Shreyas Parab is a teen tie-preneur and founder. When the 15-year-old high school sophomore first tells people he is a business owner, they usually expect that he is doing something with technology. After all, neckties are not on the minds of the average teenager, and teenagers aren’t on the minds of tie manufacturers, either. However, Shreyas and thousands of other young men in private schools around the country are required to wear ties, and NovelTie, the company Shreyas started last year, designs ties specifically to appeal to teen tastes.
Shreyas came up with the idea for NovelTies while taking a 30-week after-school program called Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) at a nearby college during his freshman year. His business went on to earn him the title of Young Entrepreneur of the Year from the National Association of Women Business Owners of Greater Philadelphia, which sponsored his local YEA! Program, and he was named a YEA! national finalist.
Competing at a national level was not new to Shreyas, who participated twice in the Scripps National Spelling Bee when he was in middle school. The once-shy teenager, who calls his ties “conversation starters,” has also given four TEDx talks since he turned 14.
HatchPad: What is the story behind NovelTie?
Shreyas Parab: I used to go to a public school, where you can wear whatever your heart desires. For high school, I am in a private school where they tell you specifically what you have to wear every single day. However, they do let me wear whatever tie I want. So, I thought, why not really express myself through this one small piece of clothing I am able to choose?
Most of the ties sold are meant for adults because they are the ones who usually wear ties, but there is a significant number of male students aged 18 and under who have to wear a tie as part of a uniform. So, I decided to create ties especially for teenagers. I started thinking about designs in my head. What would be funny on a tie? What would be cool? What would a kid want to wear?
Last year, when I was a freshman, I created my first tie, the Stud Muffin tie. The design was very simple—the word stud with a picture of a muffin next to it. I asked the people around me about the design, and I also leveraged social media. I put up a post that said, “This is the tie I want to make. What do you guys think?” I got good feedback.
I found a manufacturer, which was not easy, especially because I was 14 years old and didn’t have a lot of money. I didn’t know anyone knew how to produce ties, and no one I knew even knew anyone who knew about tie manufacturing.
So, I used the power of the internet. I decided that if local manufacturers didn’t want to talk to me because I was 14, I would go abroad. I went on Alibaba and finally found an offshore manufacturer. We produced our first 50 ties and sold all of them. That’s when I knew this could be a business.
HatchPad: You were involved in an entrepreneurship course when you got this idea, right?
SP: Yes, I attended a year-long after-school course called the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!), which was held at a local college, Rosemont College. I got into it almost by accident. One of my friends sent me the link and said, “They’re looking for one more student.” I thought, “Why not? I could have some fun and learn a few things.” I applied and I was the last kid accepted into the program. I had no idea that that one little decision would change the entire course of my high school career.
I was selected as a 2015 national finalist by the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, and I was one of six finalists invited to Sam’s Club/Walmart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. I went there in October, and I was featured in a company blog post that was circulated throughout the world to thousands of Walmart employees and customers.
HatchPad: Where did you get the funding to start manufacturing ties?
SP: My parents loaned me $400. I’m very blessed to have parents who support me so much. My parents are natively from India, and they came to this country with about $400. They made it work. My dad went back to school and got his master’s degree. My mom went to dental school. Now they’re very successful, and I take a lot of inspiration from my mom and dad. When I got that first shipment, I was more than determined to sell every one of those ties so that I could pay my parents back. I also wanted to show them that this was a feasible idea. One year later, after selling more than 400 ties and becoming profitable, I can say that it is.
HatchPad: How do you sell your ties?
SP: At first, I sold them myself. I would wear a suit jacket to school, so I would keep the ties in the inner pockets. I went up to
every single person I knew, as well as strangers. I learned a lot of lessons from selling ties, and I can tell you this with confidence: I learn just as much selling ties as I learn in a class at school. I thought, “Why not let other high school students have that same opportunity?”
I set up a team of high school salesmen who work on commission. Kids want to buy from kids whom they know, from their friends. We now have three solid salesmen continuously pushing the NovelTie brand.
Recently, we have shifted more to e-commerce sales. We launched the e-commerce website last July, but e-commerce has been increasing since we got a new director of technology named Abheek Pandoh. He is a New Jersey high school student and tech wiz. We had about $11,000 in sales in the last five months through the website alone. Having that web presence has changed the game for us.
Everyone who works with NovelTie is a kid. The oldest one is a college student, but most of us are in high school. We have homework. We have to take the SATs next year. That is a challenge as we try to grow. For example, some of the mothers’ organizations have fashion shows. We sold about 40 ties at one single event. We went to three or four of those over the course of the year, but there were more we couldn’t go to because we didn’t have anyone available to attend.
HatchPad: You started with one design, the Stud Muffin. How many do you have now?
SP: We have about 10 of our own designs, but we also have products we don’t design ourselves. The tie market has changed, and people now want bow ties, suspenders, and tie clips, too.
We thought about expanding with more regular ties, the typical ones with polka dots and stripes. We have about 40 people visiting the website every single day, but not everyone makes a purchase. We thought, “If we expanded the line, we could have every visitor buying a tie.”
But then I looked at the business plan I made before we started selling the ties. One of the first sentences was, “I’m tired of the plain old stripes and polka dots. I want something new.” I didn’t want to abandon the very thing I set out to do. I didn’t want to be just another tie company. I wanted to be one especially for teenagers. So, I decided, “I set out to do this one thing, and I’m going to make sure I follow through on that.”
HatchPad: What do you see as your next step?
SP: Now that we have gotten some publicity and we have a track record of sales, we’re trying to find some local manufacturers. It’s not really a problem to be manufacturing abroad, but if you can make it in America, why wouldn’t you?
HatchPad: You are a sophomore at Archmere Academy high school. Tell me about your school and the activities in which you are involved.
SP: I live about 30 minutes away from the city of Philadelphia and about 10 minutes from the border of Delaware. Archmere Academy is a private Catholic high school in Delaware. Vice President Joe Biden went there. We have a very small class, just 140 kids in my grade, and it’s very competitive. I went through an application process to get in, including interviews and placement tests.
I have really found my place at this school. While keeping a good GPA, I like to be involved in activities. I’m the student council president for my class. I participate in Mock Trial, Model UN, Science Olympiad, and the newspaper club. I play tennis, as well. Because this school is very rigorous academically, we get four or five hours of homework every night.
HatchPad: Before you started NovelTie, you were a spelling bee champ. How did you get into spelling?
SP: That was when I was in middle school. The first time I competed in a spelling bee was in sixth grade. I won second place in my school and I thought, “I might be good at this.” So I studied a bit more and got third place in my district. Then, I was even more determined to win, which I did the following two years (for the county, Delaware County, PA). I was able to make it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee twice. I had a very supportive community and family and friends that rallied around me. That’s what motivated me to do so well.
I became good friends with one of the other top spellers. There’s an age limit to spelling bee competitions, and once we reached that, we wanted to help younger kids who would be competing. We started making plans to develop a mobile app to help kids study for the National Spelling Bee. That led to us receiving about $8,000 in funding and investment to launch a business. Because NovelTie is my main focus, the app idea has gone on the back burner. We’re still talking to developers about a prototype, but we’re a long way from launching.
HatchPad: You also have given some TEDx Talks. How did you get into that?
SP: When I was in eighth grade, I had a teacher who loved TED Talks. We used to watch one every week and discuss it in class. I did a simple Google search and found that a Tedx event was going to be held nearby (TEDxPSUBerks). I emailed the [event producer] to see if I could attend, just to watch. He said yes and sent a link. I saw on the website that people could apply to be speakers. It didn’t say you had to be a certain age, just that you had to have an idea worth sharing. I applied and was accepted.
HatchPad: What was the topic of your talk?
SP: I talked about something I call “Innate Incredibility.” The concept is that we as humans have this innate capability to do something incredible. The human mind is really amazing. Yet, as early as elementary school, we have a system that is breaking up kids into the advanced track or the intermediate track or the beginner track or educational support. By doing this at such a young age, we’re setting kids up to stay on that track for the rest of their lives. So, I proposed, “Why don’t you speak to every single student as if they’re a genius?”
I had just turned 14 when I did my first talk, and I did two more talks on Innate Incredibility after that. I did my fourth talk recently. It was about NovelTie and entrepreneurship. It was for middle schoolers, and I talked about looking at things differently and following your passion—and how you can start at a very young age.
HatchPad: What is it about your nature and/or background that made you an entrepreneur at such a young age?
SP: I can’t emphasize this enough: Everything I’ve done—the spelling bee, the TEDx Talks, NovelTie—happened because of the support I’ve gotten from my parents, my friends, my neighbors, and my community. They give me the push, the help, and the guidance. Anything I’ve been able to do is because of that support. That is the force behind me and the foundation upon which I have built my life.
Name of Business: NovelTie
Founder: Shreyas Parab
Business Type: Tie Designs
Age of founder: 15
Location: Aston, PA
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