This inspiring 25-year-old CEO is giving free beanies to kids with cancer on National Superhero Day

True superheroes the world over are getting some special visits this week.

Each year, the do-good hat company Love Your Melon celebrates National Superhero Day by sending cape-wearing college student volunteers to the hospital rooms of kids who have cancer — to visit with them and give them a beanie hat. Leading up to this April 28, they plan to visit kids in hospitals across the U.S. and in five other countries.

They are also unveiling a new way to give out hats around the clock: Interactive “giving” machines that let kids pick out the style of free hat they want. They are setting up the machines, which look like vending machines, but are stocked with company-donated hats and work with a card given to patients, at a series of hospitals — including Chicago’s Advocate Children’s Hospital, Florida Children’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital and the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. They say they hope to have one in every children’s hospital.

“We believe in making children feel like the superheroes they are during the difficult process of cancer treatment,” the company’s co-founder, Zachary Quinn, said to announce the plan.

In 2012, Quinn and his classmate Brian Keller founded the do-good hat company Love Your Melon, as part of a sophomore class challenge at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Five years later, Quinn’s the CEO of a $20 million company that has attracted the attention of Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, all of whom wear Love Your Melon beanies. He just turned 25.

Love Your Melon CEO Zachary Quinn

But Quinn’s apparel company is not just a successful millennial startup: Love Your Melon has already given more than $2.8 million to fight pediatric cancer, and continues to give half their profits to nonprofits that work to help kids with cancer.

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At first, Love Your Melon planned to sell hats and trendy, slouchy beanies using a model – like TOMS shoes – that simply donated one hat to a child with cancer for every hat they sold. But sales numbers were so high that they soon decided they could do much more. Love Your Melon now donates 50% of its profit to charities, including St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and the Pinky Swear Foundation, that fund pediatric oncology research or directly help kids and families facing pediatric cancer. The company also works to deliver donated hats to as many of the 15,000 kids who are diagnosed with cancer each year; Love Your Melon has given out more than 135,000 hats so far, and aims to donate 10,000 more during this year’s in-person Superhero Day events.

So what are some of the lessons – in entrepreneurship, business and just plain life – we can learn from this 25 year old CEO?

Be authentic. “People have responded to Love Your Melon so well not only because of the quality of the products, but also because of the authenticity of the mission,” Quinn told Moneyish. “Be authentic in your work, everyone knows the difference between real and fake these days. Every action is much more scrutinized on the internet and if what you are doing isn’t authentic, people will notice.”

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Find a great cause. “In learning about the thousands of children in America diagnosed with cancer every year, we decided we needed to do something to improve the experiences they had in the hospital,” Quinn said. He had friends in high school who were getting treatment for the disease. In the U.S., more than 15,000 kids under 21 are diagnosed with cancer every year, according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, and approximately one fourth of them will not survive the disease.

Be transparent. Love Your Melon gives half of its profits, after taxes and fees, to 16 different non-profits involved with pediatric cancer, from funding research initiatives to supporting families. The exact amount of money they give to each is continually updated on their website.

Make the best product you can. Quinn and his partner Keller, who is now the company’s chief revenue officer, are both native Minnesotans, so were well-versed in winter wear. They decided early on that they wanted to find an American manufacturer, and finding one that could deliver the volume they needed has been their biggest challenge so far. “We searched for a manufacturer that was willing to make the initial 400 we ordered for our project and found one in Portland, Oregon. When we hit capacity with that manufacturer, we switched to Minnesota Knitting Mills in Mendota Heights, Minnesota,” said Quinn, who is the son of restaurateurs.

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Harness the power of social media. Quinn says that Facebook and Instagram have been “crucial” to his business’ success. “As an e-commerce brand, social media has allowed us to expand, especially by utilizing Facebook and Instagram advertising to push new content every week. We consistently plan and produce original content to share our product releases or hospital giving events, and the authenticity of our social media channels allows our consumers to connect with our cause and get excited about joining us,” Quinn added.

Take risks. Quinn dropped out of college to run his business full time. “It was a decision made with confidence knowing that Love Your Melon had the potential to grow and to change lives,” he said, adding that the risk was, of course, “worthwhile.’ Back in the classroom when he and Keller first pitched their professor their business idea, he counseled them to order just 50 hats from the manufacturer to start. They went with 400, and sold out in three days.

This article was originally published Dec. 3, 2017, and has been updated to include National Superhero Day. 

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