In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battles on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you, and what is your business?
My name is Cason Dean, and I’m a 15-year-old half-Korean entrepreneur living in New York. My business is Inclusive Christmas, which sells products featuring inclusive versions of Santa: Asian Santa, Pride Santa, Sandra Claus (Female Santa) and Black Santa. The main driver for the business was a desire to create diverse Santa lawn inflatables because my family loves decorating our front lawn for the holidays (I’m also a quarter Italian!), and we wanted something different than what was out there on the market. Our goal is for people of all identities and backgrounds to be seen in the characters and holidays we love, starting with Christmas and Santa.
What inspired you to create this business? What was your “aha moment”?
Ever since we moved to the suburbs five years ago, my dad has put up tons of outdoor decorations for Christmas. Last year, I wanted to get him an Asian inflatable Santa to represent that half of my family, and I couldn’t believe one didn’t already exist. So I figured, why not create my own? I grew up watching Shark Tank, so the idea of doing it myself seemed possible. I originally thought about just making Asian Santas, but my family and I talked about how other groups might also want to see themselves represented. So we added Pride Santa, then Black Santa and then Sandra Claus. After we launched, based on customer feedback, we also added Hannukah Hank for Jewish and interfaith families. This all happened in about 10 months — with help from my family, I designed the Santas, found a manufacturer, registered and built the Inclusive Christmas website, created a logo, and started selling. After that, I also created other products featuring our Inclusive Santa designs so that I could provide variety at different prices, like mugs, ornaments and tote bags.
What has been your biggest challenge, and how did you pivot to overcome it?
My biggest challenge so far has been that I didn’t know what I was doing! I am a full-time student with little business experience. My parents are lawyers, so they didn’t know much more. Every step of the way, from creating the first designs, to figuring out how to get the Santas made, to figuring out how to get them sold, has been completely new. But we asked for advice and feedback from friends and family constantly and researched everything as much as we could before making a final decision—I mean, we weren’t the only people ever to start a business so we knew that if we looked, we could find answers to most of our questions from people who had done something similar before.
I’m amazed by how many people, some we didn’t even know, were willing to talk, provide advice and generally help. I still remember the day we got our first order from a total stranger who somehow found us and liked what we were doing enough to make a purchase. It was a huge achievement for me, and ever since then, the customer base has kept expanding.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
When I started my journey with Inclusive Christmas, I definitely didn’t think I was an entrepreneur. I just had an idea that I felt really strongly about and needed to pursue. And I stuck with it long enough and put enough time and effort into it that now I have an actual business. Some of it was exciting and fun, some wasn’t, and I just needed to do it. Now that I’m here, I guess an entrepreneur is someone who has a vision and is willing to devote whatever time and effort is needed to make that vision a reality. Lots of problem-solving skills come in handy, too, because there will be bumps along the way, and you have to hang on through the ups and downs.
Credit: Inclusive Christmas
What do aspiring business owners think they need that they don’t?
I think many small business owners believe that they need tons of time or to quit their jobs to start a business. I, a full-time student, with the help of my parents, full-time employees, have managed to start a business while keeping up with my schoolwork. You do have to be willing to sacrifice other things, though, to find the time. I also think a lot of people believe you need to hire professionals and experts right away to fill in gaps in your skills, but I don’t think that’s always true. I don’t know how to draw, but to make our first prototype, I cut out parts of different images and drawings I found on the internet and taped them together until I got the design I wanted. I really wanted to make sure I got the Asian eyes right so I cut out like 10 different types of “Asian” eyes and tested them out. I don’t think hiring a professional designer would have been more effective because only I really knew what I wanted that first Santa, Asian Santa, to look like.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
I read a quote from Arianna Huffington that was about how anytime you do anything in the world, there’s going to be criticism. I think this truly embodies my business. We have had a huge outpouring of support and positive feedback. But we’ve also received a fair amount of criticism and encountered some pushback along the way — people making hateful comments on social media or otherwise disparaging what we’re trying to do. However, this is true with every business, and it is just something that you have to overcome. I believe in the value of our mission — we want everyone to be seen and represented. We have a long way to go, but that vision is what keeps me motivated. Maybe we’re not for everyone, but that’s ok.