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One late night about 2am I received an email from a fifteen year old named Greg. This email was very interesting and even a bit scary. Greg was exactly like I had been at fifteen – to the letter.
I originally met Greg through my entrepreneurship discussion forum on www.zeromillion.com. He inquired about the search engine guide that I had written, and was wondering if I could offer him a discounted copy.
Looking for feedback and testimonials, and in consideration he was so young, I sent him a pro bono copy of my guide and just asked him to let me know what he thought. Well, he liked it and sent me an email back the next day. At this point, I began to realize just how much I was like him when I was fifteen. He was into the same persons I had been three years before, and was progressing along the same initial path of web site design and online marketing as I had.
This was Greg’s message:
Right now I am trying to develop a successful website/internet business. I am also always looking to learn more – which is why I own [numerous courses, ebooks, and software]. I also purchased [marketing course]. I am considering going into business, though I am not sure whether to do something like website development, search engine optimization, or something else. I am taking economics and accounting next semester in high school. I am not sure as to whether or not I should attend college. In the likely event that I do, I would probably be interested in something like e-commerce or webpage design.
What are you doing right now? I have several business opportunities that I wish to explore, but I must work them around my full time school schedule. I would be interested in learning more from you.
P.S. Where are you making your first million? Online? Offline?
I was intrigued and wanted to share with Greg the collective knowledge I had gained over the past years and warn him about one of the perils I ran into. I am surely not omnipotent on the issues I talk of in my reply to Greg, but genuinely hoped I could offer something of value of him, and now to you. Here is what I wrote in my response.
All right. Here it goes.
I was exactly like you at 15; very interested in online marketing but with little real experience.
Right before my senior year in high school, I got the chance to put some of my knowledge to work in a company that had a product but no sales to that point. That company has since done $1.5 million in sales. Half of it was that the product was great. The other half was the marketing and business systems I put into place.
In the past two years, and especially since going off to college this past August, however, I have realized there is much more to this world and to this life than web site design, web marketing, and promotion.
Now, I am not sure what type of person you are, and am not sure where your goals, hopes, dreams, and ambitions lie, but if you are like me, and I think you just may be, you’ll want to reach your full potential in life and have lots of opportunities open to you. You might have goals soon like winning the Nobel Prize in Economics, taking a company public, or writing a best-selling book.
Life is a long game and a long process. My mistake was that I was playing for the short term; doing whatever I thought was best to reach that starry eyed goal of making my first million. Problem was, I didn’t realize that if I put some of my business ventures off for a while I would have a much greater opportunity in life.
Now, I ended up all right because I got good grades in high school, am now at a pretty good college, and got some real business experience with a one in a million company that became wildly successful. However, there are many people who greatly limit their lives by spending all their time on the computer or holed-up in their room and I was close to becoming that person. You are not going to make very much money at fifteen. You may work your ass off, and make $30,000 at most. But if you invest the time you have now in learning, volunteering, making friends, reading, and do internships you will in the long run have much greater opportunity and by the time you are 22 have a college degree, much more knowledge and experience, and be able to build a business that makes much more than $30,000 each month.
The key to business is joint ventures. That is the way to really make the money. You can have all the drive and ambition in the world but if you look very young and do not have solid business connections you will be hard pressed to make that million.
There are many things in business that you just cannot do until you are 18. You cannot incorporate a business. You cannot open a business bank account. You cannot obtain a merchant account. You cannot sign a contract. And although the net makes it easier, it will be difficult to earn respect and convince people to joint venture with you or your company. At 22 with a college degree and numerous business contacts, things are a lot easier. At 40 with an MBA, a successful track record, and a tinge of gray hair, it’s relatively cake.
What matters is knowledge, competence, drive, contacts, and experience. You may have drive now, but if you work hard to gain the other four for the next few years it will be very easy for you to make many million dollar companies. You may spend the next three years of your life with all the drive and web marketing knowledge in the world plugging away on your computer, but it will just limit other opportunities you may have.
Now, I am by no means saying stop learning or stop what you are doing. The key is to somehow find a balance. See if there is a way you can pick up a job in an organization. Ask your dad/mom if they can help you find an internship or position doing web marketing for a local business. You need to get the business knowledge and experience through others who are successful before you will be able to be successful yourself. Try to find a mentor. Further, focus on getting all As and Bs if you can, take AP classes, and prepare well for the SAT and ACT. Plan on going to college and start now considering seriously where you want to go and take the application process seriously. Consider colleges outside your state too, and do not let any urges, worries, or prejudices of your parents hold you back from applying to all the colleges you would like to consider.
If you have the opportunity, going to a good college is essential to winning in the long run and opening up a whole new world of possibilities. If you have a very good work ethic, are intelligent, have a great idea, and have an experienced mentor to guide you along the way, it is possible to skip college. For most, however, I would not advise it.
Doing well in school is very important. More than I then realized. Gaining real business experience by interning and learning is very important. Keep learning and doing web marketing, but make sure you put community involvement, grades, gaining experience, enjoying life, and making contacts above business… for now. The return on this investment will be phenomenal. I promise you.
Keep doing what you are doing as it is awesome and commendable. I may be completely wrong about you and be making an ass of myself telling you things you already know. But if you are like I was, and I think you may be, then hopefully the above has helped.
Have I given up my entrepreneurial dreams to focus fully on school or building contacts? Well, not entirely. I have recently incorporated my first company and am in the process of building it now. It is just too much fun and am I following my bliss. Perhaps I should listen to my own advice. I just hope I have things in balance. We shall see.
The world is yours and I wish you well.
Thanks for your feedback. I look forward to talking with you further and hearing any reaction to / thoughts on the above. I am still learning too. If you can see the big picture and overriding importance you’ll love economics and although it’s not the most fun thing in the world you’ll manage to get through accounting just fine since you realize its importance.
I wish you luck and hope we can keep in touch.
P.S.: There is no way to make a million dollars online. To make a million you must first figure out something that people want, incorporate a company, obtain a bank account, develop a product, drum up funding, trademark the product name, find office space, buy office supplies and furnishing, build a great team, outsource development of promotional materials, obtain a merchant account, develop the distribution model, manage the supply chain, set up an accounting system, position your company in the marketplace, build strategic relationships, and manage fulfillment. All of these are surely ‘offline’ activities.
Do not be fooled by the hype online. It takes hard work, tenacity, intelligence, planning, competent advisors, a good product, and a great team. You have to create a system that works and creates sales for you while you are sleeping. And you have to have people that are inspired by your leadership and commitment. Put down Rudl and Allen temporarily. Pick up Thomas Friedman, Tom Peters, Peter Drucker, Sun Tzu, Warren Bennis and perhaps even a little Tolstoy. There is much more to the world than what is online. It is sometimes hard for you and I to realize that, as we are the first generation who does not remember what life was like before the Internet. Get out there and enjoy.
I hope sharing this letter with you has been helpful. In sum, I feel that in this age of computers, many teenage entrepreneurs get their start with computers and many spend a great deal of time trying to develop an online business. While they should surely continue in their efforts, if they truly wish to become wealthy, they must also invest in themselves, learn business by working within the structure of another business, build relationships, and get a good education. This investment will pay off in the long run.