How to start a (legit) business in your teens

Dylan Jacob has founded three companies – making $20,000 a year by the time he was 14 – with two successful exits. What’s his secret?
Dylan Jacob 16x9 hero

For 26-year-old Dylan Jacob, being a business owner ‘is all about doing whatever it takes to make something happen’. And he’s one to know. 

To say he started early in business would be an understatement. When he was a little boy, he earned money carrying out basic gardening tasks for his neighbours and clearing their driveways of snow. By his early teens, he was working at his grandfather’s electronics repair shop for TVs, VCRs and DVDs – an experience that instilled in him the values that have made his subsequent businesses a success. 

‘My grandpa emigrated to the US from Ramallah in the fifties,’ he says. ‘He started this TV repair shop that he ran until he retired at 80. He always went above and beyond for customers, he knew all of them by name and he had relationships with them – he knew their stories.’

Soon, Dylan started his own electronics business, repairing mobile phone parts. ‘I just went on to YouTube and found a channel with all these tutorials about how to fix all these different devices.’ By the time he was 14, he was making around $20,000 a year. 

It was fun while it lasted, but Dylan quickly recognised that more people were starting to do the same thing as him. So he started buying defunct handsets, fixing them up and selling them on. He scaled the resale business all over the US, working with about 150 shops and making $300,000 in sales annually. 

‘And then my mom got a tax bill for the sales I had been doing on her account,’ Dylan laughs. ‘She was on the hook for $10,000. I paid it, sure, but she said I had to set up something legitimate. So that was when I started doing research on how to form a limited liability company [LLC].’

Soon, he started another company in Indianapolis, Vicci Design, selling glass tiles. ‘I had a nest egg of $100,000 when I was 19 and I felt safe trying to pursue business ownership. I wanted to be a serial business owner. I wanted to create and build businesses, and then sell them. 

‘As a business owner, everything’s a learning experience,’ he continues. ‘Every time I’m approaching a milestone, it poses a whole new set of problems. And I’m a problem solver; it’s what I enjoy doing. Starting from the ground up of forming an LLC, creating a business bank account, paying taxes – these are all just things that I learned through the process itself.’

Aged 21, he was drinking the end of a beer that had become too warm for his liking when he came up with the idea for BrüMate, an insulated-can that keeps liquids cool for long periods of time. He recruited an engineer before flying to China to find an appropriate factory. 

BrüMate went from $2.1 million to $20 million to $33 million in sales in the first three years. ‘I knew this would be a hundred-million-dollar business very soon,’ says Dylan. ‘I was holding onto a rocket ship for dear life, figuring things out as I went.’

But cash flow always remained an issue and, last September, BrüMate received $20 million from San Francisco Equity Partners. The extra help with operations and logistics, as well as a bunch of new hires, has freed Dylan up to pursue his real interests in the company. ‘I’m fully focused on product development, marketing, and I’m not being sidetracked by doing these little tasks all over the business.’

So, what’s next? ‘I grew up in a little town in Indiana, which is mostly farmland and not a lot of stuff to do,’ says Dylan from his base in Denver, Colorado. ‘The concept of me being a business owner was like being in high-school acting classes and thinking I can go to LA and become a movie star.’

He thinks his next venture might not even be a business. ‘It’ll be along the lines of consulting or starting a very small investment group with other founders my age. As long as I’m being consistently challenged – and able to build and create – I’ll be happy.’ 

This article was first published in Courier issue 41, June/July 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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