Think you have to earn an MBA to make it in business? Think again. These Country Day students are reimagining what it means to be a businessperson, building holdings, brands and enterprises in virtual currency, cosmetic products and online gaming…and they don’t even have high-school diplomas yet.
On a cold autumn afternoon, senior Keaton Ochoa throws his backpack down next to his desktop computer. While other students are rushing off to sports practices or starting on their homework, Ochoa methodically logs onto his Bitcoin account through multiple encoded email and desktop logins.
Ochoa groans. The price of Bitcoin has plummeted during the school day, so the value of his holdings is down significantly.
“I’m way more stressed out from Bitcoin than I am from school,” Ochoa said.
“It’s kind of like taking the SAT. They’re both equally rough.”
Ochoa flips open his AP Microeconomics book and works on his homework. But as he’s drawing a supply-and-demand curve, he puts down his pencil. The price of Bitcoin has suddenly jumped, and Ochoa is taking positions to cash in. Pushing his books aside, he makes several trades. A few moments later, Ochoa is back at his economics homework, trading a real-life supply-and-demand problem for the textbook variety.
Ochoa doesn’t trade Bitcoin just in his free time. In fact, it’s become a full-fledged business.
He began his Bitcoin journey in 2012, when he was only 13 years old.
“This random guy wrote online how he was making thousands of dollars, and I thought it was a scam – but then I did more research,” Ochoa said.
“My parents didn’t really do any research. So they were still skeptical and automatically thought it was a scam. However, I kept badgering them, so they eventually cracked and let me get into the business.”
Because of federal bank restrictions, Ochoa’s business is tied to his father’s bank account. According to Ochoa, running his company will be easier once he turns 18, as he can take control of his financial holdings.
Aside from that, Ochoa said his parents haven’t taken an active role in his company.
“They were actually an obstacle to me getting into Bitcoin, because they thought it was a scam,” Ochoa said.
Once Ochoa began, he found a virtual currency community and began building his business on two fronts: computer mining and trading.
Bitcoin is “mined” using a special computer system, and Ochoa discovered how to make the network more efficient. He soon started selling computer designs and arrangements to adult investors.
“I was worried about how they would feel doing business with a teenager, so I didn’t meet my clients in person, and I only communicated via phone and email,” Ochoa said. “My deep voice also made it easier to fool them into thinking I was over 18.”
But while Ochoa’s computer business was similar to other traditional businesses, he didn’t limit himself to just building systems for others. He found Bitcoin’s unique currency properties applicable to traditional stock-style trading.
“Obviously the goal is to buy low and sell high,” Ochoa said. “This form of Bitcoin is the nerve-wracking part.”
Ochoa no longer builds computer systems for clients because he said Bitcoin has matured to the point where trading is more profitable than mining.
Ochoa’s trading career started later than his mining enterprise, and his mining profits provided the seed money.
Now Ochoa’s investment venture often keeps him up late at night.
“The other night, I didn’t have homework,” Ochoa said. “But the price was super volatile – because the exchange is worldwide, it never closes – so I kept trading until 3 a.m.”
While Ochoa won’t reveal how much money he has made, his initial investment was around $200. He said he has rationalized his Bitcoin investment philosophy.
“Even if I lose it all, I put so little money into it (Bitcoin) in the first place that it would still be a really good learning experience,” he said.
Senior Aidan Galati has also created her own enterprise, TheBombDtCom, a bath-bomb business.
A bath bomb is a hard-packed mixture of dry ingredients that effervesces when wet. Bath bombs are typically sold as a subset of soaps; however, unlike regular soaps, they fizz when in contact with water and have no cleaning properties.
Galati said she got the idea to build her company after discovering harsh chemicals (propylene glycol, FDC Blue #1 and Green #3 among others) were some of the ingredients of the Lush bath bombs she was using.
“Even though the company advertised that they were all natural, I found there were harsh preservatives and colorings,” she said. “They even stained my bathtub.”
After doing research online, Galati discovered that bath bombs weren’t complicated to make. She spent the summer researching and measuring different ingredients, finding the perfect proportions for her specific recipe.
“I wanted to make bath bombs that boys felt comfortable using,” Galati said.(Galati uses traditionally masculine essential oils and darker colors for male-themed bath bombs.) “By crafting them in small batches, I could tailor make it to my client’s specifications.”
Galati didn’t originally plan on making a business. Rather, she gave away her initial product. However, when one of Galati’s friends posted an image of the bath bomb on social media, she began receiving requests for her product.
Galati said the two things that differentiate her product compared to market leader Lush’s are cost and chemicals.
Galati sells her bath bombs for $3.25-$3.50, depending on the ingredients, while the average Lush bath bomb is $6.95. Galati estimates she has netted over $200 from selling bath bombs at that price point.
Galati’s are also made of all-natural ingredients and have no preservatives, giving them a shorter lifespan (bath bombs have essential oils that break down quickly) than Lush’s.
Galati creates her bath bombs at home once a week, with an average production run time of an hour per batch. While researching how to make bath bombs, Galati said she discovered a whole new soap- and bath bomb-making community.
“I think it’s because everyone is so into their own activity, and they love to have new people to talk to about their favorite hobby,” Galati said.
Galati stressed the importance of building productive relationships in the community, and added that one of her suppliers has become a major advertiser for her.
Galati said that her two biggest obstacles to building her company so far have been creating her Etsy account and discovering her own special product blends.
Etsy is an online marketplace that third-party vendors use to showcase, market and sell their wares on a global scale.
According to Galati, Etsy requires producers to have the ability to ship products around the world, so she had to determine global shipping rates and packaging costs.
Galati’s father, Scott, hasn’t played a major role in building her business.
“I think entrepreneurship runs in the blood, as I’m an entrepreneur and so is Aidan’s uncle,” her father said.
“But aside from encouraging her to sell her products, I haven’t done much for Aidan’s business.”
He said he remembers an 8-year old Aidan constantly telling him about product ideas.
“She used to always say ‘Why isn’t someone making this product that does x, y and z?’ I would always tell her, ‘Why don’t you do it yourself?’ and I think some of that rubbed off on her,” he said.
Galati had some advice for future student entrepreneurs.
“I honestly think that you have to love what you are doing and making,” Galati said.
“Also, remember to use all your social media, especially when you’re starting out, because retweets can mean free advertising. You reach a lot more people than you think.”
Galati’s bath bombs can be ordered at www.etsy.com/shop/TheBombDtCom.
It isn’t just seniors who are getting involved with business. Sophomore Cameron Collins, who is only 15, owns his own Minecraft server (EnchantedPVP) that hosts other Minecraft players and sells virtual products (ranks) to help Minecraft players improve their skills and tools (perks).
Collins began his server this summer in Spain after realizing that his favorite video game could become a standalone business.
Minecraft servers are holding hubs where players from around the world group together to play and socialize on a singular platform, regardless of Internet connection location. Some servers, such as one called Mineplex, can host over 12,000 players at once.
Collins bought his server, which now hosts the different players, from a third party.
Like Galati and Ochoa, Collins’s parents are not deeply involved with his business.
“Beyond linking up our bank accounts and establishing a PayPal account, I am really in control of my business,” Collins said.
Collins prefers to use PayPal instead of traditional banking services, as there are fewer restrictions and limitations placed on youth accounts. Youth accounts at traditional banks have withdrawal restrictions. Furthermore, the presence of an adult guardian is typically needed for major transactions.
According to Collins, youth accounts on PayPal have unlimited access, unlike traditional banking platforms.
Collins estimates that he spends over an hour a day going through work-related emails, managing his site and creating advertisements that run on Google Ads and Youtube.
“I think making sure the ads look nice and polished is probably the most stressful and time-consuming part of the job,” he said.
EnchantedPVP currently has around 60 clients a day, Collins estimates. He said he doesn’t know of anyone else in the Minecraft server industry who is close to his age.
Collins said he has made over $1,000 from EnchantedPVP. The payments come from his clients who buy ranks on his server. He can’t determine how many users his server has hosted in total as the system he uses doesn’t track that information.
Collins said he has picked up one important business lesson along the way: “Don’t spend or promise money you don’t have.”
Like Ochoa, Collins looks forward to turning 18.
“I can’t wait to become a legal adult, but not for all the traditional reasons,” he said. “I can’t wait to be completely in charge over my finances and my company.”
—By Manson Tung