The summer of 1998 was life altering. I was entering 7th grade in a small school on the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation. And while other kids my age were out being kids, I was doing something drastically different.
At the tender age of 12, I was building a business – a technology-handyman business to be exact.
What I had discovered was that the surrounding area was predominately home for retirement age folks all in need of a little technology help. And I had an unwavering drive to become their solution. So with some initial referral help from my teachers and parents’ friends, I came in to gobble up market-share. Since this was pre-Geek Squad days, business was-a-booming!
Here I was, a middle-school kid garnishing upwards of a couple hundred bucks an hour for things I enjoyed so much I would have done for free…
And the following 6 years would prove to be a huge learning lesson in business, money management, marketing and living an a-typical life.
How I Did It (and How the Concepts Still Apply)
In retrospect, the growth of my business came through natural responses to the needs of that time. I wasn’t a mastermind in business or marketing. I simply applied common teenager-wanting-spending-money logic.
The first money I earned was from someone needing a simple – at least to me – computer task completed. And they offered to pay me. Eye opening, to say the least. I discovered that I could charge money to do something I already enjoyed doing. And would have normally done it for free.
At that age, I loved tinkering around with electronics. So the money was simply a bonus back then. But this concept has stayed with me ever since; find something you love to do and the money will naturally find its way to you.
Apparent to me now how necessary this skill is, but another natural step in my business was talking to others. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was a master networker. If I couldn’t find the solution for someone’s problem, I knew someone who did. And this willingness to help other business people out definitely came back tenfold. My phone was ringing off the hook with requests. Mostly from folks I never knew before. All wanted “the whiz kid” to help them out.
I quickly found that people needed to contact me. So within the first few weeks of being in business I downloaded a freeware graphic design program and whipped out the above business card. In turn, I had 250 raised ink cards printed. Again, at the time I didn’t realize I was following fundamental business principles. In this case, how the impression high quality marketing collateral makes on someone. I, on the other hand, simply wanted something cool looking.
However, quickly after I started handing these out to teachers and friends, I found that a nice looking business card is a conversation starter. Commonly I would hear something to the effect of “Wow, these are nice! You must really care about your image.”
Another natural progression of my business was using the latest marketing strategies to promote my services. Consequently, I had bought Adobe GoLive and LiveMotion along with an 800 page HTML book… a few weeks later I had a website. And another service in my tool belt. I was now a sought-after website designer.
Nevertheless, after these huge business evolutionary steps, I was still doing everything in response to the needs of the marketplace. I wasn’t reinventing the wheel. But rather answering the local peoples’ needs.
The Teenage Business Owner
After a couple of years I continued slowly working at my business. And while this was the time of the Dot-Com era, where kids were receiving millions in VC money. I obviously wasn’t one of them. (In actuality living on a tiny indian reservation in Northern Wisconsin, I really didn’t know that was going on) But by this time I had become a 14-year-old business owner with adults requesting my services. It felt pretty good.
For example, I had branched out my web business to include products such as reselling of site hosting. And I had clients both locally and in the cities of New York and Chicago. Little did those companies know that the person faxing the monthly invoice was a 14-year-old boy.
All-in-all, I had accidentally created multiple streams of cash flow, built a technology expert image in my community and ultimately ensured that I would never have a “40-hour-work-week” career path. Looking back at my teen years, it was a pretty remarkable turn of events.
Caveat: I was an immature kid; so don’t hold this against me.
I did what most kids with little financial responsibility would do, I spent most of my earnings on ridiculous things:
- A fully modified car complete with PS2 & XBOX (in the days when most people didn’t have these gaming systems in their homes, my friends and I were playing Grand Theft Auto in the high school parking lot)
- Countless foot-long Abercrombie & Fitch, Express and Banana Republic receipts
- Custom in-home technology that would still make most techies drool
- Top-of-the-line golfing, fishing, biking and other sport gear
- The list continues… but it depresses me, so I’ll stop
I did open an Ameritrade account and invested a portion of the money, buying some extraordinary growth companies (eg. Hanson Naturals – before they created Monster Energy Drink and Registry Magic – before they created WAP security for bluetooth technology), thus launching me into a life of investing. But that will be a future post…
The learning experience of earning all this money and becoming a well-known technology expert as well as building a strong entrepreneurial foundation was invaluable. There is no way that I would be where I am today, if it hadn’t been for this early success in life.
I hope you were able to take something valuable away from my story. Thanks for reading!