Listening to teen entrepreneurs

I spent some time today listening to several teen entrepreneurs who gathered from all over the country as part of an event put on by Independent Youth and St. Louis University’s Entrepreneurship Center. It was very inspiring.

How many 15 year olds do you know who have started companies? Not many, I bet. How about one who is now running a 45-person virtual business with another teen partner who is two years older? The two, James Boehm and Matt Salsamendi don’t even live in the same state: they met online playing Minecraft and put together a Minecraft server hosting business called Their monthly hosting plans start at $3 a month and they now have more than 40,000 customers all over the world. That is pretty impressive.

I had to laugh during their presentation: the two started their business on a small loan from one of their fathers, who were hovering around the conference and very proud of their kids achievements. How much was the loan, you might ask? Seven bucks. That is right: not much of an investment. Both dads of course run their own businesses (having nothing to do with technology, I might add). The two teens spoke about how to build your own hosting business (whether for supporting games or just general Web hosting) that I had to admit was right on target. Too bad they don’t support WordPress or I might be tempted to switch from GoDaddy for my own hosting needs.

jimckThe conference was keynoted by Jim McKelvey, the inventor of the Square payment chip and numerous other innovations. I have seen McKelvey talk before and he is very inspiring, but particularly so in this circumstances where most of his audience was so young. “I want to get you before you go to college,” he said, trying to influence them into taking pre-engineering tracks. “Everyone that I know who runs a company has an engineering background,” he told the crowd.

McKelvey has a simple seven-point plan for becoming an entrepreneur, at least the kind of entrepreneur that he is.

  • Don’t plan, build a prototype first. Learn how to build things and how stuff works.
  • Timing is everything, and be ready when your moment arrives. Knowing your market is important too.
  • Fail fast and furious, and consider failure just another form of feedback
  • Assume you have permission, don’t ask for it and apologize later if you have to. Being lucky beats being smart most of the time.
  • Assume technology will do what you want
  • Ignore opportunities and focus on fixing problems first
  • Don’t use lack of funds as an excuse and find as much free stuff as you can.

He mentioned that his Square chip went through 12 different prototypes before the one that we have in our hands today. “If you wait for your product to be perfect, you will never get it out the door,” he said. One of the students asked him what his most successful business was, and he mentioned his art glass studio here in St. Louis: while it hasn’t made as much money or has a valuation anywhere near the billions of Square, it is considered the leading such studio in the world and he is proud of that accomplishment.


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