Interview with young entrepreneur Raymond Lei, UC Berkeley student

Cristian: Hi Raymond, and welcome to Tell us a few words about you and your business.

Raymond: My name is Raymond Lei. I’m a 19 year old student at UC Berkeley, and I own the business ooShirts is an online custom t-shirt printing business. I started the company when I was 16. I was ordering t-shirts for my high school group, and while dealing with a few of the companies that sold them, I saw that the industry could be made more efficient.
Cristian: What is your typical customer?

Raymond: My customers are people who want t-shirts for their group or event. We sell to people all around the United States.

Cristian: What are the main advantages that set you apart from the competition?

Raymond: We sell the same product, but provide them to customers faster and at a lower price. Our prices are 30 to 50 percent lower. If you order 24 white shirts with a custom 1 color design, for example, you can at $4.17 each. And that’s with free shipping.

Cristian: You are on a path to grow your business to $1million in revenue this year. How does a million sounds for the business started when you were 16? Did you expect it to grow that far?

Raymond: No, I didn’t expect it to grow this far at the very beginning. It actually started off as an offline business – I went from classroom to classroom at my high school selling shirts to the organizations there. But it wasn’t until a year later that I launched a website and began working online.

Cristian: What made your business so successful?

Raymond: Our prices are lower, and it’s not because our products are lower quality. Our business is more efficient than our competition – we have 20 suppliers around the US, we have outsourced programming in India, and advanced order automation tools. As a result, we can focus our spending more on our product and less on everything else.

Cristian: Did you have the family support for this?

Raymond: My parents approve of what I’m doing, but have not financially contributed to it.

Cristian: I suppose at 16 you have little experience on how to run a business. Where did you get advice on how to run a business?

Raymond: A lot of business is common sense. You have to provide a product that people truly want. For my business, this is low prices, and I’ve been able to do this well. I haven’t received much advice from other people, but rather studied existing well-run businesses and learned what I could from them.

Cristian: How did you have your first order done? You took the order and went to a printing center to do the shirts?

Raymond: I actually started out importing from China. I had went to China the previous summer and made a few friends there. I contacted them, and basically had them buy custom t-shirts from a local place and ship them over. However, a few months later, I stopped importing and switched back to the United States because I was able to find some good suppliers here.

Cristian:  How many employees you currently have? And how was the hiring process?

Raymond: Two. They are two high-school friends who were looking for a full-time job. I knew who they were and what they were capable of, so it wasn’t difficult to make the decision.

Cristian:  How important is to start a business while you’re young? What are the risks?

Raymond: I think it’s best to start when you’re young. When you get out of college, you need to have a steady income to maintain a decent standard of living, and starting a business does not guarantee this. But when you’re in high school or college, you have the free time to work on your own projects without risking your standard of living.

Cristian: You told me that you are outsourcing overseas the shirts production and the website development. How did you find your partners and how did you make sure they deliver good quality?

Raymond: For the shirts from China, I had a friend who knew a trustworthy local company. Right now, for the shirts, I have my printers send me sample shirts with my logo on it. It was most difficult to find a quality team for website development. It took a long time to talk with many different programming teams to determine who was right for the job.

Cristian: Do your college colleagues know you’re running a business? What do they think about this?

Raymond: Yes, they do. Many people claim to own a business, so simply knowing someone runs a business isn’t that spectacular. But for the closer friends that do know about how my business works, they are always interested.

Cristian: How did the crisis affect your business? Any tips for entrepreneurs having a hard time?

Raymond: I don’t think it affected it. If anything, it was good for business, since customers would want to look for businesses that provide lower prices. All businesses are different, so I don’t have much advice for businesses having trouble, but as a general rule, be efficient.

Cristian: What would be your advices for teens wanting to start a business?

Raymond: Believe in yourself.

Cristian: What about the legal requirements when running a business? How difficult is for a young entrepreneur to keep up with the legal stuff?

Raymond: There are enough resources online to teach anyone about anything. It’s not so much a matter of difficulty learning as it is a matter of time.

Cristian: Most people are afraid they won’t have a good enough idea to start a business. What is your advice for them?

Raymond: If you don’t think your idea is good, don’t start a business based off of it. That’s common sense. But if you truly believe you have a good idea, and you have a good sense of how you’re going to make it happen, then step forward and make it a reality.

Cristian:  Any plans to expand further or maybe start a new business?

Raymond: I think ooShirts is far from its maximum potential. We have less than 1% of the market share, but also have what I believe to be the best product offering. So we can still grow 100 times larger.