While their peers were out making trouble, these young achievers were making bank.
Forever in search of the secrets to entrepreneurial success, we peeked into the inspirational lives of five whiz kids who built million-dollar enterprises before the age of 20.
They partnered with friends, siblings and mentors, or did the work on their own. Three are from the U.S., two from the U.K. All started at age 15 or younger--and one before he broke double digits.
Their common thread: preternatural business sense and demon drive to turn ideas into reality.
While four of the five were making a mint on the Internet, Fraser Doherty was doing things the old-fashioned way. In 2002, at the age of 14, Doherty started making jams from his grandmother's recipes in his parents' kitchen in Edinburgh, Scotland. Neighbors and church friends loved them. As word spread, Doherty started receiving orders faster than he could produce them at home, so he rented time at a 200-person food-processing factory several days a month.
By age 16, Doherty left school (with his parents' blessing) to work on his jams full time. In early 2007, Waitrose, a high-end supermarket in the U.K., approached Doherty, hoping to sell his Superjam products in their stores. Within months there were Superjam jars on the shelves of 184 Waitrose stores, hoisting Doherty and his business to new heights.
Doherty borrowed 5,000 pounds (about $9,000) from a bank to cover general expenses and more factory time to produce three flavors: Blueberry & Blackcurrant, Rhubarb & Ginger and Cranberry & Raspberry. Tesco followed, adding Doherty's products to 300 stores across the U.K. In March, Superjam will launch at Tesco in Ireland.
Last year Superjam hit $750,000 in sales and is on track to double that in 2008 (about 50,000 jars a month). Based on a reasonable valuation multiple of one times revenue--jelly-maker J.M. Smucker trades at 1.2 times sales--Doherty's 100% stake is worth in the neighborhood of $1 million to $2 million.
Not bad for a 19-year-old. Doherty's recommendation to other young entrepreneurs: "Have an attitude of adventure, and enjoy the journey."
Cameron Johnson truly took that perspective to heart, parlaying one hit into the next. Back in 1994, when he was just 9, Johnson launched his first business out of his home in Virginia, making invitations for his parents' holiday party. By the seasoned age of 11, Johnson had saved up several thousand dollars selling greeting cards. He called his company Cheers and Tears.
But the little guy didn't stop there. At age 12, Johnson offered his younger sister $100 for her collection of 30 Ty Beanie Babies, all the rage at that time. The young entrepreneur quickly earned 10 times that amount by selling the dolls on eBay. Smelling potential, he contacted Ty and began purchasing the dolls at wholesale with the aim of selling them on eBay and on his Cheers and Tears Web site.
In less than a year, Johnson banked $50,000--seed money for his next venture, My EZ Mail, a service that forwarded e-mails to a particular account without revealing the recipient's personal information. He hired a programmer to flesh out his idea, and within two years My EZ Mail was generating up to $3,000 per month in advertising revenue.