a smaller amount of equipment to guide you through a greater number of life situations. Hopefully this will also reduce the amount of waste, the amount of equipment we have to buy and recycle, and really just create a streamlined process for you to gain experience outdoors.
Why did you want to start this company? How did you and your friends start a business like this in the first place?
Leitz: I started the company with two friends from college and all three of us knew we wanted to be entrepreneurs. We knew we wanted to go to this space and we shared a passion for outdoor adventures too. While we were on a camping trip, we had the idea to start this company in our senior year. For us it was basically an opportunity not only to continue the adventure we had in college over the past few years, but also to see it as a way to help many other people become familiar with nature and with nature To connect like we had it.
Guide us through the real idea of being a successful company.
Leitz: The very first product we ever set our sights on is a multifunctional hydration system that we call the Modl system. It's basically a flexible, double-ended bottle that you can take with you on your adventures. It can easily be converted into a hydration pack, water filter and outdoor shower and fulfills many other functions. We had never started a hardware company or designed a product. We really worked from scratch. In order to somehow overcome all of this, we did a few things.
First, we tried to connect and surround ourselves with some people who had a much better idea than us about how to move forward and make progress in this area. But we also took advantage of the fact that we didn't know much about it and we were in a bad mood on the internet. We used a platform called Upwork to connect with people who could help us convert sketches and drawings of the product into 3D designs. We jumped to Alibaba and used this platform to get in touch with manufacturers.
We had this concept for the product, but weren't sure if the market needed it. We did a rendering of the product we had at the time, just a rendering of a 3D model. We created a website and made it look like the product is on sale today. Although we didn't have any physical versions, not even prototypes or samples, just this 3D model. We spent a few hundred dollars that we had in our back pockets on ads and drove people to the website to see how they would interact with the product.
We had to see exactly how many people would try to add the product to their cart and check it out. We said, "Hey, it's not ready today, but we're starting a Kickstarter campaign soon. If you'd like to keep up to date with the updates, please enter your email here and we'll let you know. "This really gave us a very early insight into our business model and our unit economy, before we even had a physical product. We were able to use this information to make some rough forecasting and financial models. As simple as it was, it was combined with the concept enough that the product introduced it to an investor.
Before we met with our investors and before we started the company, I had the opportunity to participate in a great program called Birthright Israel Excel. They basically connect you to a business internship and business mentor in Tel Aviv and you have a summer to work with them and learn all that you can learn. It was extremely useful as we went forward and started the company to have that business experience, that mentorship, and just a little bit of what it's like to work in a company.
What advice do you have for young people out there?
Leitz: I think there is some pressure to spend our twenties chasing expensive job titles and chasing pay rises. But spend this time learning as much about the world as you can, as much as you can about yourself and the role you want to play in the world. Because at the end of the day we have a very short life. It is up to us to consciously decide what we want to do with it, how we want to spend it and how we want to shape our lives accordingly. Because at the end of the day, the key thing we can get out of our twenties is understanding our why. Why we exist What we want to achieve. And then, in our late twenties, for the rest of our lives, this is our time to achieve that.
Basically if you are considering starting a business I would say, especially if you are a young person, it can be in high school, college, as a young professional. There is nothing wrong with getting into the business world and gaining experience in an established company and then you want to start your business. But I'd say to rephrase the idea of what it means to be risky starting a business right out of college or as a young professional. I think it's one of the more sensible times to start your business. You can only imagine that one day in the course of life we will have families. We have loved ones. We have bigger and bigger financial commitments that make it harder and harder to risk everything and take such a big risk.
What would you like to say to the people who are currently in business but may face challenges?
Leitz: If you are an entrepreneur and have this entrepreneurial mindset, I have no doubt that you probably have business ideas on a daily or weekly basis. I found that it's really easy just to have a cool idea, let them take the hook and kind of fall into it. But there is some kind of inadvertence. I think that if you have all of these ideas and you want to figure out which direction to go, it is important. What is the idea that I should actually be pursuing? Try to choose your path on purpose and make sure it's not just that I got this cool idea and jump on it. As much as possible, make sure it matches your why. So that your company ultimately contributes in some form or way to what you want for your overall purpose.
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