A 17-year-old’s business made millions on Amazon. Now it’s pivoting to masks

Buttonsmith is an efficient machine for producing everything from lanyards to dog collars. Now it’s focused on masks—and making sure it survives the pandemic.

In 2014, Henry Burner started selling buttons online—the kind you pin to a shirt or jacket. Sales climbed quickly. Within a few years, his firm, Buttonsmith, had expanded into lanyards, magnets, and other doodads, and gross revenue crossed $1 million. It’s grown into the multimillions since.

So far, that’s a not-uncommon story in the era of ever-rising online retail sales. But it has a twist: Burner was 10 years old when he launched his company six years ago.

Burner’s mother, Darcy Burner, helped Henry incubate the business at home, encouraged its growth, and took the title of CEO as it outstripped a school-aged kid’s ability to manage day-to-day operations. At 17, Henry has remained strategically involved, including involvement in meetings with major retailers and patenting a new kind of badge reel that has a magnetically coupled, swappable front.

In this 2016 video, Henry tells Buttonsmith’s origin story:

As I wrote in 2017 when Buttonsmith was a $2 million business, the company isn’t just a maker of an assortment of geegaws. Rather, it’s a software and logistics company that acquires specialized manufacturing equipment and spreads products across its devices, fed by its understanding of customer demand and expertise in leveraging Amazon’s custom-ordering system. In normal times, customers can order items that use photos they upload or text they provide, and Buttonsmith can pop them out in under a few hours and have them in someone’s hands a couple of days later.

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