How a 9/11 fireman’s kids are carrying on his entrepreneurial legacy

Kaley Young knows her late father would be “so proud” of her and her two younger siblings.

Three years ago, they brought his business dreams to life by making a life-changing investment in his invention of the stars of ABC’s “Shark Tank.” Their emotional pitch brought tears to multiple Shark investors as they praised the Cup Board Pro, a bamboo cutting board their father had invented and hoped to pitch himself before dying just three months before the episode was taped.

At age 53, Keith Young died of cancer as a result of his time as a firefighter in New York City, clearing the wreckage in lower Manhattan after September 11, 2001. The Sharks invested $100,000 in exchange for a 20% stake in the family business, and pledged to donate all of their proceeds from that effort to charities associated with the New York City Fire Department.

Keith Young (second from left) with his fellow firefighters clearing the wreckage at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan in 2001.

Source: Kaley Young

Then Shark Daymond John helped the siblings negotiate an exclusive licensing deal with retail giant Williams-Sonoma, which has placed their father’s invention in more than 600 stores across the United States. Williams-Sonoma handles the production and distribution of the cutting board, which features an attachable, collapsible plastic tray and strategically placed grooves for kitchen tidying, while the siblings co-own the brand and help produce the product. to market.

Now, says Kaley Young, the nature of that licensing deal has given her and her siblings the freedom to pursue their own education and careers, while still being tied both emotionally and financially to their father’s creation. It is, you might say, his last gift to them – a lasting legacy.

The siblings “can all still focus on our own dreams while running [Cup Board Pro],” the 28-year-old tells CNBC Make It.

For her, that means running the New York City-based interior design company she launched last year. Her brother Christian (24) is a veterinary assistant at an animal hospital. And her sister Keira, 18, recently started college as a freshman.

As an entrepreneur, Young has mainly followed in her parents’ footsteps. She attributes her business ambitions to growing up close to her parents: She says she helped her mother manage a Pilates studio in Long Island as a teenager, while helping both parents create websites for their businesses. .

“I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit because of them,” she says.

‘A sign from above’

In the months following her father’s death, Young spent time reaching out to his manufacturing contacts to figure out how Cup Board Pro could become a full-fledged company. After “Shark Tank”, Shark also connected Matt Higgins Young with marketing professionals to build out the Cup Board Pro website.

That would have been a lot for any budding entrepreneur, let alone one who just lost her father — but Young faced an even heavier emotional burden.

She ran her mother’s Pilates studio on her own for six years and took over as a teenager after her mother died of breast cancer. She also took interior design classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. And after her father’s death, she was the legal guardian of her two younger siblings.

“There was just a lot going on,” Young says. “But I was fully committed, ready to do what we had to do to make all my father’s dreams come true.”

At first, Young thought that meant running the business herself. But then she and her siblings found themselves struggling to keep up with demand.

Before their father died, he had ordered 2,000 copies of his cutting board from a manufacturer, selling several hundred online while making his “Shark Tank” audition tape. After the siblings told his story on television, that first batch of plates sold out “within minutes,” Young says. The siblings received another 100,000 emails from customers wanting to purchase the Cup Board Pro.

“It was crazy. Our email system just exploded with waitlist orders,” says Young.

So the deal between Williams and Sonoma was well timed. Young says her father had talked about getting his cutting board on Williams-Sonoma’s boards, so it “felt like it was a sign from above that it just had to be that way.”

The siblings and Williams-Sonoma both declined to release sales figures for the cutting board, which sells at Williams-Sonoma stores nationwide for $69.95. But Young notes that those brick-and-mortar locations usually have Cup Board Pro displays, adding that online orders often come from international customers in Australia, Asia and Europe, likely because of “Shark Tank”‘s global viewership.

“It has definitely surpassed my own dreams,” she says.

(LR): Keira Young, Christian Young and Kaley Young.

Source: Williams-Sonoma

‘He was the best person’

On Saturday, as the world looks back on the September 11 attacks for the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, Young and her siblings will remember their late father.

“I’ll never forget that day — I was in third grade — and my dad picking me up from school,” she says.

At the time, her father worked at the FDNY’s Ladder 56 fire station in Brooklyn. Watching the World Trade Center towers collapse on television, he picked Young up from school and took his kids to get an ice cream before saying he loved them and that he had to go to work.

In the days following the attack, he spent hours at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan sorting through the wreckage. He spent nearly two decades as a firefighter before being diagnosed in 2016 with a soft tissue cancer associated with 9/11 first responders, due to the large amounts of fumes and dust they inhaled.

In the years since, the siblings have raised more than $44,000 through a 2018 GoFundMe campaign for Fired Up for a Cure, the FDNY Foundation’s nonprofit cancer awareness and prevention program for 9/11 first responders. Young also says the Sharks’ donations of Cup Board Pro proceeds “mean so much to me and my siblings.”

The cutting board also came from the fire station: Young’s father was a fire station, with a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University of Providence, RI. After joining the FDNY in the late 1990s, he fell in love with cooking for his fellow firefighters, serving huge meals from pasta to pot roast to firefighters returning from long shifts — often making “the biggest mess ever,” Young recalls. themselves now .

Young says she remembers her father cutting pieces of plastic to prototype back in 2010 to clean up that mess, but all business plans were derailed in 2011 by her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis. cooking show “Chopped” in 2014 brought her father about $10,000 in prize money, which went to keep the Pilates studio alive and further develop the cutting board.

He made his audition tape “Shark Tank” while actively fighting cancer. During his hospital stay, his children helped deliver and ship orders placed through Amazon and Shopify. And after he died, the siblings took it upon themselves to appear on television in his place. Their only strategy: doing their best to channel their father’s enthusiasm for the product into their pitch.

“Looking back, I don’t know how my siblings… [and I] did what we did,” says Young. “I just wanted to make my parents proud and really show the world how great they were.”

Now, she says, it’s all about continuing his legacy — and making sure his dreams for his invention are in safe hands.

“He was the best person,” Young says. “He just showed strength for us in everything he did, and he was just funny to be around, smart, kind and the best cook. That’s Dad.”

Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights for “Shark Tank”.

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