It’s the main thing Mahogoney Herbet said she would take away from her experience with BUILD.
“It means passionate commitment to long-term goals,” she said. “Staying committed to yourself and knowing you can do anything is going to help me most in life.”
She took the BUILD elective class her freshman year at the Community Academy of Science and Health. Now, she is one of the members of BUILD’s first graduating class, a group who determined if BUILD would become a staple in Boston’s community.
She learned a lot about business; she can talk about cost of goods sold, the “consumer,” and investments. But grit is the thing she thinks about a lot about. And it will be a word that defines her next challenge — college.
Mahogoney has a wide grin and a habit of flipping her hair which gradually changes from brown to a shade of cotton-candy-colored pink to a honey blonde. She sips on a blue soda concoction and wears the uniform of a high-schooler (jeans, a fairly new pair of gray and black sneakers, and a non-descript T-shirt) during our conversation. Her face is free of makeup, which makes her look her age something that is rare for high school girls who typically pretend to be adults before their time.
But she wasn’t always this determined.
BUILD is a class most freshman students take. After that, they must dedicate many after-school hours to building their business and selling their product. It takes commitment.
Mahogoney committed herself to BUILD because, “My mentors believed in me. I believe in myself and my business. And the BUILD program let me experience things to see what opportunities are available.”
To put this in reference, Mahogoney said that most of her friends have never been out of the state of Massachusetts.
Mahogoney moved back to Boston right before the start of her freshman year to live with her father. She had been living in Florida with her mother.
“A lot of things were pushing me away from furthering my education,” she said “I had been traveling bad paths. I was ready to leave high school.”
Today, she can’t even remember the names of all the colleges she applied to, which comes to 11 in total.
“I never imagined being where I am and thinking about college,” she said.
Mahogoney has two brothers and two sisters. Her two brothers and one sister left high school before graduation. She says she wanted to graduate high school to show her family that she could make them proud. She says they encouraged her to want something more than “following the footsteps of struggling.”
She wanted them to know they had done something good. They pushed her to pursue more.
Boredom Can Result in Inspiration
Each BUILD tries to come up with an idea during their freshman year. But it can’t just be any idea. Mahogoney says it has to “appeal to a consumer.”
She originally thought she had stumbled across an entire category of products that were glow in the dark, including lip gloss and a phone case. While she thought this product would get attention, she was worried about dealing with medical testing.
Luckily, inspiration can be found even in less-than-ideal circumstances.
During a stay in a hospital, Mahogoney was simply waiting. Waiting to go home, waiting for doctors, waiting.
An activity worker stopped by and asked if she wanted something to do. Mahogoney said, “Sure, I’ve got nothing else to do.”
During her period of boredom, she made her first duct tape wallet, and luckily, the idea stuck with her.
It became Blind Vision, a BUILD student company that sells fashionable items made with duct tape.
It also has a tagline: Seeing is believing.
“It’s ironic. When you think of duct tape, you think of something silver, something you fix a pipe with,” Mahogoney said. “But we made it something fashionable, something that shows you want to be different.”
She speaks like she has listened intensely to her teachers, using words that are outside of the vocabulary of most 17-year-old students.
She has since capitalized on the adjacent possibilities: Her line of products includes purses, wallets, and eyeglass cases.
The wallet is a bi-fold, with interior pockets for credit cards. The version I saw has a white and black zebra print with turquoise card slots. It includes a velcro closure. The duct tape gives it a slick surface and a bit of a sheen, but it is also durable, water proof, and fashionable, especially as you can buy rolls of the sticky tape in plaid, tie-dye, paisley, and polka dot. There is even a Frozen-inspired version.
Mahogoney has also experimented with form. She styled iPhone covers and created change wallets and envelops. She even solved the most basic problem of women: where do I put my lip gloss? She added functionality to the wallet by creating a strap for a tube of lip balm.
The first version of the wallet was fairly basic, but she continued to refine the product. One advancement was lining the accessory with duct tape.
This has also increased the prices. And she is aware of the economics of that upgrade. The cost of goods sold (COGS) went up, and the profit went down as the lining required more rolls of tape. She had to up her prices to maintain a profit.
Currently, wallets are sold for $10, purses are priced $40 to $45, and eyeglass cases are $8 a piece.
For those who come back that the price is too steep, Mahogoney is quick with her response. “Fashion is never too expensive,” she said.
Mahogoney’s products are actually priced reasonably, compared to the likes of brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. While many would argue that these are luxury brands and that there are Gucci replica‘s available, Mahogoney has shown innovation in her products.
Between Mahogoney’s sophomore and junior years of high school, she made around 400 products. She had to pay back her loan from her venture advisor, an investment of $300. She paid for the materials (duct tape, velcro, bags, etc.). Her net profit ended up being around $1,000. This is an amazing return from this project, helping her to pay back some of her loan. However, not everyone will be this lucky. For those struggling to get their hands on a credit card due to their financial debt, it might be worth looking at an Opensky card. This could allow you to get a credit card, even if you’re in debt from loans for example. Alternatively, more people could follow in Mahogoney’s footsteps and become an entrepreneur to help them pay back their loan.
The Aftermath of BUILD
Mahogoney already has one acceptance from a college (it was the only early-action admission), but she is considering her choices. She wants to be a pediatrician and maybe work in psychology.
But her first goal is to become a probation officer for teenagers. Her friends say she has “words of wisdom,” so she is hoping to put this to use when helping young adults and teens.
Mahogoney went on to explain that she often gives advice to her friends regarding their mental health struggles and therefore wants to incorporate her knowledge of mental health into her career.
For example, one friend told us how it was Mahogoney who was the first person to suggest that she might want to seek professional health dealing with her anxiety.
After attending a number of therapy sessions, she discovered new ways to deal with stressful situations, and now uses natural products like CBD oil to manage her mental health. If you are curious about the potential health boosting benefits of CBD oil, you can learn more about it here.
For now though, Mahogoney said that she was delighted that her friend had gone on to get the help that she needed to deal with her anxiety.
The other thing she’ll leave high school and BUILD with, besides the ability to create a designer wallet in less than 10 minutes, is an extra family.
“My mentors have played a large part in my life,” Mahogoney said. “They talked me through things, not just business, not just BUILD, but my personal life. The connection … it’s unbreakable. I want to make them proud.”
During the HubSpot hack night, where I met Mahogoney, there was a BUILD mentor who took a look at Mahogoney’s zebra and turquoise wallet and wanted it for her collection.
After the monetary and goods exchange, Mahogoney looked at the woman and apologized: “Sorry, I would have written you a receipt if I had receipts with me.”
She understands the steps to building a great business, including customer service. And she’s certainly got the grit. Now, we all just need to move out of her way.
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We are excited to officially welcome BUILD Boston's new Regional Executive Director, Betsy Neptune! Betsy comes to us with many years of experience as an executive leader and brings to BUILD wisdom and experience in entrepreneurship, economic development, coaching, team development, and nonprofit management.
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