Ali Kitinas, believed to be Australia’s youngest CEO, started her first business at age 11. With the benefit of hindsight, she shares her top tips for young entrepreneurs from lessons learned in starting and building her own business.
- From performer to entrepreneur
- Hiring mom as an employee
- Using business as a platform against modern slavery
- A new legislation affecting businesses in Australia
- Hurdles in starting a business for a young entrepreneur
- Learning about IP protection the hard way
- Get the right advice early on
- Trust your gut and go for it
- How to connect with Ali
Joanna: Hi it’s Joanna Oakey here and welcome back to Talking Law, a podcast brought to you by our commercial legal practice Aspect Legal.
Today we’re talking to Ali Kitinas, believed to be Australia’s youngest CEO.
Ali started her first business at age 11 and is now the founder and chief executive officer of her own company called Freedom Scrub, which sells ethically sourced body scrubs that help support the rehabilitation of women rescued from human trafficking in Australia.
In this episode, Ali gives us her top tips for young entrepreneurs from lessons learned from her own experience of starting and building her business. These tips are relevant to business owners no matter what age you are, and no matter of what stage you’re in in the business cycle. So sit back, relax and we’ll jump right into it!
Joanna: Ali, it’s so good to have you on the show.
This is a bit of a different show today and we’re talking about the path for younger entrepreneurs. But maybe the best place for us to start is maybe if we can just hear a little bit about your story so give us an overview of where you’ve been and what you’re currently doing.
From performer to entrepreneur
Ali: Yeah, so I have a background in performing. I grew up as an actress and a dancer and a singer and recognised that that wasn’t necessarily the most financially sustainable career path unless I really made it big.
And so I wanted from a young age to be able to financially support myself so that I didn’t have to work as a waitress or in a corporate job as well where I felt like I was suffering because I was working for someone else.
Joanna: And I guess let’s put this in context because you’re just moving into year 12 now.
Joanna: So are you still at school obviously.
Joanna: So when you say when I was young I had these thoughts. It’s an interesting thing, because it’s a little bit different to the age I’m referring to if I say when I was young.
Ali: Yeah, yeah. So I’m talking… I mean… So I started my first business when I was 11.
Joanna: When you were 11! Wow!
Ali: Yeah. So that’s kind of the time that I was thinking about all these things, which I guess is crazy when I think about that I am only 17. But to me it’s just so second nature now because it’s just what I’ve always done, if that makes sense.
Joanna: It does. It does. It does. So what was your business at 11?
Ali: I started a social media marketing agency called OTS marketing, which stood for Outside The Square. Being young and constantly on social media, I had a lot of my mom’s work colleagues coming to ask me how do I set up an Instagram account. What should I be doing? I know I need to use it for my business but I’m not quite sure how to.
A lot of these people didn’t have the financial capability to go out to a larger agency that were charging even like a couple hundred dollars a month. They just didn’t have the budget because they were startups.
I recognized that I’m young. I know how to use these platforms and because of my age I can charge less. So I really hit that niche of people that can’t really afford to go out to a larger agency but also really need to know how to use this or need someone to do it for them because they just don’t have the time.
Joanna: Did you say age 11? At age 11 you set up the social media marketing business.
Joanna: And so at that point, it was you providing these services to these individuals.
Hiring mom as an employee
Joanna: And then did you then get to the point where you employed people or engaged people to do work with you or for you?
Ali: Well, it was mostly me for most of the time. Then when things got a little bit bigger, I actually got the chance to employ my mom and let her work for me and work with me.
Joanna: That’s brilliant!
Ali: Because she wasn’t working in a corporate job at the time. She was doing things on her own as well. It was just a really great fit.
Then as other things started to evolve and new opportunities came up, I ended up starting my business that I have now, Freedom Scrub, which I’m still working on. It was just easier for us to be a smaller team, if that makes sense. It was within our capabilities and it just made sense.
Joanna: I think many of our listeners would agree that certainly smaller team is in many respects much easier.
Ali: It’s definitely easier to manage. It’s helpful when you know your teammate as well as I do, because it’s mom.
But it’s quite funny. We often get asked lot of the time about the dynamics of our relationship when it’s business versus when it’s not business, which is very interesting to negotiate.
Using business as a platform against modern slavery
Joanna: I can imagine. I can imagine. Absolutely!
So you said you moved from your social media business into your current business, Freedoms Scrub.
Joanna: Maybe if you can tell us a little bit about Freedom Scrub, and what made you move into that.
Ali: Yes. At Freedom Scrub, we make ethical body scrubs with a slavery free supply chain and for every scrub that we sell we help support the rehabilitation of women rescued from human trafficking in Australia.
Ever since I was, ever since I could talk really, when I started to learn about the inequalities that were going on in our world. I saw homelessness in Sydney. I learnt about the issue of poverty that we have in the world. I was always very drawn to giving back.
Once I started my business, I started to see so many other businesses popping up that were social enterprises, that had a social cause and that had the opportunity to make an impact in the world as well as be a sustainable business that helps their owners survive and pay for things. They get the best of both worlds because they can have a business and be doing amazing things from that perspective. But also, be making an impact in the world which was always something that was so critical to who I was.
So in October 2015 I visited a city in India called Kolkata. That is actually one of the most dangerous cities in the world for young girls because of the issue of human trafficking.
I was 15 at the time, so I was meeting girls my age that had essentially had their whole lives, their whole futures taken away from them because they didn’t have the same opportunities that I did.
I made it my mission to use the platform that I have even just because I was born in Australia, because I am slightly more fortunate than them by chance, to use that platform that I was given to A) do whatever I could to help them and to make their lives better B) but also to give them the voice that was taken away from them because they weren’t as lucky as I was to be born in Australia.
Joanna: That’s amazing. How old were you when you started this Freedom Scrub business?
Ali: I was 15 when I went to India and then I started shortly after that. I went in October of 2015 and then the beginning of 2016 is when I started Freedom Scrub.
That was because I learnt that human trafficking was something that was actually happening in Australia and I met an organisation which is now my charity partner, the Freedom Hub. They’re based in Sydney and now the Gold Coast.
They actually have a survivor school where they educate women that are rescued from trafficking. It was just a really great fit in terms of what I wanted to do and the message that they had.
Joanna: Look this is not perhaps strictly relevant to the Talking Law podcast as a whole, but I have to talk about this a little bit more. I can’t believe that. So there’s trafficking here in Australia, is that right?
Ali: Yeah. It’s less well known and a lot of people are really shocked when they hear that it is.
Ali: Obviously, to the level that it happens in other countries we’re not super high up in terms of the Global Slavery Index, which is a release of statistics every year regarding slavery in the world. But we do still have shockingly high numbers.
I believe in 2016 it was 40,000 known cases of trafficking and a lot of them actually don’t even go forward in the legal sense because A) victims don’t feel comfortable speaking up B) but also there’s not a lot of support in place for when they do.
Joanna: That’s incredible. Gosh! I just can’t believe it.
A new legislation affecting businesses in Australia
Ali: It’s also, from a legal perspective, it’s also a very interesting time for slavery because Australia has just had our Federal Modern Slavery Act passed. I was actually in Parliament when it was being read in the Senate.
We now actually have a new law that’s being put in place where businesses that are making, I believe it’s over… I wouldn’t know the exact number. But it’s for larger scale businesses, and then smaller businesses have the option to opt in as well.
But they have to basically be completely transparent in terms of where their products are being manufactured, all of their fair work wages that are in place to make sure that they are being held accountable and that there is no slavery in their supply chain. Definitely something that if you are interested in it, it would be great to have a look at as well.
Joanna: Wow! That’s amazing. I think what we’ll do Ali is we will have a specific podcast where you and I can talk about that exact legislation because I think this is really important legislation. You give us the real depth I guess in the point of view in terms of why the legislation has been brought in and the real human side of the background to the legislation.
Joanna: Because let’s face it, red tape legislation for businesses is often considered a bit boring. But this subject is grounded in some really deep human issues I guess, right?
Ali: Yeah. I think the concept of slavery is something that everyone knows about. But they don’t really know how it works in our modern context. And so a lot of people just get swept under the rug and they don’t think about it.
So it’s really great to see that A) conversation is being opened up on such a larger scale because it’s being spoken about in our government B) but also because businesses are now actually being held accountable, which is something that we haven’t had in place before.
Hurdles in starting a business for a young entrepreneur
Joanna: And so the relevance I guess for our listeners as well as you know the really interesting human stories behind what we’re talking about at the moment is also the practical side of understanding what this new legislation means to them or them as a supplier potentially to large corporations. Because where you are a supplier to a large organisation who is impacted by this legislation, then your own supply chain will become relevant even if you’re not directly targeted by this legislation. So stay tuned! We’ll tell you about a new podcast coming up soon where Ali and I could go through all of that.
But I guess coming back then to your story, so at age 15 you’ve set up this business, Freedoms Scrub. I think most of our listeners have experience in the emerging stages of business, whether or not that’s a business that they have started from the ground up like you did with Freedom Scrub or whether it’s a business that they’ve purchased. You still go through this process of dealing with the emerging stages of getting your head into business.
Maybe if you can tell us a little bit about what was difficult for you when you were setting up the business and any legal issues along the way. Because I think this is something that’s really relevant to people as they start in business, and not necessarily just starters. But as they continue in business, to have a mindset towards where are the issues that other people have had along the way.
Ali: Sure. I guess because of my age I had a lot to learn when I first started for sure.
Joanna: We all do, Ali. We all do.
Ali: That’s true. That’s true. But in our education system there’s not really a lot of knowledge that’s being passed down about business at all until you get to kind of the last few years of high school, like only the last three years I would say.
Even then, once you are getting that knowledge, it’s very traditional and there’s no support in terms of the new way that business is happening. Because of the world that we live in, with technology. It’s still all very dated and very traditional.
So I did have to learn those kind of basics of even what would be a smart idea in terms of legal structure because I am under 18 and so I couldn’t actually be incorporated when I first started my business. If I was going to do that, I would have to do that through my parents. That was one hurdle that I had to face, and then trade marks and learning about intellectual property because I’m one that likes to talk about my ideas a lot of the time and not everyone in business can be as trustworthy as you would like them to be.
There’s definitely been a lot of hurdles and things that I had to learn, which I guess is the way for anyone in business. But I do wish that there was more of that foundational knowledge from an educational perspective.
Joanna: And you know I guess from your perspective, you didn’t even have that experience of a long time working for people to sort of see what was done in business as well.
Ali: Yeah. I had support from my mom, because she was an entrepreneur. I had mentors around me that definitely provided as much insight as they could. But there was a lot of learning and growth to do so that I could get to where I am today and so that I could be taken seriously as well, as a business person.
Because a lot of people see my age and instantly think you know it’s just a kid that is selling things at markets or you know they think like a little kid doing a lemonade stand.
There was a lot of work that I had to put in and a lot of things I had to learn so that I could be seen as an entrepreneur, as a person that was doing business in my own right.
Learning about IP protection the hard way
Joanna: You talked a little bit about trade mark issues that you had along the way and stuff that you had to learn about trade marks. Can you talk to us about that? What were the issues and what did you learn?
Ali: Yeah. So I had been in the process of starting an educational platform at the moment which is now, it’s still in kind of brainstorm phase and working on how we can make that happen because the education system is a big beast to tackle.
But I brought in a lot of support from mentors that I had around me that I thought had the right intentions. So I would be at meetings and I would have an idea about a name or a logo. I would sketch it down and I wouldn’t think anything of it because I was around other people, because I wouldn’t think anyone would be paying attention to that kind of thing, if that makes sense.
Then literally, a few months later, I had these same people that were supposed to be supporting me using the phrases that I had come up with, using the concepts of the logo, using the business name even in their own marketing.
Ali: And I was still brainstorming at the time so I didn’t know if this was even going to happen. This is like a few years ago now. When that happened, it was really a wakeup call. I need to figure out how to legally protect myself so that that doesn’t happen again.
Joanna: Yeah absolutely. And I think what you’re talking about here is quite a common story. Common in the sense that trade marks and intellectual property are perhaps something that people don’t understand the importance of until they’ve had an event where someone has taken advantage of that or misused it or done something to threaten their own use or ownership of it.
Yeah. And in one sense I mean it’s awful for these sorts of things to happen. But on the other hand, it can be very useful and instructive for that to happen very early in your business stage.
Ali: Yes, for sure.
Joanna: Because it gives you the I guess the information and understanding so you can bounce back and do things differently moving forward.
Ali: Yeah and I now have that knowledge that I can support other people with what I want to do. A big aspect of my message is helping other young people pursue their dreams.
So if I am in a situation where I’m mentoring other young people I can make sure that they protect themselves so they don’t fall into the same trap that I did.
Get the right advice early on
Joanna: Yeah. And so what is that advice? So what’s the advice that you give people that you work with now or yourself? What do you do now and yourself that’s different to what you did before?
Ali: Well, the first most important thing is to talk to a lawyer if you have an idea, if you’re setting something up, go get the advice in the first place. Make sure that every decision that you’re making is informed by the right people and the people that actually know what they’re talking about in that area. Also make sure that you do your own research too so that you know that in every possible way you’re covered and that you’re in the best possible situation to move forward.
Joanna: That’s a really good point that you make there. I think some people when dealing with lawyers feel that they might be in this situation where the lawyer has all the power and we’ll just tell them what to do.
Some lawyers, we generally do this as a matter of course, we bring our clients along with us and we teach them along the way so that they understand why we’re talking about what we’re talking about in terms of protection.
If you’re dealing with a lawyer where that doesn’t happen, then it’s about asking the questions and not feeling that you can’t ask those questions because it’s important to be empowered as an individual that’s receiving the advice to understand it completely.
Ali: Yeah. You always hear people say knowledge is power but it really is true.
Joanna: You obviously have these questions about structure and these IP issues and it’s fascinating as you talk Ali because obviously you started business at a very young age. But the phases that I can see you’ve clearly gone through are just so representative of the phases that businesses go through no matter what age their owners are or experience indeed.
Because structure is one of those fundamental issues. And whilst you are approaching structure from the perspective or the concern about your age in being able to be a director and owner of the of the business, structure is still relevant for people who are over 18 because there’s tax considerations and flexibility considerations with a business that need to be considered in line with a structure that’s chosen for the business.
As well on the IP side, no matter what size your business is, no matter how small or large, intellectual property considerations and issues will crop up with your business whoever you are from time to time.
So what else? Has there been anything else along the way that has provided learnings?
Trust your gut and go for it
Ali: I think that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way is just to go for it. I know that that’s probably a little cliche or a little cheesy. But every time I come across like one of my biggest challenges it’s because I didn’t trust my instinct when I should have.
And I either waited too long or I second guessed myself and later I looked back and not so much regretted because I try not to do that. But I have this sense of I should have gone for it when I had the chance. And also, when I’ve had the most rewarding experiences, it’s because I did just trust my gut and go with it.
I mean it’s not so much a legal lesson that I’ve learnt. But I think it’s just as important because so many people get caught up in themselves and in their own thoughts and self-doubt and they don’t take the chance on the things that matter at any age whether they’re young or experienced or you know retiring even. I’ve seen so many people that haven’t taken the chance when they think they should have and then they’ve regretted it later on in life.
Joanna: Are there any examples that really stick out in your mind of this?
Ali: Yeah. I mean I can even go with the same example with the IP issue in that I waited too long to step out of my box and to start talking about doing what I wanted to do with entrepreneurial education for young people.
I kept it inside a lot of the time and just spoke about it with the people that were immediate around me instead of actually going forward and doing my best to make it happen.
A lot of other businesses kind of similar in terms of the aim of them pop up. But the difference was they don’t have the same perspective in that you know they jumped on the bandwagon because they were working with the young entrepreneur or something like that.
I still have the opportunity to do what I want to do and do it right. But I do wonder had I done it sooner, what would be different? If that makes sense.
Joanna: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I guess you’re saying taking an idea that you think maybe has legs and then going out and really putting your energy behind it before others do.
Ali: Yeah. It might not even be in a big sense in terms of a whole other business. It might just be any project to work on or something like that. But a lot of the time, no matter what aspect it is, if you don’t jump on the opportunity soon, the opportunity is there for someone else.
Joanna: Yeah, interesting. Yeah, and I guess that’s particularly so for intellectual property. That in many sense is all about the first to market with it.
Joanna: Fabulous. Okay, look today’s discussion has been absolutely fabulous, Ali. Thank you for sharing all of your messages and information about your story. We are definitely going to have you back to talk about this new legislation that’s hit. We’ll talk about the impact and the reason behind it.
Ali: Amazing. I look forward to it.
How to connect with Ali
Joanna: But in the meantime, if people want to contact you Ali, how did they do that?
Ali: You can head to our website and reach out to us through there. From a business perspective, you can learn more about what we do at Freedom Scrub. You’re also welcome to connect with me on social media. All my handles are just my name Ali Kitinas or even shoot me an email if you would like to. Again, it’s just my name [email protected]
Joanna: Brilliant. Okay. And your website is www.freedomscrub.com so if anyone is interested in purchasing any of your fabulous Freedom Scrubs, they should head to that website.
We’ll put links in our show notes as always to each of those things, the website for Freedom Scrub and the direct connection to Ali herself.
Joanna: Ali, thank you so much and I am really looking forward to having you on again.
Ali: Thank you for having me.
Joanna: Now that concludes our episode with Ali Kitinas of Freedom Scrub, where we hear all about Ali’s story of how she became an entrepreneur at age 11. We also talked about all the hurdles she had to face as a young entrepreneur and her top tips for starting and growing a business.
If you want to learn more about Ali and the amazing things she is doing through her business Freedom Scrub or her charity partner Freedom Hub, check out our show notes at www.talkinglaw.com.au where we’ll link through to their websites. There you will find a full transcript of this episode if you want to read this in more detail.
I hope you enjoyed what you heard today. If you did, please head over to Apple Podcasts or your other favorite podcast player, look for Talking Law and hit the subscribe button to get notifications straight to your phones whenever a new episode is out.
Thanks again for listening in! This has been Joanna Oakey and Talking Law, a podcast proudly brought to you by our commercial legal practice Aspect Legal. See you next time!
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