When Allan Maman, a 17-year-old senior at Byram Hills High School in Armonk, New York, asked to stay after school and use the school's 3-D printer, his physics teacher was thrilled.
The teacher would have never guessed that Allan would sit in the science lab until nightfall, 3-D printing fidget spinners to sell to his classmates for thousands of dollars in profit. Eventually, Allen launched a fidget spinner business that has raked in an estimated $350,000 in sales.
The idea, Allan said, came to him last fall.
He noticed that a fidget cube had been backed for millions of dollars on Kickstarter and saw that its cousin, the fidget spinner, was gaining traction with kids.
Fidget Spinners are small, metal toys that look like tiny propellers. You hold them between your fingers and spin the wings around a central ball bearing. Theoretically, playing with them improves concentration and staves off boredom for anyone who has trouble paying attention.
Allan has ADHD and wanted a fidget spinner for himself, but at the time, there was no easy way to purchase one. A lot of people were 3-D printing spinners and selling them on Etsy, but those would take weeks to arrive, and Allan was impatient.
He decided to take matters into his own hands, so he found blueprints online and asked his teacher for 3-D printer lessons. Within weeks, Allan was producing hundreds of spinners using the school's machine, spending his nights 3-D printing spinners and his days selling them at a profit to his classmates.
"I recognized them as a phenom the first week I started selling them at school," Allan said. "Literally every kid came up to me asking me to get one."
"I had to stay after school until 8 p.m. to keep up with demand," he said. "I became really good friends with the janitors and they would leave the door to the physics room unlocked so I could use the printer nonstop."
It wasn't long until the school's administration took notice. After several weeks, Allan was called to the vice principal's office.
School administrators said that they found out about his scheme and told him that he could not use school resources to run his business. If he didn't stop immediately, he would be suspended.
"After that, I just went to Micro Center and [got] a 3-D printer myself," Allan said. "I had more than enough money."
Harnessing the power of the internet
As his profits rose, so did the popularity of fidget spinners. It wasn't long until Allan realized he would need to expand his market beyond his fellow Westchester teens if he wanted to keep turning a profit.
He teamed up with his friend and fellow 17-year-old Byram Hills High School senior Cooper Weiss to take the business online. They launched an Instagram account, Fidget360, and split the business 50/50.
"At first, I would stay up all night in my bedroom with this loud printer," Allan said. But it wasn't long until the duo moved their business venture into Cooper's parents' basement.
They set up an online store using Shopify and used tactics such as influencer marketing, where they paid popular meme accounts to post about their spinners, to grow sales. Their Instagram account currently boasts over 160,000 followers, but it reaches thousands more every month through promotion.
"I think part of it is definitely being young and using social media so much on the side," said Allan. "I think people my age just understand it."
At one point, Cooper and Allan even produced a marketing video featuring other kids from their high school promoting their spinners.
Gerard Adams, founder of Elite Daily, reached out to Allan and Cooper after seeing their success online and offered to invest in their company. Allan said Adams helped them finance additional printers and provided them with tips on marketing their business online through his startup investment arm, Fownders.
"Once we started taking the business online, there was no way for us to keep up with orders with one printer, so we found a factory in Brooklyn to mass-3-D print for us," Allan said.
He and Cooper now drive into the city every weekend to collect the 3-D printed shells, then bring them back to Cooper's house to assemble and ship.
"We actually operate the whole company out of Cooper's basement," Allan said. "On a regular school day we'll drive home with two to three lowerclassmen and they'll come to Cooper's basement where they'll handle fulfillment."
They pay the underclassmen between $8 and $10 per hour to assemble the spinners, print out labels and box them up for shipping. "It's a pretty good after-school job," Allan said.
Cooper's mom, Ali Weiss, said she's happy that the boys have set up a makeshift fidget spinner factory in the basement of her family home.
"I think it's great," she said. "I love having the kids coming and going through the house."
With the steady influx of teens, she did have to establish some ground rules. Eating snacks in the basement is prohibited and someone must take the trash out to the garage every night before they leave.
Mrs. Weiss said her other two sons, currently in fourth and seventh grade, both also work for Cooper and Allan, helping to assemble or ship the spinners.
"I think this might become a family business," she said, noting that her son in ninth grade is ready to step in and oversee production when Cooper goes off to college next year.
Life as fidget spinner kings
Since fall 2016, Allan and Cooper have shipped spinners to all 50 states and 30 different countries.
Though he's only 17 years old, Allan said he considers himself a serial entrepreneur and has always been better at side projects than at school itself.
Before founding Fidget360, he developed multiple iPhone apps, including one to prevent texting and driving, and built an online hub for Minecraft fans. But his grades never kept up with his entrepreneurial spirit.
"Initially, teachers were just like, 'Oh, this kid has bad grades in class, he's just a screw-up or whatever,'" Allan said. "But once teachers started to find out how much money we were making, they started to treat us with a lot more respect."
Eric Savino, Allan and Cooper's physics teacher who first taught them how to 3-D print, is thrilled at the boys' success.
"I think it shows more than anything the impact access to technology can have on a student's life," he said.
He said that since Allan and Cooper launched their business, other students have become interested in prototyping their ideas on the 3-D printer. Even some teachers have expressed interest.
"I tell them it's great and we can certainly help create a prototype, but they can't start selling what they make for money. If their idea takes off, they need to build their own infrastructure. You can't profit off the school."
In April, Cooper and Allan even donated a 3-D printer to his high school in order to pay things forward.
"We couldn't have founded the business without access to the first printer, because it was free," Allan said. "It is nice knowing that maybe there's another kid out there like me who can use this to find some sort of success."
Growing the business has also earned Allan and Cooper respect from fellow classmates.
"There are some kids who want to try to be friends once they figure out how much money we're making," he said. "I can pick and tell who is really fake though. Definitely more kids who wouldn't speak to me before have started coming up to me and saying hey."
But some classmates have become jealous of Cooper and Allan's success: One even tried to steal their plan.
"A month into when we started, we had a kid who tried to take us out of business by copying us and using the town's public 3-D printer at the library to print fidget spinners."
"We found out what he was doing, so … because it's a public printer and you can order prints of anything, we placed a bunch of print orders for nonsense items that would take over 24 hours or weeks to print, to keep the machine occupied," Allan said. This staved off their competitor long enough for Allan and Cooper to fully capitalize on their town.
Teens, always on trend
Allan says that when it comes to founding businesses based on trends, teens have a unique advantage.
They often spot trends before their parents or older generations become aware, and thanks to technology like 3-D printing, DIY e-commerce sites and social media, they no longer need to wait for major corporations to catch up.
"I would say that initially a lot of adults probably saw fidget spinners and thought they were a dumb idea," Allan said.
"When I first started and showed my parents what I was making, they were like, 'OK, so it spins. There's nothing special or too neat about it.' But once you're a kid and you see, like, how good it is to have in class and how fun it is and how everyone wants one, you get it."
"I think kids or teens have a unique ability to see markets for certain products before older people," Allan said. "Especially when it comes to Gen Z, kids are the first ones to pick up on that stuff, and now with the internet we can just make it for ourselves."
But even Allan, at 17, is worried about falling behind on the hype cycle.
"I definitely don't think the fidget spinner will last into the new school year in September," he said. "There's a possibility it will spark back up at the end of the summer when kids head back to school, but right now I think it's entered its peak and it's only gonna go down."
In the meantime, he and Cooper are planning to diversify their product offerings. He says that they're exploring production on a number of new fad products as well as a new type of battery iPhone case.
The two are also preparing for life after high school. Cooper is planning to attend the University of Michigan as a freshman next year, while Allan says he may do a year in community college to get his grades up before transferring.
In the meantime, he is focused on building his business and keeping one step ahead of the teen-trend cycle.
"I have people all over looking for the next fidget spinner," Allan said. "I have distributors in China I talk to now. Whenever they get a big order for a new product or develop something new and fun, they let me know."