Over the past few months, Zoe McDonald started to notice something when she would listen in or overhear her mother, Daphne Theotocatos, on meetings and calls related to her business, Harbor Educational Consultants. Ms. Theotocatos was dealing with the fallout of college students affected by the COVID crisis, trying to manage all the restrictions and disruptions the pandemic had wrought in their lives.
“Kids were very sad and some were crying and upset,” Zoe, 11, said in a recent interview. “They were homesick or couldn’t go out of their dorms, and the students doing remote learning were having a hard time. So I decided to start a business to make them happier.”
The enterprising Sag Harbor Elementary School fifth-grader is the founder of Bundles of Joy, a customized care package company that offers several different themed care packages family members and friends can order for their favorite college student, whether they are currently studying on campus or at home. Zoe has an inventory of items she uses in the packages, and is responsible for packing them up and mailing them out.
Zoe’s desire to do something to cheer up students facing unprecedented challenges at such a crucial time in their lives was just part of her motivation to start the business. She has pledged to donate 25 percent of her profits to help others in need, particularly those who have been hit hard by the pandemic. Since getting the first order on March 14, Bundles of Joy has made a net profit of more than $1,000, with Zoe pocketing only a small portion for herself. She made a $500 donation to the Sag Harbor Food Pantry earlier this week, and has pledged another $500 to Santa Fe Community Services, a New Mexico-based nonprofit run by her grandmother, Nancy McDonald, that provides food and other resources to the homeless and families in need.
Knowing she is doing something to help people in need at such a crucial time is rewarding for Zoe, and she’s also enjoying the process of starting and running a business, an aspect of her personality her mother says is not surprising. Ms. Theotocatos said she remembers her daughter using cardboard boxes to make up pretend stores and fake cash registers when she was younger. She’d forage around the house for products to put on the shelves, and then try to sell them to anyone who came over. It evolved into an entrepreneurial spirit perhaps uncommon for someone so young. Zoe is a veteran of running lemonade stands, and is also an avid Shark Tank viewer, interested in watching the process behind people trying to start and pitch their own businesses.
Starting Bundles of Joy has been a learning process for Zoe and her mother, and while Zoe has taken the lead, it has been a family effort in some ways. Zoe’s younger sister, 7-year-old Maya, created the name “Spontaneous Spa” for a themed box that includes items like a scalp massager, lip balm, hand cream, chamomile tea, and organic essential oil.
Other themed boxes include “The All-Nighter,” with popcorn, chocolate covered espresso beans, superfood instant oatmeal, and “brain aid” essential oil, among other items, and “The Snack Attack,” with popcorn, energy bars, gummy bears and chocolate bars. There is also a “Build Your Own” option, where eight items can be chosen at checkout.
Zoe and Ms. Theotocatos purposely chose high-qualiity products after they noticed that many competing companies offering care packages were filled with low quality, junk-food products.
“We wanted to use as much organic and natural products as we could find,” Ms. Theotocatos said.
The boxes sell for $75 each, and currently can be ordered through Ms. Theotocatos’s website, harboredconsultants.com, although they are planning to set the business up with its own site soon, as well as social media accounts.
Ms. Theotocatos said Zoe is learning the importance of charitable giving as well as what it takes to run a successful business, two valuable lessons.
“I think she’s starting to understand that you really have to do volume in a business to make money,” she said.
While Zoe is committed to continuing to help the two charitable causes she’s chosen, she’s also excited at the prospect of continuing success in her business and making some of her own money. She’s a big fan of fidgets — popular stress and anxiety-reducing toys for busy hands — but her ultimate goal, she admitted, is saving up to buy a phone. (When she’s old enough to have one, her mother interjected).