4 Success Strategies From My 16-Year-Old Self That I Still Use Today — $20 Million Later
I first entered the world of entrepreneurship as a 16-year-old website developer.
Since then, I’ve moved onto bigger enterprises, like founding Adventure Capital, a venture fund and incubator that starts businesses in developing countries.
But to this day, I still do many of the things that helped me succeed as a teenage entrepreneur.
And while I’ve gained a world of insight along the way, those strategic foundations I developed while I was only in high school still serve me well — millions of dollars in revenue later.
Whether you’re 16 or 61, every entrepreneur should be doing these four things.
1. Outsource lower-value tasks.
Freelancers can be your best friend.
They save you time and money — an entrepreneur’s two most valuable resources.
When I was 16, I was running several different sites that allowed users to download images.
At first, I was doing everything: finding images, editing them, uploading them, and reviewing user-submitted images.
These simple but time-consuming tasks took up hours of my day, and made it hard for me to explore new ideas, launch new sites, or pursue other high-level functions necessary for growing my business.
So I turned to freelancing websites, where I discovered an army of freelancers willing to fulfill virtually any work request at affordable rates.
Today, it’s even easier to find quality freelancers.
I usually use Upwork, which is a massive freelance marketplace where you can post jobs and collect bids from people who want your project. Even though Upwork and other sites feature reviews of a freelancer’s work, so you know if the person is good at what they do, I also create my own second line of defense to avoid mediocre workers.
I write an extensive, specific job description that contains a code about three-fourths of the way through it.
Then I ask that all applicants use that code as the subject of their message, which lets me know that they fully read my description. Any messages that don’t have that code can be immediately deleted.
Of course, I have to spend some time training the freelancers I hire — but it’s always been worth it. Paying overseas freelancers $6–10 an hour plus spending a couple hours training them has saved me countless invaluable hours I can put toward more strategic work.
2. Reach out to people and make asks.
You’d be surprised how many people are willing to lend a helping hand to a total stranger.
As a 16-year-old, I had a great website idea, but no money to pay for hosting. I didn’t want to ask my dad for money, so I decided to try my luck on some different online business forums.
I wrote a simple post to the effect of, “Hey, I’m 16 and have a great idea for a social network website called TeenHangout.com, but I don’t have the money to host it. If anyone’s willing to supply hosting, I’ll place your advertisements on the site.”
A lot of people told me, essentially, “Good luck with that.” But within a week, I did receive two hosting offers in return for a small ad placement. I’d landed my first domain and website practically for free.
Currently, my staff and I are engaged with another ask — a slightly bigger one this time.
We’re making bids at Beyoncé’s attention.
Our goal is to get her support and invest in a Nigerian company we’re building. And no, I don’t know Beyoncé personally, and I definitely don’t have her email address — but I figure it’s worth a try.
Whether it’s Beyoncé, a famous athlete, or a major tech CEO, don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know. They may very well surprise you with a positive response.
3. Find like-minded individuals to surround yourself with.
Finding the right influence and supporting cast is crucial.
At 16, I began working my way into the online spheres of website developers. I made close professional relationships on various forums and learned from people making $10,000 a month running websites.
Because I was so young, being able to establish these relationships online, without people knowing my age, proved incredibly advantageous. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been taken as seriously had they known I was a teenager.
Today, I prefer business done face-to-face. Connections can be made more quickly in person, when you’re at an event, sharing a beer, or over dinner. Those non-verbal elements virtual agreements lack — body language, eye contact, a firm handshake — are powerful for building trust.
After all, no one’s going to close a $1 million deal over instant message.
4. Invest in your business’s image.
Perception is everything — especially when you’re creating a business.
With today’s affordable technology, everyone has the ability to develop a standout brand and image. And because of this, small businesses have the potential to look big to potential clients or investors.
At 16, I knew I wanted my business to look legit, so I hired professional web designers overseas, where the rates were more affordable. We got a sleek, high-quality website that made a profound impression on advertisers. In fact, we’d get calls asking for our sales director when, in reality, the entire operation was just me and my fellow 16-year-old business partner, Kyle.
For every business I’ve built since, I’ve always prioritized a professional, top-tier website.
But there are plenty of other ways to enhance your business image.
You can get a 1–800 phone number that forwards to your cell phone. You can buy a domain name for $10, and get an email at that domain name for a couple dollars a month. And nowadays, website hosting platforms like Squarespace and Wix make creating a nice-looking website realistic without a developer.
With the right mindset, a bit of know-how, and effectively executing on the fundamentals, creating a successful business can be a realistic goal for any entrepreneur, at any age.