Feeling frustrated and disappointed by the quality of equipment in lacrosse, her favorite sport, Rachel Zietz ’22 founded the sports equipment company Gladiator Lacrosse when she was barely a teenager. As a 13-year-old CEO, she had to navigate everything between website design, product listing, graphic design, and more—sometimes the hard way (for instance, at one point she was six weeks behind in manufacturing because she had not planned for such high demand).
During her journey, she learned a lot about business cycles. For example, Zietz says that she learned a tough lesson early in her company’s growth that the holiday season would be her company’s period of highest demand, not the actual start of the lacrosse season. As her company grew she has also grown into a successful businesswoman by all definitions. She’s been on “Shark Tank”, featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30, and her company is now making millions in revenue.
Gladiator Lacrosse did well even as the economy took a hit due to the pandemic, thanks to the surge in the number of people who were stuck at home and wanted to learn lacrosse when they had nothing better to do. While Zietz says that commercial lines of equipment, such as schools and lacrosse leagues, took a hit, the pandemic also gave Zietz ideas for new products, like smaller sizes and new types of rebounders and other equipment designed for home use.
Zietz has not decided how her company role will change after graduating from Princeton. Regardless, there are clear changes she wants to enact in the future: for example, she wants to hire more administrative support to avoid getting bogged down by phone calls and emails, and she wants to bring on a marketing expert because although the company has achieved great success organically, she has no doubt that the company has the potential to do even better with professional marketing.
Finally, Zietz wants to expand into different sports, an initiative made possible by Gladiator Lacrosse’s recent acquisition of sports equipment company All Ball Pro (led by Rocky Kroeger ’92). With the multi-sport potential of her core product, ball rebounders, Gladiator Lacrosse has already taken tentative steps in this direction. But Zietz knows that expanding her business into new markets will entail a lot of work, and she will need to hire staff specializing in other sports, such as baseball, to pinpoint what’s missing in those other markets and then develop new products to fill that void.
Even as she juggles being a CEO with Princeton coursework and leading the club lacrosse team, Zietz has still made time to forge meaningful connections with her professors. She fondly remembers being in the Ethics in Finance freshman seminar, taught by Cornwall Capital partner Jean-Christophe de Swaan. De Swaan ended up as her advisor and became an excellent mentor to Zietz, who says she never hesitates to ask him questions about classes and her career. Another course Zietz speaks highly of is her High Tech Entrepreneurship class from the Keller Center and its professor, Christopher Kuenne ’85, who is her main go-to for entrepreneurship-related questions. “In many ways, Rachel epitomizes the Princeton entrepreneur – she is a multi-faceted leader, in the classroom, on the field, in her eating club and in her business,” said Kuenne. “She has the drive and creative spark that will allow her to commercialize her ideas by attracting others to her vision.”
A question that Zietz says she frequently gets is, “Why did you go to college if you were already a successful entrepreneur?”, to which she often cites the utility of Princeton entrepreneurship classes in her career. Now, she’s “Taking situations [she] learned through running the company and applying it to the classroom setting” and “taking what [she’s] learning in the classroom and applying it back to business.” Princeton’s entrepreneurship classes have taught her crucial skills like how to pitch for funding, how to integrate and develop technology in her company, and how to lead as an entrepreneur.
“I’m still constantly learning and it would be so naïve to skip school and try to run this full time, because what I’ve learned over the past three years—now going into the fourth and final year—has been a tremendous help to my company and my personal development,” Zietz said. “It’s been a net positive, for sure.”