Sisters Maureen and Grace Koepke each started an online business while attending school virtually
If you want something done right for you, sometimes you must do it yourself, Maureen Koepke, 17, discovered. Once she began using skincare products, she was unsuccessful in finding a product that her sensitive skin didn’t react to. Her skin was so susceptible that she would experience irritation from air fresheners and hotel sheets. Taking it back to the root of simple and honest skincare, Maureen made some products herself and her skin immediately responded favorably. On another note of need, her 15-year-old sister Grace’s mission was geared towards helping animals. Harnessing the harmony of her two loves, baking and horses, she baked custom horse treats to raise some money for animal organizations. Donating nearly $1,000 to local animal rescues, Grace realized she could see the positive results she always strived for in the effort to support animals. After sharing their creations and receiving positive feedback, the sisters realized the benefit of these products could reach beyond their inner circle.
It all picked up momentum with COVID-19. When the sisters, who attend Kettle Run High School, started their schooling virtually and were stuck in the house, they became, well, bored. It was a perfect time to investigate expanding into online businesses. Although juggling both school and running a business can demand time from opposite directions, sometimes the two can build off each other, and both girls have maintained straight A’s throughout the experience.
Their business journeys started in an unlikely place: the music room of their home on the edge of Warrenton. What they grew up with as the room where they would unwind to their mother, Jordan, playing piano became the headquarters of Maureen’s Lilac Beauty and Grace’s Possum’s Pastries. Their mother’s photography business was the sisters’ first exposure to the world of being an entrepreneur and something they admired, so it wasn’t out of left field when both girls turned to the entrepreneurial path for sharing their products. “For some personality types, being entrepreneurial is a great path,” says Maureen, and it created something that she loves doing and giving to people. “It was a bonding experience” for the girls when they would finish online classes and hop in Maureen’s car to ship orders or talk business over lunch. The driving force behind their entrepreneurial ventures carries different weight for each of the girls but business is “the common uniting force.”
A Stumbling Block
After starting their businesses on Etsy and successfully growing sales over a few months, the seller platform shut Lilac Beauty and Possum’s Pastries down within two days after discovering the girls were minors. They lost almost their entire investment of effort overnight. Not only that, amid losing her Etsy shop, Maureen’s AP research class tasked students with writing a paper on a problem. She ended up building her paper around the question of how teenage entrepreneurs can increase self-branding. The assignment allowed her to look at which platforms are friendly to young entrepreneurs, how to recuperate from damage to your business, and in the end wrote a 60-page paper. Beyond the research project came the question of what to do next with the loss of an algorithm promoting her products and no medium to sell them. Grace and Maureen thought of their customers’ needs—both human and horse—and decided to throw themselves into learning how to design a website suitable for housing their companies.
Recovery & Success
The sisters’ websites are reaching their one-year anniversary since developing them from the ground up on their own. Jordan says, “I didn’t even know how they did it, just one day they came to me and said, we have websites.” They were able to salvage most of their customer base from the Etsy loss and have since flourished with the help of Instagram. Maureen has used Instagram’s reel feature to make short videos supporting fellow teenage entrepreneurs and promoting Lilac Beauty’s products, reeling in new customers when the videos go viral. Several have garnered over 100,000 views, and her Instagram has almost 5,000 followers. Grace’s success shows in her sales; she has made $9,000 with 700 sales. It has all been organic growth, neither girl has ever paid for advertising. When it comes to marketing, operations, finance, and the like, the sisters do it all themselves. The two high schoolers are the sole people driving their thriving businesses while juggling the standard high school load of schoolwork, socialization, and crafting the future.
“Lilac Beauty helps people find joy in their skincare [and] … I want to provide people with something that makes them feel good about themselves,” Maureen says. As her happiness is being sourced by other people feeling better with Lilac Beauty in their life, Mareen wants to see how far she can take it. She plans to take a gap year after graduating in Spring 2022 so she can focus on expanding the company by hopefully off sourcing the work using contracted companies with fulfillment centers to respectfully follow the product recipes. Lilac Beauty shines as a gateway into taking care of your skin and could see a future in stores or as part of another company, but Maureen would love to expand their client-base into those 20+ years old and see Lilac Beauty become its own entity as a name associated with healthy, organic, and natural skincare. Maureen says she will “see what aligns with the ethics of the company and would make the greatest difference” when it comes to Lilac Beauty’s future. Her aspirations align with her love for “the minimalist way of living,” as her products are simply reliable and her plans stay true to her mission of making a difference. In terms of the greatest difference, Maureen dreams of traveling to learn about skin care across cultures and bring that back to her business ventures. “I love that the more I learn, the more I can help other people learn,” Maureen raves.
Grace points out the learning she has done with time management to have space in her life for school, Possum’s Pastries, and horse riding. Grace has been riding for more than half of her life and has two horses of her own, Sember and Apple. Dressage, jumping, and tricks are just some of the things Grace does with her horses. Grace says her favorite place in the world is “on my horse’s back” because “something about riding my horse makes me feel so free.” Grace appreciates the control in her experiences with horses and how “[her] decisions have outcomes that reflect [her] choices.” Having an outlet in and connection to horses is what makes Grace appreciate all they have to offer. The same can be said of why she regularly donates to Colby’s Crew Rescue in Charlottesville, an organization focused on saving horses from slaughter. “It’s rewarding to know you’re helping animals in need,” Grace says.
Doing what makes you happy
Lilac Beauty’s organic skincare products aren’t the only avenue through which the business has given Maureen the opportunity to help people. “I will get a lot of questions from teenagers on Instagram regarding how to start a business,” she shares. It’s not just about skincare, it’s about “[finding] something that you’re passionate about” and being able to “go for it.” Maureen enthuses, “I’m my happiest, best self when I’m running the business.” Looking ahead to her upcoming year dedicated to Lilac Beauty, she is testing the waters on hiring someone to help with marketing and is looking for mentors. She has developed “coffee curiosity talks” in which she reaches out to entrepreneurs to connect over coffee through their mutual passion. Grace enjoys her time in the company of her family, Breyer the rescue cat, 10-year-old Skippy the loyal hen, and the rest of their animal crew. Between Grace using her talents to single handedly support causes she cares about and Maureen channeling her passion into a positive skincare revolution, Maureen sums it up by highlighting the importance to “go after and fully do what makes you happy.”