Digital savvy teen entrepreneurs are defying the odds to make their first million dollars before the age of 20
These teens are changing perceptions of what is needed to succeed in business, swapping boardrooms for social media sites
From lip balm to bow ties, these youngsters are pioneering the industry for Generation Y
Editor’s Note: Smart Business explores the ways companies are thinking smart to thrive in our digitized world.
The business world has always been notoriously perilous – but a group of young entrepreneurs are proving that cubs can thrive in the lion’s den. From California to the Caribbean, Generation Y-ers around the world are considering abandoning formal education and generating successful empires before they even reach their twenties.
These digital natives are spinning out their success online, turning to social media to boost their popularity and pick up customers across the globe. From tweeting which stores they’ll be selling out to developing exciting online experiences for their customers, their entrepreneurial flair combined with an online prowess is making these businesspeople better than ever before.
One of the newest recruits to the start-up scene is 13-year-old Moziah Bridges, whose bow tie empire has secured his status as a mini-magnate. The tie-toting youngster developed Mo’s Bows after becoming disenchanted with the world of neckwear, and was shown how to sew his new favorite fashion item together by his grandma. His fast-growing business is certainly a family effort, although Mo is firmly in the driving seat. “It’s the only time I get to tell my mom what to do!” he says.
And the best thing about running his own business isn’t the money – although Mo predicts he’ll make his first million by 17 – it’s being able to help others. “I get to give back to my community by helping other kids go to summer camp and donating ties for different benefits,” he explains.
Jason Li, founder of electronics recycling company iReTron, was also keen to combine work with his socially conscious concerns. After a serious injury left him with a herniated disk, snapped nerves and an inability to walk for a week, he turned to books during his recovery.
“Reading of social entrepreneurship projects in third world countries inspired [me] to create my own social enterprise that could reward people for being environmentally friendly,” he recalls. “A year later, I launched iRetron Inc.”
“Giving back from the beginning is important,” agrees Madison Robinson, the 15-year-old behind flip flop enterprise FishFlops, who has donated over 20,000 pairs to help children worldwide. “It’s important to give your time to worthy causes that you feel passionate about.”
And it seems as though charity starts at home for these entrepreneurs, with the support of their families key to making it big. BLAMtastic is a team effort, its teen founder Lily Sandler explains: “We went from working out of our basement and cooking lip balm in our kitchen to becoming an international consumer goods company valued at millions and selling to the largest retailers in the world.”
“As a family with no business background, this was no easy task.”
Madison, also , combined her own innovation with the support of her parents. “At the age of eight, I drew an outline of a flip flop and added my sea creatures. I took the drawings to my dad – he got excited and purchased the domain name that day.”
Warren, too, felt the entrepreneurial juices flowing at eight, at which age he and his mom devised a project through which he could channel his creativity. “I told her I wanted to start a business, so she said, ‘why not create a greeting card company?”’
Inspiration can often come from unpredictable places, as 15-year-old Lily can attest. The teen started up her own lip balm empire after mistakenly calling it ‘blam’ – and lo, BLAMtastic was born.
And for Warren Cassell, 15, the spirited proclamations of America’s daytime doyenne Oprah Winfrey motivated him to emulate her success, as did those of one Donald Trump (whose ex-wife Ivana serves as his mentor).
Business shows like “The Apprentice”, which Trump fronts, can often provide the perfect launching pad for entrepreneurial hopefuls like Jason. At 16, he appeared on “Shark Tank” – a program which offers people the chance to pitch for funding from industry tycoons. “My greatest achievement has to be when I successfully completed a venture capital deal with investor Mark Cuban [on the show]”, he muses.
“I finally found a channel to demonstrate to America that anyone can start their own business as long as they pursue their passions with tenacity and confidence.”
But juggling the pressures of the business world with school life can be a challenge, as Lily found after BLAMtastic formed. “Being a teenager, student and entrepreneur is no easy task,” she says. “I can’t even express how many school assignments I’ve done at the airport or how many absence forms I’ve had to submit to school.”
“My biggest challenge is scheduling travel to tradeshows, interviews and special events so that it doesn’t interfere with my school work,” Madison empathises. “This is an ongoing challenge to find the right balance between my business, my studies and my school activities.”
Taylor Dow took a different approach, deciding to leave formal education in order to focus on his detox aid, Body Tea, full time. “School isn’t for everyone, and it wasn’t for me. I left as my passion and time was best spent in business.”
Jason’s promised to take more of a backseat role within his company since going to college, but things are still going from strength to strength, with iReTron’s first million dollars in profit slated for the coming months. His success has also turned him into something of a local celebrity. “I have been recognized multiple times,” Jason says, “and it feels quite weird for strangers to come up to me and ask whether I have been on TV, or if I was the one who started a business in high school. I definitely hope I’ve made enough of an impression for other students to see that entrepreneurship can be for anyone.”
Lily has also become something of a poster girl for youngsters in search of business tips. “We receive calls constantly from people who say that they have ideas for businesses, but they do not know how to get started,” she says.
And these success stories aren’t lost on the budding business brains’ peers, either. “[My friends] think it’s cool and are inspired to start thinking about their own businesses,” shares Mo.
But not everybody in the cut throat world of business responded so positively to these young minds, with challenges strewn across the path to success. “We hired a CEO who we thought to be the ideal candidate, but he promptly declared our company, “too small” and “a waste of his time” before resigning,” Lily recalls. “We moped around for days, and we truly had to examine whether our company was worth pursuing any further. If a successful CEO declared our company unworthy, did that mean it was true?”
Taylor also experienced a series of challenges along the way, but rather than thinking “too small,” his issue arose after copycats took a shine to his product. “It was annoying to see people try and copy [Body Tea] with a lack of passion and distort the industry,” he reflects. “Many see it as a good way to make a quick dollar rather than wanting to help people achieve their goals. [For me], the money side of things was just a bonus for my hard work and a product that did work.”
While many are keen to dismiss teen entrepreneurs on account of their age, for Jason, it finally became a factor of which to be proud, rather than embarrassed. “Embracing the fact that I was still a high school student would ultimately prove to be beneficial,” he says.
“In the end, the challenge wasn’t about convincing other people that I, at age 14, was worthy of the business world. Instead, it was convincing myself that 14-year- old me has nothing to lose in the business world.”
And with entrepreneurial minds like these, the business world of tomorrow looks a whole lot brighter.