- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) - Leaning back in his office chair at his company’s new Bonita Springs headquarters, a tan and clean-shaven Max Fata, with his red and white, high-top sneakers lurking from underneath his desk, glances at the rows of pink and blue razors arranged neatly in open boxes on foldable tables.

“This is a huge market and we’re growing. We’re growing fast,” Fata said. “We already have a few thousand people on the subscription. We just kind of started.”

Fata is the CEO of 99 Cent Razor, selling razors and other shaving accessories for men and women online at “affordable prices” and offering various month-to-month subscription plans.

The Michigan-native started his company in May, a month after he celebrated his 18th birthday. And he’s a veteran when it comes to business.

“My first business I started, I bought a vending machine when I was like 13,” Fata said. “Spent about two grand on it and then put it in my dad’s - my dad had a telemarketing office in Lansing, had about 100 employees - put it in there and went fairly well.”

Selling “pop” out of the vending machine earned Fata about $200 a week - money he saved to invest in his next business venture: the Erase Case.

The idea came to him in his Lansing home one summer day in 2012. Fata, who only had “some weird flip phone” at the time, started to wonder about “all these girls I knew” that “had like a 100 different phone cases” for their smartphones.

“I’d just go, ‘Why would they ever buy (them)?’ ” Fata said. “You know, they all cost like $20, so it was just unbelievable. And it just kind of came to me.”

Born was the idea of having a blank phone case that customers could decorate using a permanent marker and then erase using a spray to adorn anew over and over again.

But first, Fata, who was 15 at the time and “couldn’t even drive a car,” had to do some research.

“I was looking on like YouTube and stuff, how to remove permanent marker from plastic and then I went in my garage, and night and day was just working on different formulas that would remove it,” he said. “Then I had to find a good plastic and then I had to find a shop that sold permanent marker.”

Two months later, his brainchild had become reality. Still, it required a giant leap of faith.

“I think I spent three to four grand on it - and it was like, if it doesn’t go through, then what do I do? I just sit on it,” Fata said. “So that was kind of my first ever (.) big risk, and that was super scary. But thankfully it paid off.”

A distributor from the United Kingdom purchased around 500 pieces. A teen retailer, called dELiA(asterisk)s, with about 100 stores across the country, including one at Coconut Point Mall, ordered cases to the tune of “twenty-something grand.” The patented product took off on social media, at its peak garnering 102,000 followers on Instagram.

“It was going really well,” Fata said.

The company’s profit varied from week to week, but always spiked during the Christmas holidays, eating up all of Fata’s spare time during break.

“I remember like one week when we first started we grossed like nine, 10 grand,” Fata said. “Then always around Christmas we did really well. We always did about 30 grand in like a two-week span in Christmas. Then the other months were kind of slow.”

To be sure there were bumps in the road, too, for the young entrepreneur and his blossoming business.

Fata quickly realized how tough it was to get his product on the shelves of large national retailers. There was interest from industry giants like Toys’R’Us, Bed Bath & Beyond, Sam’s Club and Meijer, a large chain of Walmart-type stores in the Midwest, but Fata was never able to strike a deal.

In part, perhaps, because he was, after all, a high school student walking into business meetings with seasoned businessmen.

“They didn’t really take me serious,” Fata said. “Like the Meijer, that’s why the thing kind of fell through, they just didn’t take it serious.”

But not just business leaders gave Fata a hard time.

“When I first started I was really big into trying to get a patent,” he said. “Lawyers would always, always blow me off. I don’t blame them. I’d probably blow off a 15-year-old too. But it was irritating.”

Sometimes, Fata was able to disguise the fact that he wasn’t old enough to vote yet.

“When I did stuff over the phone, I used to never even tell people that I was (15),” Fata said. “I remember when I first started the company and I had that packaging company in California, I didn’t even tell the girl I was 15. And then so she later found out and I’m not even sure how, but she found out. She was like, ‘I had no idea.’ “

In between attending business meetings, making calls and writing emails, however, there was still plenty of time left for Fata to be a teenager. It showed in the way he furnished the work space he and his three part-time employees inhabited for much of the week.

“I remember I bought a basketball hoop, for indoor basketball, and then I bought a slushy machine and then I bought a popcorn machine and there was always just dumb stuff,” Fata said with a grin. “But it was all for the office, it was never for myself.”

Now, three years older and wiser, there are regrets, too.

“I spent $500 on a boxing bag and I only used it once,” Fata said, laughing heartily. “It didn’t make any sense.”

Fata sold his Erase Case business to a Colorado company earlier this year for a six-figure sum. He soon thereafter moved to Southwest Florida to take classes at Florida SouthWestern State College - which he pays for himself - and focus on the launch of his new razor business.

Even though similar companies, like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s, have crowded the market for the online sale of razors seemingly overnight, Fata is confident in his latest business venture. In large part, he said, because his company sells razors for women, a service other online sellers don’t provide.

“We take a lot of their female customers, because girls just want pink razors,” Fata said. “And it sounds funny, because for the majority, our male and female is just the exact same thing, they’re just pink and blue. But I seriously get about 10 calls a day asking if we sell women’s (razors).”

The short-term goal is to reach 10,000 subscribers by the end of the year, Fata said. His long-term objective, however, has an even broader scope.

“The end goal was kind of just having employees that just love coming to work and just employing people,” Fata said. “Look at the whole economy and the country and it’s just like tough for people to get jobs, and I want to change that. If I can give 100 jobs or something, I’m going to give 100 jobs.

“There’s a lot more to it than just the whole profit.”

And a slushy machine for the new office may or may not come into play, as well.

___

Information from: Naples (Fla.) Daily News, https://www.naplesnews.com


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