Jerry Zhang's interest in business began in Grade 5, when his dad used to play Warren Buffett audiobooks in the car. Last summer, at the age of 14, Zhang decided to start a company. Babysitting? Dog walking? A lemonade stand? Nope—a social media marketing firm aimed at small businesses and non-profits.
Why social media? "I'm in Grade 10, so I knew most people wouldn't trust me," says Zhang, who lives with his parents in Markham, Ont. "So, I asked myself, 'What is my durable competitive advantage? What am I better than adults at?'" Having been born in the Digital Age, youths know social media better than anyone, argues Zhang: "We spend all day on it." With that realization, Glowstik Social Marketing was born. It hasn't been an easy road. Building a website was straightforward enough, and plenty of ambitious teens have proven eager to trade their labour for valuable work experience rather than pay—Glowstik now has 30 staff. Finding clients remains another matter. Zhang says his lack of credentials forces him to charge significantly less than his competitors do. "We think a firm should be evaluated on ideas and results," he says. "We have open minds, with ideas that could spark the next big thing."
Zhang has lofty goals for his 10-month-old company, of which he is CEO. He'd like to expand his workforce, find clients outside Ontario and even try to ink a deal with a large corporation. But more important to Zhang is staying true to his vision for Glowstik: "We want to maintain our brand, which is our ability to focus on youthful energy and bold innovation, and not get bogged down with red tape." If he can hold onto that youthful optimism, he may just realize his dreams.
Read other entrepreneurial success stories in "The Fabulous 30."