Earlier this year at SMX West, I met (then) 15-year-old entrepreneur Harrison Gevirtz. He was on a panel with my (then) 16-year-old daughter Chloe Spencer the owner of the Ultimate Neopets Cheats Site. Harrison blew my mind. Here’s a kid who travels the world, often times makes six figures a MONTH, and lives the high life and he isn’t even old enough to vote let alone drink. I got a chance to chat with him and get a bit of an inside view on his rock star lifestyle. Read on and perhaps you can glean a few secrets to his success and perhaps repeat that for yourself…
For many self-made Internet marketers, Harrison Gevirtz is already a legend. He’s a whiz-kid 16-year-old globe-trotting Internet advertising genius who pulls in six figures a month. How does he do it? Is it legal? What about school? What are his secrets? The rules of online marketing have changed and it’s kids like Harrison who are driving this new future. If you are smart enough, and creative enough – with the tenacity to make your own rules – perhaps you too can drive this new future. So much for needing a college degree or to graduate high school to really get somewhere in this world!
You might guess that Harrison doesn’t think too much of school and may be a dropout. He tells me he goes to “Continuation School” and is in a special program called “Independent Studies”. This means he goes to school 1 day per week for about 45 minutes! He collects his assignments and then is done until the next week when he repeats the process. This program will allow him to graduate school normally in four years. Kids – don’t try this at home! Harrison has an unusual gift and this type of school arrangement is not beneficial for everyone. Most kids (mine for sure) need more structure to prepare them for college life and their career. Harrison’s lifestyle is the exception.
With this loose of a school schedule, what does a typical day looks like for Harrison and how many hours a day do he work? Keep in mind he is still a teenager, regardless of his genius – so yes – he does sleep late and starts his day around noon. The luxury of this income obvious allows him the ability to set his own schedule. He chooses to travel a lot too — whether it’s Taipei or Monte Carlo or the Bahamas, he looks for any excuse to hop on a plane. When he’s not on the road he works most of the time, ordering lunch, which he says, allows him to keep working at his computer. Yes, this is the picture of a young workaholic, potentially addicted to his computer and the Internet at the tender age of 16. He tells me though that he doesn’t live his entire life in front of the computer. “I do like to go out with friends, go eat out and have fun like a normal teenager does. But I’m still really motivated. I do most of my work during the night (which neither of my parents approve up), but usually end up going to bed around 2-4am.”
Harrison is a dealer-maker. He relies on old-fashioned networking to establish direct relationships with advertisers. He brokers out many deals with various advertisers ranging from small web stores having the privilege to market products exclusively, onto larger various lead-generation advertisers. His secret? You bet he’s not telling. He won’t deny though that he often pulls in six figures a month. He admits that affiliate marketing can be very fast-paced and not very consistent. He’s more focused on his work than the bottom line and admits that not every month is a whopper, “when I don’t make six figures in a month it’s OK; there’s always next month!” Ah – the role of youthful optimism comes into play for this Internet advertising hero. Harrison is known to be a Super Affiliate, yet claims he is not. Which networks does he prefer to work with? He thinks very highly of CX Digital and Neverblueads, but he’s reticent to go into a larger list or provide many details (and of course I don’t blame him!). Harrison emphasizes that he is focusing more on making deals directly through advertisers now instead of going the affiliate route.
In addition to having an unconventional school and work life, Harrison’s lifestyle allows for him to travel extensively. He tells me that about 90% of his travel is for business. At the time of our interview he was in Boston for a meeting. In 2008 alone he said he has been to Denver/Boulder, San Francisco, New York City, the Bahamas, India, France, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and London, to name a few! Of the more exotic locales, the Bahamas was for pleasure, India and Amsterdam were for business, and France was a mix of both (mostly for pleasure, but Harrison’s wise to the value of tax deductions so he worked in a bit of business there too). Considering the circles Harrison networks in, the super-exclusive Elite Retreat conference run by superstar online marketer Jeremy Schoemaker (“Shoemoney”) was — despite the $5000 price tag — a no-brainer for him. He found it to be well worth it: “Elite Retreat was great… the conference was very unique because all the attendees were willing to share information about what they do and not be secretive. I learned quite a bit, not only from the speakers but also just as much from my fellow attendees.” Clearly conferences are important for Harrison, to network and to strike deals. For him, ad:tech NYC so far has been the best conference for this. He is also very complementary of “boutique conferences” like the Elite Retreat which “provide knowledge on a whole different level.”
He may be a genius, but he still makes mistakes and learns from them just like the rest of us. He admits that being overconfident with various projects and campaigns has been a pitfall and caused him significant losses from time to time. One example of this was when he was first starting out and earning his first profits from PPC advertising. He had a small campaign that he was spending about $30 per day from which he earned only about $75 per day. In his learning process he thought the best way to scale it would be to double the bids because even with a double cost per click he figured he would still be profitable. The result was an increase in his budget from $30 to $1,000. He was overconfident in his strategy and quickly lost $1,000 in a single day. From this experience he learned his lesson about how to efficiently scale up a campaign. Harrison’s risk-taking has paid off for him though — big time. But there is a constant risk. He can’t take his eye off the ball; he works incessantly. He also has to hold his own in a business world full of adults who don’t take teenagers seriously — not a small feat. In fact, Harrison says his greatest challenge this year has been in negotiating with various online media companies as a youth. While he finds this to be very frustrating, often there’s not much he can do about it. It’s not personal, but the policy of many affiliate networks and ad networks requiring users to be 18 years or older is a serious roadblock. He’s shared in other interviews how in the past he has been terminated, not paid, and taken advantage of by numerous networks because of their legal terms and minimum age requirement. Harrison advises other entrepreneurial kids to demand respect despite their age.
So where does Harrison see himself in ten years? He hopes to be living somewhere abroad, preferably Europe. He’s not sure if he’ll be pursuing the exact same business model that is working so well for him now, but he hopes to stay in this industry and continue to have the flexibility to work from anywhere.
How can high schools and universities inspire and prepare more students to achieve what Harrison has achieved? In his opinion he doesn’t think schools inspire students to come up with ideas or to establish a drive to accomplish something. But, he thinks that some professors can be influential and help you make future decisions that can improve your life. He thinks high schools and universities should better prepare students by offering more real-world, relevant business curriculum, instead of useless broad information.
Harrison’s latest business ventures that he was willing to share include BlitzLocal, his local-focused SEM firm, and LeaderClicks, his social advertising network. Harrison also invites readers to check out his blog.