Meet sixth-grader Lyla Black, co-founder of Lyla Tov Monsters, in the second episode of Small Business, a Moneyish original series about children and teens who run their own companies.
Lyla Black’s company started with a Hanukkah gift.
She was three years old when she told her mom, Erin, that she wanted to give her dad a monster as a present. “I knew that he loved monsters,” says Black, now 11.
She drew a picture and asked her mom to help “make it real.” Erin Slattery Black, an Emmy Award-winning costume designer who counts Sesame Street among her clients, was more than qualified to get that done. From that first yellow monster, cobbled together out of materials in the family’s Queens, New York garage, a family business was born.
Lyla Tov Monsters has since sold about 3,500 plush monsters, according to Eric Black, Lyla’s dad. The idea is that kids are scared of monsters, and Lyla Tov’s four characters — Charlotte, Forrest, Madeline and Squonk — “are good monsters that will scare all the bad monsters away,” Lyla Black says.
The company name comes from “laila tov,” Hebrew for “good night.” The smiling monsters retail for $19.99 and are sold online and in about 20 stores and the gift shop of the Jewish Museum. When a Kickstarter campaign ended up over-funded, the family also produced a children’s book.
Through the years, Black has also sold the monsters at craft fairs. In September, with her dad and a friend, she helmed a table at Muyu Market, a pop-up “kidpreneur” market in Queens, and last month, she displayed the monsters at a TEDxYouth event in Pittsburgh.
“It’s kind of exciting when you realize I’ve like encouraged this person so much that they actually decided to buy one,” she says of her experience in sales. “It’s pretty cool.”
These days, the making of the monsters is more hands-off: Black and her mom made prototypes that were sent to a factory for production. She stays up-to-date through weekly business meetings with her dad, Wednesday nights after homework and after her three siblings go to sleep. At this point, most of the money earned goes back into the company.
Black says she’s learned a lot from others she’s met in the plush toy industry, which is worth $1.3 billion and growing.
And she of course has a collection of her own.
“I’m kind of a little too old for plush toys,” she says, “but I’ve still got tons of them.”
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