Mikaila Ulmer is having a big year. The 11-year-old Texas native’s Me & the Bees Lemonade has exploded since her appearance on ABC’s popular Shark Tank in 2015. And in the same way she convinced the notoriously tough judging panel to commit $60,000 towards the business, she has won over America with her story and business savvy. #BlackGirlMagic
Today, you can find her lemonade in over 50 Whole Foods locations in eight states — reportedly an $11 million deal— and throughout corporate cafeterias in America.
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Even though Mikaila is the founder and face, everything about Me & the Bees is a family venture. Not only is the original formula a 1940s recipe passed down by Mikaila’s grandmother, but her parents Theo and D’Andra — who work in finance and marketing respectively — are heavily involved. Even younger brother Jacob has become a company photographer, offering a brother’s perspective to the family business!
ESSENCE spoke to D’Andra Ulmer about the growing success, nurturing kids’ talents and keeping balance in a family business.
Congratulations on the major growth of the company. When did it first hit you that this lemonade idea could be something?
I think it started back when Mikaila was four-and-a-half and she signed up to make lemonade at the Acton Children’s Business Fair, and it would sell out. The next year we went back and made double, and Mikaila would sell out and we’d make even more the following year and sell out. That’s when we thought “hmm…we may really have something here.” I think another piece of it was when she won her first competition at a children’s business fair. We looked up and she was in the little bee outfit, there were five cameras around her and she was there talking to the media telling her story. We were like “wow.”
How did she get interested in these business competitions?
They started at kindergarten and they were at her school and she showed interest. I wouldn’t even call them business competitions, they were business fairs. Basically, you go there, you figure out a product and sell it. The root of each of fair was to teach children about making money, saving money, creating budgets, entrepreneurship, and how to market themselves.
So she showed interested but how did you nurture that?
I think that one thing that her dad and I did was support her curiosity. And it sounds so simple. We loved making a big deal out of [our kids’] interests. And that nurtures their curiosity. And kids love spending time with their parents, so when you make a big deal out of [something they show interest in], they get more excited about it. Also, I know I was my kids’ cheerleader even before they knew how to cheer. For example, her first little speech was definitely choppy but we said “that’s it you got it” and were able to give constructive feedback in a positive way. They want you to believe in them and we do. It’s really about building them up.
In what ways has Mikaila impressed or surprised you?
I am impressed that she is self-motivated and I am impressed that she feels accountable for her business. I am so proud that the passion for her business has been seen in her telling her story and the courage that she has telling her story. People tell me all the time, ‘Wow! You must be so proud.’ The thing that makes me most proud is that she is kind to others, she is grateful and she is a sweet little girl. And she is not eleven going on fifteen.
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Is that something you’ve worked hard to do? Making sure she experiences her childhood to the fullest?
It’s so important to me and her dad that no matter who you may be outside that door, you are still my child and a sister in our house. You have to stay grounded because this business is just one piece of your life and everyone is important. It’s a gift and that’s why we want to make sure they are grateful that they know this is a gift.
This is very much a family venture. You run the marketing and your husband was at one point the COO of the company. Your recipe is a family recipe…how do you balance it all?
I think it’s neat [that it’s a family business] but it’s challenging at the same time. It’s neat in that we spend time together. Her brother takes photos of Me & the Bees from a brother’s perspective. What is also great that the kids get to see mom and dad work together on a common mission and its gives them very practical experience.
The challenging part is balance so when she has a speech, we take one day to work and one day to see the place. What makes our lives crazy is that despite how busy we are as a business, we work hard and play hard.
Find a Me & the Bees Lemonade retailer near you here.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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