The millennial entrepreneurs have swept the world, according to the 2016 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur report created in association with Scorpio Partnership.
While the report says that millennials typically start their companies at age 27, Haley Hostetter, a sophomore communication major from Fort Davis, has started her one-woman art-retail company as early as her freshman year of college.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” Hostetter said. “It’s not like I just picked up a pencil and started the other day. I’ve had a lot of practice.”
Haley Jackson Designs (HJD) is the brand under which Hostetter sells watercolor paintings, journals with hand-painted covers, wood signs, graduation caps and glass ornaments.
“Every time I see it (HJD art), I’m like, ‘Dang, girl. You’re so talented,’” said Cassidy Counter, a junior economics major from Madison. “And it’s always very floral-y and she does calligraphy and it’s just so beautiful.”
“The business has been going only for about a year, but the art has been basically my whole life,” she said. “I have my own little Etsy shop. I sell on Instagram and Facebook. And I’ve been working toward getting calendars and planners going.”
According to Hostetter, the business itself started on free social media outlets, allowing for direct interaction with customers.
“I would follow people at Troy (on Instagram) and they would follow me back; and they saw some of my artwork, and some people reached out,” she said. “Most of the orders I got were people reaching out to me and asking me to do custom things for them.”
This kind of a peer-to-peer sharing economy is the hallmark of start-ups like Uber, Airbnb and Lyft, said Stephen Miller, executive director of the Manuel H. Johnson Center and Adams-Bibbs Chair of Free Enterprise at Troy University.
“What the sharing economy does, is it does eliminate that middle person, but that’s good; in the long run, that’s very efficient,” Miller said.
“It’s a peer-to-peer model where someone has a service to sell, someone wants it and they’re able to connect more easily. And there are several reasons for that, but one of them is the change in technology and the ability to reach out directly to your audience.”
Since Hostetter has started the company, she, like many others, has personally handled everything from production, to advertising on social platforms, to shipment and accounting, thus reducing the additional prices of the final product associated with paying the staff.
“I have a pretty wide range (of prices), but I try to keep things reasonable because I know I’m on a college campus and that’s my main audience right now,” she said.
“I think her prices are fair for what she makes, and they are really good prices for college students,” Counter said. “She does custom art, and that can end up being really expensive, but I think she’s really affordable.”
Miller also said that knowing one’s audience can serve as a key to turn platforms such as YouTube into profitable business models.
“If it’s appealing and people want to see it, it’s easy to turn it into a business model,” he said. “The hard part is what the hard part has always been—which is coming up with a product or service or a form of entertainment that other people actually value enough to spend their time and money.”
Hostetter’s floral designs incorporating Bible verses seems to have found her “niche” with young women in Alabama like Leah Livingston, a Troy alumna, who bought a graduation cap and a wooden sign for her wedding from HJD.
During this past Christmas season alone, Hostetter said, she received 55 orders in total.
Her big dream, according to Hostetter, is to have a small store that would sell her artwork.
Hostetter will be showcasing and selling her crafts at the Prattville Spring Arts and Crafts Show on March 11 at Prattville Pickers.
“I guess it will be like an outside market where they will be selling refreshments and some different kinds of art,” Hostetter said. “I’ve been to a couple, but I’ve never actually sold my own artwork, so I’m really excited about that.”
Hostetter said that reaching out to the event organizers taught her to take the initiative in business.
“I’m learning that it’s not always that other people are going to come to me,” she said.
“So if you have a passion about anything I would definitely encourage you to go for it and to take initiative. So definitely find your niche, or whatever is unique about yourself, so you can really latch on to that. Just take initiative, be bold—but stay humble—and just keep trying to grow.”
Similarly, Miller advised people to look for their passions.
“It can be quaint, but it’s actually very true—it’s about finding passion: what you’re passionate about, what you’re excited about that you believe other people would actually value,” he said. “And what’s neat about that is once you have that figured out, there’s all kinds of ways to then find your audience or find your customers online.”