Jake Lynch, 15, a Polish-American high school student from Krakow, launched i-masky.com an e-commerce venture on May 1st, 2020.
I-masky sells “cool, colorful, reasonably priced protective face masks.” The 6’ 4” (193 cm) freshman found inspiration while on a two-month corona-virus lockdown in his bedroom. No one knows exactly how many new businesses were launched during this unprecedented global crisis, but it’s likely that the number of enterprises founded and launched by a teenager is probably no more than a handful. Lynch spoke with BiznesPolska about his e-commerce debut, building a socially responsible company, and the unique challenges kids face building a business.
On the “About” page of your website, you describe how you stumbled upon the poor experience of the status quo — masks that were costly and or with distant delivery dates. Describe how this made you feel?
When looking through the web, I was rather surprised and disappointed, because especially at times like these, safety items should be as accessible and affordable as they can be. This motivated me to make sure i-masky was not only cool, but convenient, reasonably priced and safe to use for the customer.
Somebody might say, “A mask is a mask.” You know: a commodity of sorts. How are i-masky masks different?
Like anything else, if not made with care and effort, a mask becomes an ordinary item. Face masks are primarily about protection. I made sure the masks themselves are high quality with good filtering properties. Honestly, no one loves wearing a face mask. So, to encourage everyone – especially young people to wear them, I added the ‘fun’ element. I-Masky makes sure every design is, in a sense personal, so that people are wearing something not only safe, but stylish. I tried my best to make sure all designs were interesting, funny and most of all, something people would want to wear. They are a way to express your personality, your interests, or simply make a statement.
You’ve collaborated with artists and business people outside your company. Tell us what you’ve experienced when managing laterally your projects with these people.
At first, I was skeptical, but after cooperating with so many amazing people, I realized having someone involved in the business with you is a huge load off your shoulders, because when something is uncertain or troubling, I can always consult with the others and brainstorm together.
What are some of the unexpected or surprising things that you’ve uncovered while building this business?
I didn’t get into this project with the mindset that it was going to be a quick and easy process. Quite the contrary, I knew it was going to be difficult. However, I wasn’t expecting how much time and effort really goes into making sure every detail of the website and business is as good as can be.
You have other responsibilities in your life: school and family, for example. What’s it like to balance a real company, a business with cash flow, while still showing up for your other obligations?
To be completely honest, I’m still figuring it out. Making and running an e-commerce business takes not only skill but time, so during the process I did have to make some compromises in my daily life. Dealing with the constant flow of little problems and errors of the system pretty much kept me tied to my computer for long periods of time on a regular basis. At the same time, I couldn’t skip on my school work – so I suppose the answer is less sleep!
The current pandemic of coronavirus is an uncommon moment in human history. Humanity has seen similar events before, but not often. How can this difficult time also be a time to build a business?
Businesses are essentially services trying to provide solutions to their customers’ problems or needs. How is this situation different? The pandemic might be as good or even better of an opportunity to start up. Along with big global issues, also comes room for big solutions, and with that, great opportunities for business. The idea for i-masky would have never even been brought up if I wasn’t locked up in my room in isolation.
What have your parents said about all this? And your friends?
I’ve been thrilled to notice that not only my friends and family, but even people I don’t know admire the work that I’m putting in. It’s really heart-warming that my closest friends and family are totally supportive, and that’s pushing me to expand and develop i-masky.
What other experiences in your life have prepared you, or been helpful, when working to build this business?
Growing up, I loved getting involved in small business opportunities from a lemonade stand to merchandising. I’ve also made a few websites before, including a memorial website for my Uncle Matt, that helped me learn the process of building an attractive and functional site. Experimenting with even the simplest website building platforms prepares you for bigger projects to come.
As we look at the calendar for second-half 2020, what are some of the goals that you’ve set for yourself and this business?
It’s very easy for a great business idea to die out due to the gradual decrease of effort put in by the founder. That’s exactly why I’m going to stay on top of things, and try my best to ensure that i-masky is always fresh and cool, and not “that little website that kid built a few months ago.” I have tons of fresh ideas and plans for expansion, and will strive to realize them in the near future.
What would you say to another teen your age who is thinking about the possibility of turning an everyday problem into a business?
Generally speaking, it would seem that society doesn’t exactly help kids start businesses, and one might even conclude that there’s no way they would be able to do it at a young age. I would have to strongly disagree. It’s never too early to start your own business. When still a kid, we have a sort of lifeline-support-system in the shape of our parents. I don’t depend on my business to succeed in order to live, because at the end of the day, when I go home, I still have a house, food and support from my family. This is in my opinion a huge advantage because I can afford to take risks, try new things, because I’m not depending on it to make money. It’s truly the experience that counts.
I understand you have decided make your business socially responsible, and donate proceeds to charity. Tell me how that transpired and why did you choose Friends of Children’s Hospitals foundation as your charity of choice?
I always liked the concept that even a kid can do some good in the world. I’ve decided that in addition to helping people look cool in a face mask, I will aspire to a higher purpose. I will donate a percentage of all i-Masky proceeds to The Friends of Children’s Hospitals in Warsaw. This week, we already donated 500 masks to them. I choose it because it’s a great foundation with Polish-American roots and a long history that helps needy Polish children. It’s also the foundation that my uncle Matt helped chaired for many years. This gives my project both purpose and symmetry. If i-Masky succeeds and it manages to help some sick kids, that would be just amazing. On top of that, our masks are all made in Poland, so my project – in some small way – will help the local economy and maybe even save a few jobs.