How This 14-Year-Old Entrepreneur Is Making Adults Question Their Life Choices by Being Ridiculously Awesome

How This 14-Year-Old Entrepreneur Is Making Adults Question Their Life Choices by Being Ridiculously Awesome
Image credit: Rachel Zietz

For high-school freshman Rachel Zietz, landing a spot on the varsity lacrosse team was a surprise. For her teammates, there was a bigger surprise: finding out that their newest member creates the practice equipment they use at home.

“I tell them, ‘Yeah, that’s my company,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool!’” she says.

Zietz, 14, is the founder of Gladiator Lacrosse, a line of rebounders and practice goals for lacrosse players to use in their backyards. She started the company in 2013 after being unable to find equipment that would hold up under intense practicing.

The tween honor student from Boca Raton, Fla., is competitive on and off the field. She finds time to run her company during free periods at school, before and after lacrosse practice and on weekends. (During class, her one employee handles orders.) She shares space in the warehouse her parents use for their own company, and while she needs Mom and Dad to drive her to meetings (she’ll get her learner’s permit on June 24) and offer advice on occasion, she says that suppliers and customers treat her with the respect they give to older business owners.

“People don’t treat me like a kid; people treat me like I’m a business woman,” she says.

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Zietz works with manufacturers overseas to select durable, high-quality materials for her products. The products themselves are made overseas and shipped to her for distribution to retailers and consumers. Buyers assemble the equipment themselves using a simple set of instructions.

Starting a line of more durable lacrosse equipment was a natural decision -- both because entrepreneurship runs in the family and because Zietz is a lacrosse player herself. She took a 33-week program called the Young Entrepreneur’s Academy, and at the end of it, pitched to investors her idea for high-quality lacrosse products. She won just over $2,700, and with it, worked with suppliers overseas to secure her first 45-foot container of goals and rebounders. That container can hold 250 rebounders and 500 goals, but it’s no longer big enough. Zietz now needs full containers, which hold 500 rebounders and 1,100 goals, for her growing business.

Unsurprisingly, the company has experienced some growing pains. Given that she uses a factory in China, Zeitz once was unable to fill orders because she’d underestimated how long it would take for a product shipment to reach her. She’s since learned to reorder when her containers are half empty. She’s also looking into a domestic factory and negotiating with other factories in China for additional products she is evaluating.The setback didn’t hurt sales, which reached $200,000 in their first year. This year, Gladiator Lacrosse is on track to bring in over $1 million.

Those revenue figures come from the sales of just two products. Not for long, though. “We’re looking to expand into the lacrosse ball market,” Zietz says. “We’ve been researching standards, so we’ll have balls with different colors.”

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Also on tap is a line of compression socks. Other future plans include working on an endorsement deal and looking into expanding into sports retailers such as Brine in Boston. The company is also a sponsor of the Orange Bowl Lacrosse Classic and other tournaments.

Moreover, Amazon.com users rate the company’s goals and rebounders, which currently retail at $120 and $200 respectively, as the best in their category, even above brand names that are better-known. It makes sense, then, that Zietz’s accomplishments now include being a finalist for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's 2015 Entrepreneur Award for young professionals. She lost the Under 35 Entrepreneur of the Year category to a 34-year-old, but she took home the “Rising Star” award. She’s not worried about the loss, since she has another two decades of eligibility.   

Zietz’s siblings -- Jordan, 13, and Morgan, 9 -- might also have futures as entrepreneurs. Jordan is a recent winner of an elevator pitch competition at the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, while Morgan is constantly pitching business ideas to the family.

Even if someone with an entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t have a family history of taking that path, Rachel advises not letting that get in the way. Age shouldn’t be a barrier either. “It’s never too young to start. I started when I was 13, and it was successful. Most people are afraid, but if you’re passionate about it, you’re never too young.”

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