Olivia Piazza describes herself as an “accidental entrepreneur”.
In late 2017, the high school student from Leichhardt in Sydney’s inner west was searching for handbags on Gumtree when she saw a woman advertising neoprene bags in nearby Balmain.
“She was closing down her business and needed to get rid of her stock, she had to leave the country the next week,” she said.
“I got my dad to take me over there. I was interested in buying one, but ended up buying all 500. It was an amazing deal. I wasn’t planning on buying all of them.”
The 16-year-old immediately saw an opportunity to make some money.
“I love business,” Ms Piazza said. “I’ve always been into business even at a young age. I used to sell homemade rocky road with my sister when I was 10. On the weekend we would make $200.”
With the help of her dad, who owns a business importing fitness equipment, she started selling the bags at markets on weekends. She also bought a domain name, neoprenebags.com.au.
“I went to Kiama markets on the coast, Coogee, Jervis Bay, beachy areas,” she said.
“These bags are great for the beach and waterproof, they’re made from wetsuit material. They’re machine washable and versatile. You can dress it up or dress it down to go to the gym. Lots of people use them as work bags.”
Ms Piazza’s weekend trips even took them as far as the Canberra Christmas markets. “We drive everywhere, I’m very keen,” she said.
“At the start it was a bit like, selling a few on eBay and stuff like that, I was making an income from the different markets on the weekend, just a bit everywhere because I wasn’t appearing on Google.”
Ms Piazza said after about six months, “it just took off from there” — within eight months, she had sold all 500 of her original bags.
“The profit was about $20,000,” she said. “My dad was pretty shocked. He didn’t know where it would end up, if it was going to be successful or not. I guess he didn’t expect that from bags.”
In mid-2018 she got her own supplier in China. “I did it all online, I’m actually going to China with my dad this year but last year I was just sort of looking online,” she said.
“I talked to a few suppliers and got some samples made and they sent them over to me. My first supplier the quality wasn’t so good, so I scrapped them and moved on to another one, now I’m happy.”
Ms Piazza also makes her own designs. “Most of them are like black or grey, but I do customise them by handle type,” she said. “I did have a floral pattern which was super popular.”
Today, the St Vincent’s College student sells bags online during the week and at markets on weekends. “On a good week I make $500, on a low week anywhere from zero to $100, just because online sales go up and down,” she said.
“It’s really good because I don’t have to be physically working at McDonald’s, I can be studying and working on my business from home.”
She plans to study business or marketing at university, and eventually wants to get a job overseas somewhere like New York. “But I also want to focus on my business and expand it, get into shops,” Ms Piazza said.
After the success selling plain bags with her basic domain name, she’s getting ready to launch her own brand. “When I started I thought it would be a good domain name because people know that’s what it’s called,” she said.
“It was hard coming up with a brand name so I just purchased that. But I’m coming out with my brand, Olivia Jean. It’s not quite ready yet.”
Surprisingly Ms Piazza said social media wasn’t a big sales driver. “Social media helps a little bit, but I mainly focus on Google Adwords. I’ve tried social media but I’ve just found I don’t really generate many sales.”
Her advice to other young people thinking of starting a business is to “not over think it and just to start”. “It can be so confusing,” she said.
“I’m doing business this year and you learn all the legal structures and everything and it just gets so complicated, you can see why people say, ‘I have an idea but where do I start?’”
The best thing to do is just “find a product you like and test the market”.
These days she attends conferences to educate herself about entrepreneurship. She looks up to Boost Juice founder Janine Allis. “I really like her story and I’ve read her book,” she said. “Hers was like an accident as well.”
Naturally, she adds, “I love Shark Tank.”