Nick Tart and his business partner are only 22, but they’ve already become experts in Generation-Y entrepreneurship.
After interviewing 25 self-made 6-figure+ teenage entrepreneurs, the pair authored the book: 50 Interviews: Young Entrepreneurs, What It Takes To Make More Than Your Parents.
What they found is that all the entrepreneurs shared a lot of similar traits.
These kids were lemonade stand sellers on steroids, hustling classmates in elementary school and staying in on weekends to work on their businesses.
Here is what separated these successful teens from their other, ordinary classmates.
Here are 7 traits the self-made, teenage millionaires share
Family support and encouragement
All 25 teenagers came from families that didn’t doubt their ambitions. This doesn’t mean that the entrepreneurs received financial support. We’re talking about emotional support.
With the exception of Catherine Cook, the founder of MyYearbook.com who received seed money from her brother, most young millionaires Tart interviewed funded their own projects.
Some were given loans that they later paid back. One received $10 from his parents to buy a domain name. Emil Motycka, a 21-year-old who made his money with a commercial lawn mowing business, co-signed an $8K loan to buy his first lawn mower. Both paid off their debt within a year.
Like the rest of their generation, these entrepreneurs were told they were special. This time, they actually were.
Start with something manageable
Whether it was blogging or pushing a lawn mower, each young millionaire started with an idea they could actually execute. Tackling something manageable built their confidence, and it helped them build reputations as entrepreneurs. “I think all of them are getting into more substantial businesses now,” says Tart, “but they had to start small to build their names in the business world.”
One example is Juliette Brindak, 21-year-old founder of MissOAndFriends.com. After eight years of working on her startup, she received an investment from Proctor & Gamble that led her company to a $15 million valuation. With time, her idea grew from manageable to masterful.
Hard work and being relentless
Most entrepreneurs go through a lot of trial and error before they strike gold. The 25 teenagers are no exception.
Adam Horowitz, an 18-year-old entrepreneur, started 30 websites in 3 years before he became successful. Finally, he sold his first six-figure product. After that, he sold another successful product, and then another.
“About three months ago, Horowitz came out with another product that produced $1.5 million in revenue in 3 days,” says Tart. “None of that would have happened without his 30 initial failures.”
A sacrifice that adults don’t have to make: childhood
What do teenagers have to lose? Not a whole lot. Most don’t have to pay rent, feed families, or go to work. Fortunate teenagers have no real expenses; they have the freedom to do what they want, when they want, and that includes entrepreneurship.
One thing these 25 kids did have to sacrifice? Their childhood.
Founder Emil Motycka recalls being invited to the pool with friends. He’d turn them down to mow lawns instead. Motycka was made fun of for his business priorities; friends who lacked his responsibilities didn’t understand his logic.
Now Motycka’s work has paid off and he owns a house his friends frequently take advantage of.
They were told they wouldn’t be successful
There’s no motivation like being told you can’t do something. Most of the 25 entrepreneurs Tart interviewed encountered a lot of negativity from teachers and friends. Michael Dunlop is one exceptional example.
School was challenging for Dunlop as a dyslexic student. Teachers told him he wouldn’t be successful, and the young entrepreneur dropped out of high school. Despite his disability, Dunlop took up blogging and started Incomediary.com. The site now rakes in 6-figures and has a 12,000 Alexa rating.
“His writing isn’t great, but he has millions of readers,” says Tart. “Dunlop has an amazing intuition for business, and his opinions are always right.”
Catherine Cook, founder of MyYearbook.com, also faced negativity. One year after launching her site, Cook received her first offer to sell. When she refused, the prospective buyer told her, ‘You’ll never reach the necessary threshold of 3 million users. You’re making a big mistake.” She quickly proved them wrong. MyYearbook.com now has 22 million users.
They kept personal and business lives separate
Gen-Y is supposed to be narcissistic. But a lot of these youngsters didn’t want the glory associated with being a young founder. Four of the 25 interviewed entrepreneurs did not go by their real names.
Part of the reason they’re cautious about identities is because of their young age. Another reason is because they want to keep business and social lives separate.
“It’s like they wanted to start businesses as fake people,” Tart says. “Catherine Cook [founder of MyYearbook.com] would work on her website only after her college roommate went to bed. She wanted to keep her business to herself and separate it from her personal life.”
Young entrepreneurs also don’t want their friends to know their rolling in money because people take advantage of them. Andrew Fashion, an entrepreneur who earned $2.5 million and blew it all by his 22nd birthday, learned this the hard way. His friends lived in his house but wouldn’t pay him rent, and when he bought a friend a car, they totaled it. These teens have learned the hard way that everyone is not trust-worthy.
They were born sellers
According to Tart, most of his interviewees started selling trinkets when they were in grade school. “Michael Dunlop started selling Pokemon cards. He realized the pieces of cardboard were high in demand and they were way undervalued.”
Keith J. Davis sold bubble gum to classmates, a desirable treat that was forbidden by teachers. Andrew Fashion turned mechanical pencils into rocket launchers.
The young millionaires got practice selling early and never stopped.
So is entrepreneurship nature or nurture? These kids were certainly born with the bug, but they wouldn’t have been successful without relentless business attempts and their unmatched drive.