Bees to Business: A 4-year-old idea becomes a buzzing company
When Mikaila Ulmer was just four years old, she was stung by two bees in the same week. Her parents encouraged her to do some research on the bees rather than being upset with them. Upon discovering the important role that bees play in our ecosystem, Mikaila was determined to help them. Using her Great Granny Helen’s flaxseed honey lemonade recipe, Mikaila launched her business from her home in Austin, Texas in 2009. Landing a deal with Daymond John on the show Shark Tank was just the beginning of Me & the Bees’ many business successes.
On Tuesday, June 16 our CEO, Claire Coder, interviewed Mikaila and asked her about her knowledge and expertise on her company and the Black Lives Matter movement. The video of this interview has been edited and posted online on Claire’s Linkedin page. Below is a transcription of the interview.
[INTRO] - CLARIFICATIONS WITH CLAIRE CODER, SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR - FORBES 30 UNDER 30 - CHANGE MAKER
[CLAIRE] Mikaila welcome to Clarifications. I am so excited to have you.
[MIKAILA] Thank you. I'm super excited to be here.
[CLAIRE] I'm fangirling over you. You founded Me and the Bees when you were just four years old, which is absolutely bonkers. You've been on Shark Tank. You landed a deal with Daymond John, you're launching a book with Penguin, and your amazing lemonade is available in stores across the United States and I hear you surpassed selling over 1 million bottles.
[MIKAILA] That's right. Yeah. Yes. That was our landmark of last year. So already halfway through the year and we're on to our next goal.
[CLAIRE] I love that. And so that was just a few tidbits. What else did I miss that makes you super duper?
[MIKAILA] Awesome. Mmm. It's a family-run company and my mission is to help save the bees and encourage social entrepreneurship. We are in 1,800 stores nationally. There's five fun and functional flavors and random fact, I have pet chickens. I don't know if that counts but…
[CLAIRE] Very important. I'm so glad that you added that. So take me back to the beginning, how and why did you start your company at the ripe age of 4 years old?
[MIKAILA] Yes. So I started it not as a company but as a lemonade stand. I wanted to—I signed up for Action Children’s Business Fair and Austin Lemonade Day both national organizations which teach entrepreneurship and then also let kids sell a product at a booth without the need of a permit. And so over the summer I was trying to figure out what product I was going to sell. I probably should have figured out my product before I signed up but well over that summer I got stung by two weeks and one week which was terrifying and then I also got a cookbook for my great-granny Helen with her favorite recipe of flaxseed lemonade and so after getting stung by those bees I was scared of them my parents encouraged me to do a little bit of research on them. And as you may know they're incredibly important pollinators, and critical to our ecosystem and food supply but they're also dying at an alarming rate. And so I decided to take my great-granny Helens flaxseed lemonade recipe and sweetened with honey, which I just learned that the bees made and kind of have this weird four-year-old idea of lemonade and so after a lot of test batches finally started tasting good, really good, and we realized this could be like the perfect product for Lemonade Day.
[CLAIRE] Yeah. What a remarkable journey. Four years old and now how old are you?
[MIKAILA] I'm 15 now. We are celebrating our 10 year anniversary. We celebrated by doing even more with my nonprofit the Healthy Hive Foundation. We're launching this book. And then I also traveled to Singapore and Budapest to teach about social entrepreneurship. So it's been a very fun year this year and last year and we're still growing.
[CLAIRE] So much more to come. And being this age, it sounds like you've had so many like “holy smokes, this is so cool, I never thought I'd do this” moments. What was your most amazing moment?
[MIKAILA] I don't think I can say one thing. I think what I love about being an entrepreneur and starting this company is I love being able to travel. That's been such an honor is being able to go and speak about social entrepreneurship, the bees and my journey and also meet people and network with other entrepreneurs and get tons of advice. That's amazing. Some great experiences that I've had, I was introducing former President Obama. That was amazing. I got to speak at the United State of Women Conference and he has been like a role model—and the First Lady—for such a long time. In fact, I got to meet them three times like, that blew my mind.
[CLAIRE] Why your lemonade? What has differentiated you in a relatively crowded beverage market?
[MIKAILA] I think one of the things that differentiated me was that I believed that I could change the world with a lemonade stand. So many kids when they want to potentially get their product into stores or figure out how they can grow their company people say “wait till you're grown up with your older". And I think like the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up” could be changed on “what do you enjoy doing?” Or “what do you want to start doing now?” Also being a natural product that's made by kids for kids. So no artificial colors sweeteners or preservatives.
[CLAIRE] I was looking at your social media and I saw that you recently made a statement about Black Lives Matter and I really want to ask you, Mikaila, what does Black Lives Matter mean to you?
[MIKAILA] Black Lives Matter ,to me, is what it means exactly what it says. It means that black lives matter. What it doesn't mean is that other lives matter less. It's that black lives matter too.
[CLAIRE]Is there something that we're not talking about that we should be talking about or questions that we aren't asking that we should be asking as it pertains to the Black Lives Matter movement?
[MIKAILA] I think one thing that people aren't asking this is just something that I've experienced myself is that I've had—and Hale Thomas, she is another activist also pointed this out—is that I've had no, none of my like nice white neighbors come up to me and ask me how I'm doing or how I'm feeling so really checking in with your black friends, co-workers is important and just seeing their views. I think if you're white, being open to the fact that white privilege is a thing and trying to learn more about it instead of avoiding the topic because it's uncomfortable. I think just saying I'd like to know how you're feeling. How are you feeling about what's going on? What can I do to help those are really simple questions and no one's going to be like, what is—what are they doing talking to me? They're not going to be— they're not going to be offended by that.
[CLAIRE] You can take this any which way business, Black Lives Matter, any other movement that you care about but what is one thing that you want to CLARIFY?
[MIKAILA] As part of the 96 percent of businesses that have been impacted by COVID, the increase of support of black-owned companies And then also just my company has been great. So I'd like to thank everyone for that.
By: Ally Williams