Ten Questions: Tina Wells
Entrepreneur Tina Wells makes her mark in the world
By Terri Akman

At just 16 years old, Tina Wells founded Buzz Marketing, the Haddonfield firm with an expertise in the sought-after millennial market (8- to 26-year-olds). Innovative strategies, including a posse of 9,000 BuzzSpotters, keep her firm thriving 18 years later. But her personal goal to empower young women throughout the world has propelled the Erial native to national attention well beyond her prowess in marketing.

What made you think you could start a company when you were 16?
I didn’t know any better, and I think that “ignorance is bliss” was very true in my case. I really just wanted to work at a fashion magazine. I loved trends and pop culture, and I started writing for a newspaper for girls out of New York City. I was reviewing products for companies, and I got busier and busier. I was lucky to have friends who would review the products for me, and I started putting all that data together and sending it back to the companies. I started very low-maintenance market research without knowing what I was doing at all. I absolutely didn’t start out thinking I was going to start a company at 16 and work for 100 brands. None of that was part of the plan.

What’s the key to reaching teen consumers?
For me it’s always realizing that whatever the project or situation, I’ve got to do my research first. Too often as adults, we think we know what’s up and what’s best, but that’s not really the truth. I learn so much from millennials. One example that makes me laugh is when parents say, “Because I have a 15-year-old, I know what they want.” No, you know what your 15-year-old wants, not what 23 million of them want. I always go into the situation thinking I don’t know anything and I’m going to learn today, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to learn.

What do you wish parents better understood about their teenagers?
Teenagers are incredibly fickle. There’s a lot going on, a lot at their disposal, and it’s really about figuring out what works today might not work tomorrow. There’s no longevity. What’s cool today might be totally uncool tomorrow. It’s taking that roller-coaster ride that’s important.

Wells has written four teen books

Wells has written four teen books

Your Mackenzie Blue book series has been very successful. What do you hope teenage girls will get from the books?
I want them to get a confidante, someone who is like them, going through things and experiencing things. And I want them to know they are not alone in the idea that things are happening and changing. It’s about having fun, living life, making decisions, being a little odd and knowing that’s OK, and treating others well. The Internet is an amazing thing, but one of the things that’s unfortunate is it has allowed us to be meaner and not have to confront that. I want to highlight that you don’t have to like everyone, but be kind.

You recently completed a program at Wharton, and now you’re teaching there. Given your current success, why are you taking on these new roles?
To continue to learn and challenge myself in new ways is important. You should not think you’ve learned enough. This summer at Wharton, I’m taking over the number-one program in the country for high school students, lecturing on entrepreneurship and marketing. It’s a program on leadership in the business world.

You serve on the United Nations Foundation. What is your work there?
I’m on their Global Entrepreneurs Council, which is a group of 10 top entrepreneurs in the United States who are tasked with finding ways to bring experience, ideas and innovation to the UN. It’s a great pairing of our enthusiasm and ideas, and this organization has the ability to create huge global, impactful change. I just returned from a week in Uganda with the UN. I got to spend two days in a refugee camp and visit the UNICEF Innovation Lab to see the work of the world’s food program. It was really insightful to see how the UN does what it does.

Tina Wells (far right) visits the Young Mothers Club in Uganda. The group of women entrepreneurs make and sell liquid soap, floor mats, brooms and baked goods

Tina Wells (far right) visits the Young Mothers Club in Uganda. The group of women entrepreneurs make and sell liquid soap, floor mats, brooms and baked goods

Can you share a story from your trip?
We spent a day on a remote island in Uganda, where we met female entrepreneurs who had been empowered by micro-finance. I feel like every day the job I do is a privilege, but I don’t look at it as a necessity. It was amazing to see how entrepreneurship has the ability to lift people out of poverty. I saw a woman who had learned through an organization how to space having children, and that empowered her to create a farm. Through her farming, she didn’t just feed her family, but also started producing and selling in the local community. Now she runs a business with the farm. She was able to send her two oldest children to boarding school. She’s going to raise educated children who are able to go on and do even better things, and this is a remote island. It was such a stark contrast from the day before in the refugee camp where people are trying to put their lives back together after such a traumatic event.

Where else have you’ve visited? What are some of your favorite places?
I love Europe and thought Guatemala was a beautiful country. Toronto is one of my favorite cities, and I spent a lot of time in Italy, which was great. My favorite trip recently was to Istanbul. It’s visually stunning, and the food was amazing. The colors, the market, the grand bazaar – the whole experience was unbelievable.

You are also on the board of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which filed for Chapter 11 three years ago. What are they doing differently to remain viable?
That happened during my first two years on the board, so I went through the rough patch and I went through what I consider to be the amazing stage we’re in right now. Our new CEO, Allison Vulgamore, has given us a lot of vision and leadership. When you think about what the CEO of an orchestra does, she wears a lot of hats and has to be able to deal with musicians, board members and donors. The list goes on and on, and to be able to get everybody onto the same page is very important. Our chairman, Rich Worley – you feel his love for the orchestra. He’s genuinely invested 100 percent in maintaining this bright shining star for the city. And, obviously, you have Yannick Nézet-Séguin, considered the hottest conductor and rising star in classical music

What’s your best advice for young women?
Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Too often, we think everything’s got to be perfect and done a certain way, and that’s just not true. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be done a certain way. The best thing is to just get out there and do it. Try it, and see what happens. The worst that can happen is you realize that’s something you shouldn’t be doing. You don’t get any information from something you don’t try. Having regret is worse than never trying something.

May 2014
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