Business at 17: The Ups & Downs

I could point to my most defining point in late high school as the day I registered for an ABN about a month before my 16th birthday. I can remember it quite specifically. It was hardly a significant event, it takes just about ten minutes to get your very own sole trader ABN, but it was a big deal for me. I had been working for only one client before this date, with no real concepts of actually turning my skills into a proper business or any possible idea about things to come. But this was the first big step I took in a direction that could quite possibly be a defining one in the rest of my life. 

For my entire life, I've been raised in a way that has taught me to do almost everything for myself, taking everything into my own hands and going out to do exactly what I wanted. Avoiding obstacles as efficiently as possible and streamlining everything into a specific way of life. This kind of guidance has stemmed mostly from my parents. My father bootstrapped his own business out of nothing when I was one into one that now has meetings with Walmart and some of the biggest  goods distributors in the world, prompting me to realise that this was really the only way I could go down. I've never been in the environment in which parents had to deal with terrible bosses, job hunting, etc. My father set everything up for himself, and has prospered beyond most because of it. How could I imagine myself in any different position after being surrounded by this kind of thing my entire life? 

I'm not going to lie, though, running your own business at such a young age is idiculously  hard. It's quite common for my friends and peers to hear of the comparatively large payouts, white collar office lifestyle and interstate trips, thinking this is everything to it. But the truth is, that's really not the whole story. While some can leave their post at McDonalds or Subway after a long shift and return home with no worries in their head about work, I cannot. I remember a day in September last year when I was sitting on my friend's balcony at 11pm after a few drinks with friends to receive a phone call from a desperate client asking how they could change a setting they'd ruined. Now that was a challenging phone call. Or the time that I had to spend an entire day and night writing and rewriting the CSS to a website in order to make it appear perfectly not just on one size of a screen but 4 other general sizes as well. We look at the positives of these kind of ventures and see them as the only things that go on. We ignore the fact that to do all of this, to get the kind of perks that come with running your own business, there is infinitely more work. Especially as a now 17 year old. 

It's quite true that they go on to us all more than necessary about the challenges of year eleven and twelve. Most of us only seem to think they're that significant because they are the most significant things that they've come up against in life so far in terms of work and attention needed. And that's fair enough. I'd be in the same position if I were not doing what I was doing now. The sad truth is that most of our schools are teaching students that without a good ATAR, without good scores in their SACs and exams, they have no potential for real success. That they'll never be able to drive that fancy car they dream of or live in a nice house. The truth is, that's all bullshit. What we all need to remember is that those who are telling us this are usually teachers who have only decided to take a teaching degree because they weren't good enough to do something more financially or personally rewarding. Note the use othe word most there. It's certainly not all. There are plenty of teachers out there with nothing but good intentions. But the crap that is talked by almost all of them, that we need to do well in exams, that qualifications are everything, that without a uni degree we are nothing, it's all a total joke. We are constantly told to believe this because that's what drives the success of a school. That's why private schools are even worse about this; they're businesses, needing more students for more money so they'll do literally anything to drive their measurable results up. The fact is though, they're all as bad as each other. And nobody, not even the teachers, are able to realise that what they are telling and believing is false. Maybe if the ones who complain and go on the most realised, they'd be doing a job they liked more. 

I will admit to believing it for a while myself. I remember for years sitting their thinking about how much more seriously I would have to take my VCE than I took all the rest of my years. I remember stressing about year ten exams and wondering where my life would end up after school and uni. I continued to stress about this even into some of the time I was running Corner.5. But then one day everything changed. 


I remember the exact moment I really knew for sure what I was doing was going to more seriously affect my future and potential  for success, that I was right, and the teachings of an unprogressive, one-size-fits-all education system were wrong. It was while I was on a flight back from Sydney in October of last year. I'd been planning this trip for a few weeks prior, lining up clients and getting all my pitches ready. The expansion to a second state had begun, and I was more excited for it than I had been for any of my other business ventures. It was a big financial risk. I could have come back home on a big loss. Luckily I didn't. But this trip was the moment that made me realise that what I was doing was worth the care and attention, worth the missed English classes to focus on driving more sales, worth all the effort I had poured into it over the months. The moment came when I was sitting on the flight home, writing an email to a client regarding the biggest website project I had done to date. I realised that at that moment, I was more active in the workforce than anybody at my school -including teachers- and was creating more opportunities and possibilities for myself than I ever could be sitting through an end of year 12 exam. I was the one sitting there on a flight home from a business meeting in Sydney at 16, not anyone I was being taught by at school. It already became apparent months before that I was learning more from my work peers and online speakers in similar industries to mine than anyone at school. 

While running your own business is more challenging than almost any other kind of career move, it's so much more rewarding. But what's it actually like when you're sixteen, not 21? While most would think it's rather disadvantageous, assuming your work is constantly belittled and looked down upon, you'll find quite the opposite is true. For a start, it's worth noting that 90% of my clients never either commented on or noticed my age. It's often never brought up at all. I know I look older than some of my peers. But I certainly look younger than most in the industry. Those who do however, always find it to be a largely positive attribute. People are often impressed, astonished at the fact that someone so young is capable enough for it. That's a selling card. People aren't doubting you, they're thinking that if someone is that young and doing this, then they must be good. 

Business at 15/16/17 has been better than it could have ever otherwise been. We're often scared of doing something like this because we think we're going to fail or we think that we're not actually capable of pulling it off. But it's not true. These aren't valid concerns, merely excuses. Business at such a young age is teaching me more than I ever could learn at high school. I would encourage anyone who has an idea, who thinks they want to, who thinks they might be able to but are not quite sure yet to just give it a shot. The benefits will present themselves almost instantaneously, and yes, you can pull it off. Year 12 is not an excuse. 

For those who doubt it's possible or worth it, enjoy sitting through a painstaking lesson about what marketshare is. I'll enjoy actively taking a percentage of it.