Like many tween girls, Veronica Malkin developed an obsession for fingernail painting.
Not just regular old nail painting, whisked on a during a commercial break. We're talking nail art: intricate designs, animal prints, flowers, tapped out on a keratin canvas with the tiniest of brushes.
"She found countless new techniques on YouTube and emulated designs from photos on nail bloggers' sites," said her mom, Michelle.
Veronica's favorite look, achieved through a process called water marbling, resulted in nails topped with multicolored, swirling patterns reminiscent of the spin art of the psychedelic era. The Internet was rife with step-by-step instructions on the technique, in which dollops of polish are first dropped into water to create a colorful membrane that adheres to the nail surface when fingers are properly blocked-off, with tape, and dunked.
But as Veronica discovered, that was where the real work began. Some brands of polish didn't lend themselves to the process at all; others were only so-so. Too high or too low a water temperature could skew drying times and ruin a batch, as could a less-than-deft nail artist.
"When you get it right it's, like, so easy. It spreads perfectly," said Veronica, a soft-spoken 13-year-old.
After fine-tuning her technique, she presented her work to her parents, who gushed appropriately. Then her dad, Jesse, asked if she'd considered assembling a kit and selling it.
Because, unlike most tween girls, Veronica's role models are Steve Jobs and Walt Disney.
Entrepreneurship, it's kind of a family thing.
Find your passion
"Do what you love" is gilded business advice, and - in the Malkin household - a sort of theme. Dad Jesse started a comic book business as a kid and helps run the politics-oriented website, Twitchy.com, that he founded with wife Michelle. The couple also founded and sold another political blog, Hotair.com, in 2010.
"We love entrepreneurship," said Jesse. "We hope she does whatever she wants, but we encourage her in it. We let her know it's an option."
Starting up a business, Michelle knew, would provide a wealth of teachable moments.
"As parents, we think it's more important than ever to teach our kids hands-on lessons in entrepreneurialism," said Michelle, who writes a syndicated column that runs in The Gazette. "Young people are voracious consumers, but they tend to take the basics and blessings of capitalism for granted."
Target a niche
Veronica had no trouble finding tips and primers on the popular technique online, but could find no all-inclusive packages containing the marbling basics and instructions. So, as her dad suggested, that would be her niche - a single kit, with all the polishes and tools you'd need to get the job done, marketed to tweens and teens. The family brainstormed the logo design and business name, settling on Marbleous Nails.
"We had a huge argument over whether or not to put a hyphen in the name," said Jesse, who built the company's website.
Bulk orders had to be placed for nail lacquers, shipping and packing supplies, and an employee identification number obtained from the IRS for tax purposes.
"Veronica was exposed to countless other small and independent business owners - from box manufacturers to web and brochure designers to office supply wholesalers," said Michelle. "She learned that costs do add up."
Over several days in June, extended family gathered in the Malkins' living room to help pack Marbleous Nail boxes as Veronica's 9-year-old brother, Julian, entertained the crowd with ukulele serenades.
Veronica also set about establishing herself, her product and reputation among the online nail blogging and fashion community. She spent the summer setting up social media accounts to spread the word. She shipped out kits to nail bloggers asking for feedback on quality, pricing and promotion - and, hope-hope, a glowing thumbs-up.
"They say, if you send them a product, they could give you a bad review, so I was really nervous," she said.
Reviewers suggested she include more Q-tips and lower the price; one groused gently about the color combo. Overall, though, feedback has been positive.
Nail blogger Jacki, at Adventuresinacetone.com, described the kit as "perfect for beginning water marblers." As for the blogger's take on Veronica, "she is too cute and I think she's come up with a genius idea for nail art lovers!"
Blogger Leslie at www.polishartaddict.com wrote: "Overall, I think the kit is a great idea. It includes everything you need. The packaging is ADORABLE."
So far, more kits have been mailed out free, for reviews and product tweaking, than have been sold. But that's how this works.
"She realized it's not enough to have a good product," Michelle said. "You have to put yourself out there and sell it."
A CEO's perspective
Failure teaches success, as the saying goes.
And with Marbleous Nails just a tender 5 months old, and with the holiday shopping season fast approaching, the learning curve for Veronica continues.
During a recent marbling demonstration, she discovered that storing her inventory in the garage won't work for the cold months; the chilled lacquer dried too fast in the marbling jar. Veronica tried to adjust the water temperature and warm the polish, but there seemed to be no quick workaround.
"We'll have to include a card letting people know not to store the kit in a cold place," Jesse said.
"Yeah," said Veronica, sounding deflated.
Jesse and Michelle knew their daughter was disappointed. To cheer her up, they reminded her that glitches and "presentation failures" even frustrate the captains of industry. They showed her a YouTube video of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs' 2010 iPhone 4 fail during a product launch demo before a packed audience.
It helped put things in perspective for the young CEO.
"I guess I'm in good company," Veronica said.