Teen Entrepreneur, CEO, Horse Trainer…these are the first words that appear on Andrea Cao’s website. It’s easy to forget that she is actually a High School student who is just getting her applications in to colleges. Scroll down her website homepage and the next thing you’ll see is a very impressive list of big businesses where Andrea Cao and her products have been featured.
Wow, this SLO County resident really has the hustle! Let’s find out what makes Andrea tick and be inspired by all she has accomplished in her not-even-an-adult-yet life.
How did you get started with horses?
I’ve been obsessed with horses my entire life. However, growing up in the suburbs of SLO didn’t make that super easy. I worked my butt off to be able to take lessons in elementary school, and during middle school I started doing barn work/chores for many local barns. Those chores developed into exercising horses, exposing me to mounts of all different training styles, breeds, athletic ability, and etc. Through these experiences, I learned from so many horses, and it forced me to be able to adapt and work with different situations. I’d be riding a green colt one hour and a cold blooded draft cross the next- I was over the moon!
When and how did you realize you understood things about training horses that others didn’t?
Equine psychology always intrigued me. I sought to learn how a partnership between horse and rider could go deeper than simply sitting in the saddle. To do that, I had to get inside a horse’s brain- learn what makes them react and do the things they do. Working with mustangs forced me to pay extreme attention to this- they are the most honest horses you’ll ever meet. I learned to listen, and to be aware of what I was saying with my body. Believe it or not, you’re constantly talking to a horse whether it’s intentional or by accident. I learned how to leverage this and effectively communicate with them, which led to me developing the training methods I use today. My goal was to create softness that went further than the bit, and willingness that went further than the saddle. I create leadership and trust with horses, starting all on the ground.
How many horses do you have in training at one time?
I closed my public training business to focus on personal projects and reach a larger audience. Through my instructional videos, blog posts, and social media posts, I am able to help horses & owners on an international level! The best part about all of this is that I can provide it absolutely for free. In the past I’d have to account for board, feed, maintenance, and more. My goal is to provide great quality training and instruction for free, and make it accessible to those that can’t afford clinician training kits/dvd’s. Horse training should depend on the effort you put in, not the money you spend.
I of course still have my own projects though! I’ve shifted my focus to training mustangs, they’re seriously the best horses I’ve ever worked with. I currently have 3 horses on my ranch right now, including Spirit, my 4-year-old BLM mustang gelding. I joke that he’s my $25 celebrity because I got him for $25 and since he’s been featured on the cover of a national magazine! I adopted Spirit from the BLM after a roundup in the Nevada mountains, wild and untouched. Now he does everything from reining to packing kids around.
Tell us how you launched your first product.
I launched my first product, Q-Flex, when I was 13 years old. I developed the sports recovery tool when my mom, a nurse at the time, would constantly come home with a sore back. After realizing that other people must be suffering from this, I sought to develop a solution! I ended up pitching Q-Flex on ABC’s Shark Tank, gaining investment from Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran. Q-Flex soon became a multi-million-dollar company, selling in Walmart, Amazon, Brookstone, QVC, and more. Before I knew it, I was a self-made millionaire at age 13!
What lessons learned are you applying to the launch of your tack line?
Growing Q-Flex was an insane journey that threw me straight into the world of business and entrepreneurship. I got to work with the world’s best mentors (Cuban, Corcoran, Cal Poly SBDC, and SLO local Joe O’Connor), all of whom taught me priceless business skills and lessons that I’ll use my whole life. I got to be a guest host on QVC, pitch at Walmart buyer meetings, and travel all over the country for business. Each and every one of these experiences polished my sales skills, and exposed me to every aspect of running a business. I essentially got to be an engineer, sales rep, biz dev, accountant, board member, and CEO of a company all at once, and it was absolutely awesome. Most of all, I got to fail. A lot. These failures and forced me to be stronger, better, and smarter. They shaped me into the entrepreneur I am today.
Starting Andrea Equine is just like starting any other business- all of these aspects need to be in sync and seamless. I am applying myself to the company, meaning all of my experience and hustle comes with me. Most importantly, I’m learning from my mistakes and shortcomings with Q-Flex and using them to make Andrea Equine better. It was a blank slate that I could make my own- all over again :)
What are your favorite pieces from your tack line?
Oh goodness, this is a hard one. I get this question a lot and I find it impossible to answer. Since I am the designer, I have to love everything I put out. If I had to narrow it down, the “Andrea” design was the first headstall style I created and it laid the foundation for the rest of the brand! As you can probably tell, turquoise is our brand’s signature and it shines through that piece. I am also in love with a new “VIP” piece we just released, the “Arroyo” headstall. It combines crystals, cheetah, pink, fringe, and turquoise all in one. What else could a cowgirl ask for? Another classic is our “California” headstall, my favorite piece from the “Work” line. Rich chocolate harness leather meets engraved spots and stainless hardware for a classic pop of shine!
What makes your tack different from other options?
My brand really boils down to 3 things- style, quality, and affordability. I was fed up with how much tack is being up-marked, especially for the quality. You’ll find cheap, low quality headstalls coming from India priced higher than my American made headstalls. I really wanted to provide the quality people deserve at a price that’s accessible for everyone.
My leather tack starts with our signature Andrea Equine leather-a thick, durable, and butter-soft harness leather that our customers find to be better than Herman Oak harness leather. Most high quality options on the market require lots of oil and elbow grease to get soft, but all of our tack comes butter soft right out of the box. Our game-changing leather is hand doubled & stitched, then meets stainless steel hardware, hand painting, hand tooling, hand braiding, hand lacing, and hand assembly (and on our “VIP” pieces, real Swarovski crystals) for ultimate durability.
Our rope products are designed to beat the clinicians’ in both quality and price. We provide the best natural horsemanship training equipment the world has ever seen, all of which I use to train on a daily basis. It’s no surprise that we have so many customers across the world!
Every single product is handmade every step of the way by expert craftsmen. No exceptions. We are also one of the few companies that fully guarantees our products. That guarantee speaks for itself- we believe in our tack and you will too!
How do you balance chores and work before school, school, homework, horse training and your business all at once?
I weirdly don’t really have a set “schedule” for any of my days. Since I’m also a full-time high school student, I find that I really just budget time in a chaotic fashion. I’m in a program where I take college courses, a ton of which I do online. This allows me to schedule meetings and business during the day so I can focus on education at night. So work week+business hours= business time, and evenings+weekends= school. As for horses, I somehow make my way up to my ranch on a daily basis, even if that means before dawn or after dusk. There have also been many occasions where I find myself in the middle of a conference call while in the saddle. So while crazy, I thank God that I somehow end up making it work.
What advice do you have for other teens looking to launch their dreams?
Absolutely love this question! I spend a lot of my free time speaking and mentoring at local schools, preaching that kids and teens have the power to make their dreams a reality. While the world wants you to believe that being young is a disadvantage, you need to see it as an advantage. Young people, in general, are more free thinking and resilient. This creates a huge advantage in the business world, because kids are willing to go where adults aren’t. No matter what anyone tells you, be passionate about something and chase it. Hustle when the world doubts, and you’ll be miles ahead of your competition.
Like I said, I failed a lot. You will fail a lot. Success doesn’t come by chance. This is also an advantage – you’ll be learning priceless lessons along the way that’ll stick with you your entire life. If I can become a self-made millionaire at 13, you can do it at 12. Or wherever you may be right now. Success is entirely up to you.
We appreciate all Andrea Cao has to share and the opportunity to learn from her, one of our very own SLO horse community members.
So how about you? What is holding you back from chasing your dreams? Are you ready to become what you have the individual potential to be?
Well then, get going!
Photo credit: Mary Elizabeth Photography