Ben Lang is an 18-year old entrepreneur who has been building Internet companies for most of his teen years. He started his first successful business, an eBay business, at age 14; he founded EpicLaunch, a popular blog among young entrepreneurs; he created a note-sharing service at his high school that has turned into MySchoolHelp, a note sharing service that has drawn 160 schools within a matter of months; and he has contributed to a collection of major blogs including Business Insider, Mashable, and TechCrunch. And may I remind you—he's only 18!
Teen entrepreneurship has been taking the Internet world by storm over the past few years. Catherine Cook started building myYearbook when she was 15 years old and is now a multi-millionaire after selling her company for $100 million at the age of 21; Shahed Khan, still in high school, balances schoolwork with working on his pre-launch startup Viatask; Thomas Suarez is a 12-year old app developer; and these are just a small sampling of the growing number of teen entrepreneurs out there.
What has spawned these little businessmen and women? For me, the clear answer to this question would have to be the advent of social media and online technologies. Ben told me, "Social media and online technologies have been huge in growing my companies. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Wordpress and now even Pinterest have been excellent ways of connecting with the different communities of companies that I've started. Without these channels it would have been very difficult to connect with users."
I asked Ben about how teens in his high school (he graduated last year) interacted with social media. He told me, "In my high school 99 percent of the students were on Facebook, most were addicted. They'd bring their laptops to school and go on Facebook. Only last year some started joining Twitter as well. The ones that did were soon addicted, but it's still only around 20 percent of the school. No one blogged. People spent lots of time on YouTube."
So I see it like this: There have always been kids with that entrepreneurial spark. Back in the day, before social media and before most teens were on the Internet, these kids were setting up lemonade stands and garage sales, or using whatever technology they had within reach to do something cool. Today, these kids have the web and social media at their fingertips and are able to take things a step further. Not only can they create cool stuff, but they can promote themselves and share what they are creating with an audience of millions.
And they don't just have to do it all on their own. When Ben graduated from high school he was accepted into a program called the Teens in Tech Incubator, an eight-week hands-on program for 13-19 year old entrepreneurs. Ben told me, "Teens In Tech was absolutely amazing. We worked out of Appcelerator's office, which was awesome. We were provided with incredible mentors." There were 15 teens in the program, ages 14 through 18. They worked in teams on six separate ventures.
One of the biggest challenges for young entrepreneurs is trying to balance schoolwork with work-work, so I asked Ben how he dealt with that challenge. He told me, "I always put schoolwork before work-work. I didn't think high school would be a good time to fail or drop out, so I put as much effort into studying, papers and homework, and every night when I was done I would work on my ventures. I do wish that I had gone to more tech events and conferences during high school, but you have to set priorities."
Are you a young entrepreneur or do you have any experience working with teen entrepreneurs? We'd love to hear about your experience in the comments below!