Napa youth walks businessman’s path with new shoe design
If you were to ask Carter Waugh, 11, what he wants to be when he grows up, he would tell you: “businessman,” and that he’s already on that path.
Three years ago this month, the young lad grew disgruntled with his flip-flops, breaking 10 pairs before deciding to develop his own brand of shoes. He wanted shoes that easily slipped on and off and were sturdy with a toe bar to keep up with his active lifestyle. To some, the product resembles Crocs, a popular gardening shoe.
“(But) there’s nothing like it,” said the Napa youngster.
The Flip Critts operation was born, with its name taken as a derivative of his nickname “Critt,” which is short for “Critter.”
“I just want to go,” said the youngest Waugh of the winery family in Napa. While coining the word “adventurability,” Carter plays lacrosse, shoots hoops, skateboards, gardens, cooks, rides a bike and climbs trees — just like most young boys.
But Carter isn’t just any boy.
He has joined about 27 million Americans who are starting or running new businesses, according to a U.S. report released last year that was provided by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. No data was given on entrepreneurs under age 18, showing just how rare it is.
Carter’s story is like others in the North Bay, those who started their own businesses early in life.
The student at Willow Elementary School developed a business plan, patented his invention, brought on an intellectual property lawyer and formed a limited liability company (LLC) under a 50-page operating agreement. He’s also hired a manufacturing consultant, cleared out a space in the family garage for shipping product, visited a proposed mass-production factory in China twice and cranked out prototypes from a Los Angeles facility that spawned 204 options of styles, colors and sizes.
Flip Critts boasts a mailing list of more than 16,000 names of potential customers. Carter has also gained almost 600 supporters who have pledged more than $40,000 to buy them from his 40-day Kickstarter promotion. The test market campaign that started on June 9 has quadrupled its goal. The shoes cost $65 for adults, $55 for kids.
The active, young business leader also wants to inspire other kids to fulfill their dreams, and he plans to coach them on how to go about that with his upcoming online forum called Critts Cares.
He’s pledged to donate $2 from each pair to artful learning programs, starting with his own Napa school where he’s led assemblies describing his business venture.
His reasoning for lending his school a hand is simple.
“They’ll need help going through this virus,” Carter said, referring to the COVID-19 crisis.
The coronavirus outbreak has created havoc around the world, but at the same time, it has given the family more time to focus on launching the shoe business as the Waugh Family Winery was shut down.
“The shelter in place has given us more time home to prepare for this. It’s been an exciting journey,” Crystal Waugh said. “This is one of the coolest things we could do together as a family. I don’t think any of us had the idea that we’d get to this point by now. I’m definitely proud of him.”
The Waughs, who have operated a winery for 20 years, invested in their son’s venture early on — financially and emotionally. Carter considers his parents an inspiration.
“It’s something we decided to do as parents. What were we going to do with our time, resources and money?” Ryan Waugh said, reflecting back to when his son presented the idea to him. Waugh, an entrepreneur himself, understood his son’s driven will and wanted to support it.
“Most schools seem to lack the entrepreneur spirit. But we taught our kids that life is about choices, and we invested in (Carter’s) ideas with those ideals,” he said. Carter’s 14-year-old brother Jordan helps his sibling when he can.
“It’s quite the exercise in entrepreneurship. How it has taken hold has surprised us though,” Ryan Waugh said.
Carter’s fourth grade teacher isn’t surprised about the young business protégé coming up with a great idea.
“Kids come up with ideas all the time for the purpose of play. It’s rare (a kid) gets into research and development and hiring a legal consultant. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Amanda Lemaster said. “He passed out business cards on the first day of class. It’s kind of mind blowing how much care and thought went into this.”
Carter has since left Lemaster’s class, but his risk-taking personality and ambitious gumption have etched a place in the veteran teacher’s memory.
“It’s been neat to see him grow up. He’s an idea guy — a little inventor,” she said, adding that he brought shoes into class for his fellow students to try on.