This is a story about how hard work, a little bit of luck and a lot of sacrifice allowed me to buy a business as a 16 year old.
It all starts about 5 years before that in 2007. I was 11 years old and earned my pocket money delivering pamphlets (also known as “Junk Mail”). Shortly after starting my pamphlet run, I picked up a second and was soon making between $50 and $100 per week.
My First Investment
As a young kid I had little to no expenditure and my savings grew quite fast. It was around this time that I became interested in the stock market and investing. My parents had never bought or owned shares but I convinced my mum to open a brokerage account in my name.
I was up and running. Soon after I made my first investment into a company called Billabong. (I lived on the Northern Beaches and it was a cool brand at the time). Over the next few years I would learn a lot about finance and investment while risking my own hard earned money. Luckily, I got it more right, than wrong and built up a healthy portfolio for a 14 to 15 year old.
Getting A Job
When I was 14 I also got my first proper job working at McDonalds. It paid around $4.90 per hour and I would often work in the afternoon after school and a weekend every so often. To be honest I didn’t love the job. I actually wanted to work at Woolworths where my neighbour who was a year older worked.
Getting Lucky With My Second Job
Fortunately, I didn’t have to work there long. Luck would play a big part in this move but I ended up working at Bunnings Hardware. Only, the store I worked at wasn’t always a Bunnings. It was an old BBC Hardware. And they didn’t have an award wage for anyone under 18.
As a result I went from earning $4.90 per hour to $15. It was like working triple time/public holiday rates every day of the week. The only catch was that I had to work both Saturday and Sunday.
At the time I didn’t mind, but looking back as a 15 year old, I did give up a lot of time. It would be interesting to know if/how my life would have turned out different if I didn’t get that job. This move was what made my earnings “jump”.
Working 8 – 9 hours on Saturday and Sunday, doing 1 or 2 afternoon shifts a week and still holding down my two pamphlet runs would often see me save $500 or more a week.
Buying A Business As A 16 Year Old
I worked a Bunnings for almost a year before my next opportunity came knocking. During one lunch break I noticed that a surf shop across the road was for sale.
I went in and spoke to the guy behind the counter. He wasn’t the owner but gave me their details. Shortly after I was on the phone to this guy talking about buying his business.
At first I couldn’t afford it. He wanted $40,000 and there was no way I could manage that. I didn’t tell him that at the time but asked for more information and details. At worse I thought it would be an interested exercise to look at the performance of the business. And at best I hoped I could negotiate him down.
As with most major things in my life I have a tendency to keep them secret until I have worked out the best move in my own mind. So I kept my parents out of the loop for a week or so until I knew more about it.
The business turned over a few hundred thousand, had two employees and occupied a 70 square metre retail store. It was called “Second Surf” and had been in business for about 3 years. The only trouble was that it didn’t have a long lease. In fact the building was earmarked for re-development at some stage in the future.
Eventually I broke the news to my mum and dad. I can’t remember what I exactly said, but it was something to the effect of “Mum, dad, I found a business that I would like to buy”. To their credit my parents very rarely said no. They were more likely to ask “why”. This gave me the opportunity to explain my thought process and despite some misgivings gave me their blessing.
It was my money and it was made clear that I would be taking the risk. My share portfolio would act as “security” in case it all went belly up and I had to pay out the lease or put more money it to keep the business afloat.
Negotiating The Purchase Price
Negotiations took a couple of weeks but in the end we agreed that I would buy the business for stock value only or $20,000. This was my own “fall back” given the lack of a long term lease. Worse comes to worse I figured I could sell the stock and fixtures and fittings and come out even.
Interestingly enough I was able to sign the contract to purchase the business, but couldn’t sign the lease. So that ended up in my mum’s name. I took over the business of 1 July 2005 and initially had two staff working for me. They were both 10 years my senior but that didn’t seem to be an issue.
I would go to school during the week and then each day, Monday to Friday, would work in the store from 3:30pm till close. I would then work all day Saturday and Sunday. My staff would cover the other shifts during the day. I also re-branded the business to Liquid Surf about 9 months in.
Lessons Learnt & Sacrifice
I ended up owning the business for almost 3 years. By that stage the writing was on the wall. The building was going to be demolished within the next 3 to 6 months and I had to make a call. I decided against relocating the business and building it up again in a new location. I didn’t envisage becoming a retail mogul and the business had more that served its purpose.
I had learnt more about business, finance, marketing and management than I could imagine. At High School I was studying business, commerce, economics, etc, but there is nothing quite like owning and running a business. No book can teach you all the lessons, nor let you know what its really like.
I felt the full swing of emotions during that time. The up’s, including when we sold more in one weekend than an entire month when we re-launched under the Liquid Surf brand. And the down’s, like going through winter and struggling to maintain sales for a period of time.
I also missed a lot of other things. I was in year 11 and 12 and spent every weekend working. I then had to manage doing homework, assignments and studying for examples outside of those hours. I was always on the go!
I don’t think that is a bad thing. It is just a thing. And to be honest it is the way I have always lived my life. I don’t like to stop. I don’t like to do nothing. I always have to be occupied. Perhaps that is a negative trait to some. But I have always seen it as a positive.
Tips For Young Entrepreneurs
Looking back my top tips for young entrepreneurs would be to find a way into business. Even at a younger age that I was. With the internet, mobile phones, apps and websites, it has never been easy to create a side business as a high school student.
If you are a parent or guardian and find that you have a daughter or son with the entrepreneurial spirit I encourage you to let them follow their dreams. Don’t give them a hand out. Let them try and succeed. Or try and fail. It doesn’t matter if they lose some money, the lessons they learn from this process will be priceless.
Also published on Medium.