Five teenagers and a dog in black & white on top of a colorful background

KANOUS PHOTOGRAPHY (DJ); TONY HUANG (SAGE & NIKOLAS); COURTESY OF FAMILY (MEENA); EMILY STROCK (RJ)

We're The Boss

Being a teen entrepreneur—aka someome who starts a business— can be a lot of fun. it’s also a ton of work. Read on to learn five teens’ secrets to running your own company.

Have you ever been doing a hobby—say, baking cookies or writing code—and thought, I could do this for a living? Sure, you could go work in a bakery or get an internship at a tech start-up, but what if you launched a brand-new business? You’d be in charge of everything from coming up with a name and designing a logo to hiring employees (and yes, your mom and dad count—as long as you pay them!).

If being your own boss sounds like a sweet deal, you’re not alone: In a recent survey, more than half of people under the age of 25 said they hoped to own their own business in the next 10 years. They’ll face some tough odds: Of the whopping 4.4 million new businesses that were started in 2020, an estimated 65 percent will fail in their first 10 years. So before you convince your folks to convert the kitchen into a cookie factory, read on for five firsthand accounts of what it’s really like being a teen entrepreneur.

"I run my own landscaping business." —RJ Duarte, 21

EMILY STROCK

RJ Duarte

GREEN WORX LANDSCAPING

Golden, Colorado

WHAT IT IS: A landscaping and construction company


HOW I STARTED

I started cutting my neighbors’ lawns when I was 8 years old. I kept getting more customers, until I was working more than 12 hours a day. Eventually I got money for business expenses through a local bank that’s just for kids and entrepreneurs. That’s when my friend Owen and I decided to start truly building a company. By the time I graduated from high school, we were making about $400,000 a year in revenue. I bought out Owen’s share of the business, and I’ve been working full-time since then.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE

Being taken seriously. Trying to establish a legitimate business as a teen was tough. For example, we needed to open a business bank account, and we had to get general liability insurance. We’d get laughed off the phone a lot.

MY ADVICE FOR OTHER TEEN ENTREPRENEURS

Look where everybody’s going, and go in the other direction. There are fewer people to compete with that way. If everybody is trying to build an app, you go mow lawns.

"I bake and sell cake pops and cakes." —Deyanith "DJ" Sumayah, 13

KANOUS PHOTOGRAPHY

Dyanith "DJ" Sumayah

DJ’S SWEET TREATS

South Bend, Indiana

WHAT IT IS: A company that sells treats and desserts online and at farmers’ markets


HOW I STARTED

I started baking when I was 11. At first, it was just for family and friends. Then my aunt posted a video on Facebook about my cake pops, and people started asking about ordering. The first time I sold my treats at the local farmers’ market, we sold out early! I used the money to buy more baking supplies, and I also opened up a business account at a bank. For a while, I was also baking cupcakes for a local restaurant. Once I made a wedding cake for some customers I met at the farmers’ market, and I’ve made cake pops and cakes for graduations and birthday parties. I like baking, but my career goal is to be a mechanical engineer.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE

Balancing my business with the rest of my life. I also play basketball, and I have school, so it can be hard to find time for baking. I stay organized by writing orders on a big calendar when they come in. Then I’ll start preparing—I look online for ideas and figure out if I need to order decorations. I start baking on Wednesday for the weekend. I get to the market by 5 a.m. and stay until I sell out. It’s also good to have a big support system. When I need help, I pay my cousins and friends to pitch in.

MY ADVICE FOR OTHER TEEN ENTREPRENEURS

Never give up. Try to set a goal, so in the moments you doubt yourself, you can focus on the goal and how you’re going to get there. One of my goals is to make enough money so I can buy a Tesla.

"I get paid to take care of dogs." —Meena Kumar, 16

COURTESY OF FAMILY

Meena Kumar

PET FAIRY SERVICES

San Jose, California

WHAT IT IS: A dog walking, pet sitting, and pet boarding company


HOW I STARTED

I was born in India, and there were lots of animals at the adoption center where I lived. I played with them all the time. When I was 3, my parents adopted me and brought me to the U.S. I liked to visit the Humane Society and play with the cats and dogs. When I was 9, I came up with the idea to start a business taking care of animals in my neighborhood. I named my company Pet Fairy Services because I felt like a fairy who will magically take care of your pet. I started posting on Nextdoor, an app where people can discover businesses in their neighborhood. When I’m taking care of a dog, we might go to local dog parks, or I’ll even do a dog beach day. Afterward, I make a little card for the owner that lists all of the things we did together. My job doesn’t even feel like work, except for when a dog pees in the house and I have to clean it up.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE

Covid made things hard because people stopped traveling, but I still had customers in my neighborhood. Now business is slowly coming back. I have business cards, so if a person walks by with a dog, I hand them one of my cards and tell them to check out my website.

MY ADVICE FOR OTHER TEEN ENTREPRENEURS

If this is something you really want, go and chase it. I donate my earnings to a charity for elderly dogs, but it’s OK to keep yours. If you love animals, having a pet care business is a win-win situation because you’re helping people too.

"We make apps for doctors." —Sage Khanuja, 17, and Nikolas Ioannou, 18

TONY HUANG

Sage Khanunja and Nikolas Ioannou

SPIRA

Seattle, Washington

WHAT IT IS: A company that makes apps for use in the health-care field


HOW WE STARTED

We’ve both been into tech and coding since elementary school, so we hit it off as soon as we met. Once we discovered we shared a dream of being entrepreneurs, we started looking for industries where we could use artificial intelligence to solve problems. We both have doctors in our families, and we saw them staying up late typing up their notes. We knew from them that the software doctors use to record information about their patients often isn’t very good. We decided to focus on medical software. One of our first apps helps doctors create “smart forms” for patients so they don’t have to do so much typing. Last year, we sold our business to a company that specializes in telemedicine.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE

Building customer trust. We knew that if we could convince doctors that we understood their frustrations, they wouldn’t treat us like we’re 16. We also had to be committed to working around the clock. A couple of times, we’ve had to wake up at 4 or 5 a.m. to fix something with the software.

OUR ADVICE FOR OTHER TEEN ENTREPRENEURS

Pick something that you’re passionate about. Building a start-up is really hard. You have to make sacrifices and learn new skills along the way, so you need to love the journey. And if you want to have a partner, make sure you choose wisely. You’re going to be spending a lot of time together!

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