Mom Is the Secret to Success for These Kidpreneurs (and Dad Helps)
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A weakness of many corporate leaders is a reluctance to delegate. Not so with Sebastian Martinez, CEO of Miami-based sock company Are You Kidding. For him delegating begins on his business card. Between "phone" and the number it reads “Call my mom.”
Sebastian, 9, and his brother, Brandon, 12, director of sales (he prefers to be called the D.O.S) are the front men in a fast-growing family business they both readily acknowledge their mom, Rachel Martinez, 38, founded and guides. With some prompting they will mention their self-effacing dad, Fabian Martinez, 40, helps with the heavy lifting.
“Our dad is basically the dinner person, he’s the chef, and he’s the heavyweight dude,’’ said Brandon, who like his brother, categorized his parents in part by the meals they prepare. Both brothers extolled their mom’s breakfast cooking.
Are You Kidding was founded on Sebastian's preoccupation with socks from earliest childhood but relies on the business and marketing savvy Rachel accrued during a 12-year career selling advertising in Latin America for Televisa, the huge Mexican media company. She got the idea for a sock company after watching a TV show featuring Maddie Robinson, who began designing beach sandals shaped like fish when she was just 8.
“I looked at Sebastian and asked him if he wanted to design socks, because he just loves socks,’’ Rachel said.
Sebastian drew his first sock design right then and, by his count, has since created 28 more designs that have been manufactured and gone on sale. The company has developed a lucrative niche partnering with charities and nonprofits for fundraising. Autism Speaks, American Cancer Society and The Live Like Bella Foundation, as well as many schools and local charities, sell Are You Kidding socks, keeping 35 percent of the gross. The company recorded $250,000 in sales this year, double the previous years, and enjoys brisk growth, according to Rachael.
"My mom knew I had a passion for socks because they are cool, funky and high," Sebastian said. "I used to have about a hundred (pairs of) socks in my closet, so my mom asked me one day if I wanted to design my own socks. I ran to the table and made my own design. One year later all the socks were manufactured and that's how our business got started.''
While it not really possible to run a company with senior executives too young to drive license or sign contracts, Sebastian and Brandon are integral to the brand, not least for being telegenic spokespersons. Sebastian's colorful and uninhibited designs are genuinely appealing, and Brandon is not fooling around when it comes to his sales duties, performed at countless street fairs, charity festivals and community events. He has already mastered the resolute mindset required to succeed in sales and forgiven the countless small lies people tell to avoid purchasing.
"Sometimes, people aren't so easy to bring them in (to their sales tent). They might not wear socks or like socks that much, so people are like 'Hmmmm, I'll be right back' and then never show up,'' he said, adding after a pause of several seconds, "Except one person. He kept his promise."
"It's a little frustrating because people aren't really into socks anymore,'' Brandon said. He agreed that perhaps living in Miami skews his perception on sock popularity.
The boys and their mom explain their story in this video.