Leadership

What this 13-year-old CEO learned from her triumphs in business and on 'Shark Tank'

Mikaila Ulmer, founder and CEO of Me & the Bees Lemonade.
Courtesy of Me & the Bees
Mikaila Ulmer, founder and CEO of Me & the Bees Lemonade.

Me & the Bees Lemonade founder and CEO Mikaila Ulmer amazed the nation when, at nine years old, she walked away from ABC's hit reality show "Shark Tank" with a $60,000 investment deal with Daymond John.

Now 13, Ulmer has been named one of TIME magazine's most influential teens of 2017 and says that she is reflecting on her nine years of experience as an entrepreneur to write a children's book on how to start and grow a business.

"I definitely have a lot of goals, but, as my dad always said, it's important to work step by step and take each little goal one at a time," she told CNBC Make It during the Women's Entrepreneurship Day Summit held at the United Nations on November 17.

What started as a simple lemonade stand in 2009 when Ulmer was 4 developed into a full-blown family business and social cause to help save the bees.

Me & the Bees Lemonade is based in Austin, Texas, but the Generation- Z influencer and her privately-owned company have garnered national attention.

Over the past few years, Ulmer has visited the White House and met former president Barack Obama on numerous occasions. Earlier this year, Ulmer launched the Healthy Hive Foundation and became a member of Microsoft's People of Action network.

She also travels with Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) throughout the world, most recently to Cape Town, South Africa, where she taught Finance 101 at DWEN's youth program.

In July, a group of NFL players and businessmen invested $810,000 in Ulmer's company.

Here's more from CNBC Make It's exclusive Q&A with Ulmer:

What are the two most important things you've learned since being on "Shark Tank"?

I've learned that it's important to find good partners and mentors to help you along the way because it's really hard to grow your company when it's just you.

I've also learned that when you really show your mission and make sure that customers know there's a social aspect to your company, you'll make sure that you have a bigger impact.

How did your childhood influence how you run Me & the Bees today?

As I grew up — and I'm still growing up — my parents didn't buy anything for me. They made sure that I worked for that money. So if I wanted this toy, they would have me selling lemonade at the business fair or doing chores.

That affects the way I think today because you have to work for everything when it comes to your company. To learn that from when I was four is helping me now at 13.

When did you realize you had a good business going?

When I was a kid, I wanted to get a bike or ... those kids' toys that every kid wants, but my parents didn't buy them for me. They said, "We can give you a loan. We can give you this money and you can start your own company."

So that's what I did. It was initially a one-time thing, but I actually won an award for doing that, so I decided to try it again. I did it again and had so much fun and I was learning, so I decided to keep going because, like, why not do this in the future?

So I thought this could actually be a business when I got asked to go on "Shark Tank" and then also when I was accepted into my first store which is a small local pizza shop in Austin.

What are some challenges you face as a CEO?

I still get underestimated for being a 13-year-old entrepreneur, so it can be hard looking for investors or partners because they're like, "You're a kid, we love your product and your mission but come back when you're a little bit older or come back when you're willing to work with your company full time and not got to school."

That is definitely a challenge. Another challenge is balancing school, work and play. I still go to school during the week, I still have to do my homework and I still have sleepovers, so it's hard to balance all those things along with running the company.

"I still have to do my homework and I still have sleepovers, so it's hard to balance all those things along with running the company." -Mikaila Ulmer, CEO

How do you deal with stress?

I like to go up to the hives because it reminds me why I started my company and why I'm doing all this. I personally don't have hives, but there are a lot of awesome local beekeepers that donated honey to my first lemonade stand and they love it when I go up to the hives. I love it too.

I know being around a bunch of bees that can potentially sting you could be not very relaxing for some people, but I've done it for so long that I always look forward to suiting up and getting all the tools and smoking the hives.

Where do you hope to see your business in five or 10 years?

Well, we just launched a nonprofit so I hope our nonprofit has a huge reach. I hope that, since we are writing a book right now, that we have a whole series. I would also like to expand with more flavors, international distribution, more products, not just lemonade, but other products and merchandise you can buy from our website.

What is your advice for someone who wants to start their own business and follow their dream?

If you're a kid, the first thing you should know is that you're never too young to start a business. I started Me & the Bees when I was four as a lemonade stand, so you can start selling products to your family and friends — that's a business! And then you can keep growing from there.

If you're an adult, start a company that you are passionate about, that's fun to you and that's unique. The more passionate you are about what you do, the more fun you'll have while doing it. And the more fun you have, the more it will be like a hobby than like a job that you have to go to and you dread going to it every day and it's really boring.

Most importantly, for anyone, find someone who inspires you, that went on the same road as you're trying to go on or went through the same stuff that you're going through. Take after them, see what they do, how do they react. what did they change about the industry you're interested in. It doesn't even have to be a business person, it can be a singer or a dancer or your friend, but just follow their footsteps.

"You're never too young to start a business." -Mikaila Ulmer, CEO

What are your goals for 2018?

I want to start doing research on angel investments. For me, personally — that has nothing to do with my business. But like I said, it was really hard for me to get funding for my company. So in my free time, I've wondered if I can do that for other small companies.

This is really personal, but I'm also trying to convince my parents to get me a dog. I've been working on websites and presentations and writing essays to help make my case, so I'm definitely going to be working on that.

Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank."

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