In the past year, 17-year-olds Allan Maman and Cooper Weiss have built a company from the ground up, risked getting suspended from school, and made roughly $350,000 in the process.
It all started with a 3D printer in their high school’s science lab and a little something called the fidget spinner.
Back in the fall, Maman — then a senior at Byram Hills High School in Armonk, New York — was browsing the internet for something to help his ADHD. He came across the Fidget Cube on Kickstarter, a “desk toy for people who like to fidget” that had raised over $6 million. The only catch? It wouldn’t ship for another six months.
Curious, Maman found alternatives on sites like Etsy where individual people and shops were selling 3D-printed fidget spinners. But he couldn’t find a company that mass-produced them. “I saw that my school had a 3D printer,” Maman told INSIDER, “so I was like, ‘I could probably do this myself.'”
Maman teamed up with his classmate and friend Cooper Weiss, who he’d worked with before to create Nito, an app designed to help students get an authentic, behind-the-scenes look at prospective colleges.
The two started experimenting in their high school’s science lab, using a 3D printer to make fidget spinners. Almost immediately, their spinners took off: First the “cool kids” bought one and then, everyone else did. Before long, Maman and Weiss were making around $500 every day selling their fidget spinners for $25 each.
But when their high school threatened to suspend them — allegedly for using school property to make a profit — the two moved their business to the basement of Weiss’ parents’ house.
Operating on the hunch that their spinners would explode if they took them online and mass-marketed them, Maman and Weiss bought eight 3D printers, created an Instagram account, and started selling their spinners on Shopify — officially launching their company, Fidget360.
For about three months, Maman and Weiss worked until midnight or later, improving their company and creating new designs. “We didn’t go out, we didn’t have a social life, grades were terrible, we just non-stop worked,” Maman said.
Their hustle paid off. Fidget360 soon caught the attention of Gerard Adams, the founder of both “Elite Daily” and a startup accelerator called Fownders. Adams, who is now Maman and Weiss’ mentor, provided enough funding that the two could expand their business once again — this time, to a factory in Brooklyn, NY.
It was a game-changing move, to say the least.
Within six months, Maman and Weiss grew their company to around 30 part-time employees (all students aged 14 to 18 years old), amassed over 160,000 followers on Instagram, nabbed a deal that put 300,000 spinners in Walmarts across the country, and made about $350,000 — all before the end of their senior year.
Until very recently, no one knew what a fidget spinner was, although variations of a “spinning toy” have existed as early as the ’90s. So perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Fidget360’s success is how it helped the spinner go viral.
“Without social media, I don’t really know where we’d be right now,” Weiss told INSIDER, “99% of our sales are from Instagram.” When asked why he and Maman focused mostly on Instagram, compared to Facebook or Snapchat, Weiss added, “Us being teens, we use Instagram the most, and we know what all the other kids are using.”
In fact, when they experimented with ads on Facebook, they had a hard time reaching their target demographic. “It was mostly parents commenting on our stuff, ” Weiss said. On Instagram, however, he and Maman could link kids directly to the Fidget360 website by paying influencers and popular meme pages to do shout-outs.
Although Maman and Weiss didn’t invent the fidget spinner — a point which they repeatedly stressed — they pride themselves on being at the forefront of the fidget spinner craze. “We were the first company to mass-produce and mass-market them on social media,” Weiss explained.
And looking back, the two have already identified mistakes they plan to avoid in the future. Their biggest regret? Not mass-producing their spinners sooner. Four or five months ago, before they could make an injection mold of their Fidget360 spinner in China, millions were suddenly being mass-produced and sold.
“If we were able to make that mold, all the ones in Walgreens and Target, the ones on the streets of New York City, those could have been ours instead of knockoffs,” Maman said.
Maman and Weiss also wish they had branded themselves more clearly on Instagram or pursued profit-sharing deals with famous YouTubers. “When people see our spinners on a meme page, they’re like ‘Oh, it’s a fidget spinner,’ not ‘Oh, that’s a Fidget360,'” Weiss explained. “We get tagged in a lot of photos of regular spinners or ones that aren’t even ours.”
But Maman and Weiss don’t like to focus on regrets or worry about the past. After all, between the two of them, they’ve already created a handful of mobile apps — not all of which have been successful. When I asked them what advice they had for young entrepreneurs, they talked about the importance of perseverance, working hard, and embracing failure when you’re young.
Instead of waiting for an opportunity or idea to come to you, “you have to put in the work and just do something,” Weiss said. “A lot of people think about ideas or talk about ideas, but you actually have to go out and take action.”
“Nowadays, people think it’s bad when you fail, but there’s a lot you can learn,” Maman said. Weiss added, “Just us being so young, we have a lot of room to fail. It’s not like we have to pay rent or pay bills, so [failure] isn’t a big deal. Allan and I are just so motivated to keep working now as hard as we can, so later on, we can just kind of sit back.”
So, what’s next for these two young moguls?
Weiss is off to the University of Michigan, where he hopes to work on his own side projects between taking business classes. As for Maman, a self-described serial entrepreneur who created his first app when he was just 15 years old, a more traditional path or office job has never been appealing.
Despite being in two different states, the two plan to reinvest the money they made from Fidget360. In fact, they’ve already started working on their next big idea — although they’re keeping it under wraps for now.
This story originally appeared on Business Insider.