Alina Morse, founder of Zollipops, tells Moneyish how she spawned a multimillion dollar idea when she was seven years old
Alina Morse has two million reasons to smile.
The formidable entrepreneur is founder of Zollipops, a business that’s moved $2 million worth of lollipops that are actually good for your teeth since its founding in 2015. Like any busy CEO, her days are filled with phone calls, emails, handing out instructions to her staff of six, and pouring over profit-and-loss data.
Not to mention, homework. The pint-sized powerhouse from Wolverine Lake, Mich., clocks in at just 12 years old.
“I originally came up with the idea when I went to the bank with my dad, and the bank gave me a lollipop and my dad told me that I shouldn’t have candy because sugar is terrible for my teeth,” Morse told Moneyish. “So I asked him, ‘Why don’t we make a healthy lollipop that’s good for my teeth so I can have candy, and it won’t be bad for me?'” She was seven at the time.
Next stop: The lab, for two years of rigorous recipe testing. Morse and her parents collectively invested $7,500 in startup costs (half was contributed by Morse’s savings from birthdays and holidays over the years), to hire a team to develop the formula.
Today, 10,000 stores across America — including Walmart, Kroger, Office Depot, and soon, Toys ‘R Us — stock Zollipops, many housing them in the oral healthcare aisle next to the toothbrushes. Morse said that these retailers have collectively sold $5 million worth of her products, though they do have competitors — like Dr. John’s “Thrive” fruit lollipops, also designed to be better for you.
“In the past three years we have doubled our sales, and this year we are set to triple our sales for 2018,” she noted. The aim is to increase distribution to new retailers and expand availability on Amazon. “Moms are really into what we’re doing.”
Zollipops are available in six different flavors (strawberry, orange, raspberry, grape, pineapple, and cherry), and are complemented by similar products like “Zollidrops” — basically, the lollipop, just without the stick — and chewy “Zaffi Taffy.” A 25-count bag of Zollipops goes for $6. Zollidrops and Zaffi Taffy, for their part, are $4 a pack.
Why are the sweet treats better than typical lollipops? For one thing, no sugar: They use Xylitol, an artificial plant-based sweetener, to whittle the sugar to 0 grams and the calorie count down to 35 per pop. While experts say it’s important to keep an eye on how much Xylitol we consume, it’s widely considered safe, used in many common chewing gums and as a sugar substitute for diabetics.
What’s more, they can help your teeth, Morse claimed: “They raise the pH in your mouth after an acidic meal and they neutralize the acid and strengthen your tooth enamel. That takes away the bacteria that causes cavities and tooth decay to (form).”
Despite Morse’ success, being taken seriously by far older counterparts hasn’t always been easy. “Some people are just close-minded and they don’t realize that kids can do… whatever adults can do, if they put their mind to it.”
She’s dispelled misconceptions about her age by standing her ground. “When I’m in a sales meeting, (business people) don’t see me being all cutesy,” she leveled. “I’m sitting there, ready to negotiate or make a deal or answer their questions.”
“When you’re in a big sales meeting, don’t show any signs of weakness,” she added. “People want you to crack under pressure, but you’ve really go to show that you’re committed to your business.”
That resilient spirit landed her in front of the pull-no-punches investors on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” although the episode didn’t make it to air. (Morse declined to disclose whether the judges offered her an investment opportunity, citing a non-disclosure agreement.)
Morse’s self-described sweet tooth is matched by her taste for philanthropy — she donates 10% of her profits to oral healthcare education in schools nationwide. “Your smile is one of the first things people see when they look at you,” she said, hence why she wants other kids to know how important it is to take care of your teeth.
And, “I like to go shopping!” she admitted — mostly for clothes, with an eye for “anything I see that’s cute.” She’s still savvy about personal finance, though, consciously saving most of her dough for reinvesting into the business and funding her future college education.
For now, Morse is happy right where she is. “It’s really important to me that we help people feel good in a world of stress and anxiety,” she concluded. “We just want to help people smile.”
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