By Marie Griffin, Director Content Strategy, KidBacker
To call Ohio teenager Connor Blakley a “born entrepreneur” is perhaps an understatement, but for many years he felt like no one else his age had the same passion, inventiveness, and ambition as he did. By the time he was 15, after he had already created two businesses, Connor was not sure where he wanted to go next, and, although he had many supportive adults in his life, he yearned for other young people who really understood what it was like to be an entrepreneur.
Through one of his adult mentors, Connor met fellow 16-year-old Andrew Rosenstein. Along with Andrew, Connor attended the first-ever Next Gen Summit in Austin, Texas, last summer. It was there that Connor discovered that he was far from unique; in fact, he was part of a rising wave of creative, idealistic, and driven young people who wanted to mow down all age barriers to career and financial success.
Connor has since joined the Next Gen Summit board and, with Rosenstein, is launching a youth-centric marketing consultancy that will connect other successful young people with the brands that want to form long-term relationships with the latest generation of consumers.
KidBacker: Please explain your latest business venture, YouthLogic.
Connor Blakley: Andrew and I came up with the idea after we realized how poorly most companies were marketing to young people.
YouthLogic is a youth marketing agency that helps companies connect with the younger generation by pairing them with some of the world’s smartest young people. All the big companies have research to tell them what young people are spending their time on, what they’re watching, and what their other behaviors are, but they don’t have a young person who’s entrenched in youth culture and who can apply the data in a meaningful and impactful way [to drive] brand and marketing strategy.
We set up each client with a team of youth consultants specific to its brand. Our consultants are already established, very successful people, and they are all under the age of 25. We will officially launch on February 1st, but we already have clients lined up.
KB: What is your business model?
CB: We will charge clients on a monthly basis. Through us, they’re going to get the inside scoop on micro and macro trends of the youth culture in real time. That’s how they’re going to be able to stay ahead of the curve.
The consultants will get paid. In addition, they will be able to add that they have worked with “X” company to their portfolios. They will get to network with other young people who are on our consultancy board, as well as with our board of advisors, who are some of the most well-connected people in the country.
KB: What do you think it is about your personality or background that has given you the drive to become an entrepreneur at such a young age?
CB: It’s a DNA trait. I firmly believe that. My dad and grandpa are entrepreneurs. I feel there’s something inside of me that gives me an intuition, focus and passion, and the natural hustle and ability to execute.
KB: What entrepreneurial things have you done prior to this?
CB: When I was seven, I used to take rocks from people’s gardens and try to sell them back to them at their front door. Then I realized that I could come to the door with more than one kind of rock, like igneous and sedimentary, and ask, ‘Which rock do you want to buy?’ As far as I was concerned, they weren’t going to say no to me.
Next I learned that you could have other people do work for you. I would have other kids selling lemonade in lemonade stands, and I’d just come by and pick up the money. That was my experience with passive income before the Internet.
When I was 11 and 12, I would sell baseball and basketball cards. That evolved into sports collectibles when I realized there was a lot more money in them. I went to shows, and I sold stuff on eBay. When I was 13, I started a homework selling network, and I almost got expelled from school. When that happened, my father, who is also an entrepreneur, said, “You need to find a business that will actually help a company and bring value.”
KB: How did you find a “legitimate” business to get into?
CB: I was really interested in Facebook at the time, and Instagram had just come out. With all the interest around social media, I wanted to find out how people were making money from it. So, I taught myself social media marketing. I read every book, watched every YouTube video, and listened to every podcast I could find. I experimented with different tactics by doing work for my father’s company.
In 2013, when I had just turned 14, I started a social media agency called Utpec, which served over 50 small- to medium-sized businesses across the United States and Canada. I found the clients myself. I called them. I emailed. The agency started out local, and it branched out from there. I charged companies a monthly fee and, at one point, had eight people working for me.
KB: What happened to that company?
CB: As a 14 or 15-year-old, I couldn’t make the leap to do social media for a larger company. They wouldn’t really take the company seriously. And, personally, I realized a small-scale social media agency wasn’t going to get me where I wanted to be.
KB: Where do you want to be?
CB: I want to make a lot of money. I want to help a ton of people. I want to be on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list and to be known as a thought leader. To me, money is freedom. I figure freedom, money, and entrepreneurship all go hand-in-hand. I like to travel, and I really like helping people, whether it’s hiring friends or introducing people to one another. Money allows me to do that.
KB: What happened after Utpec and before you formed YouthLogic with Andrew?
CB: First, I tried to develop a social media software application. It was called TrendGen, and it was supposed to connect social media community managers with their target audiences. It didn’t end up working out because by the time I had a prototype, another company called Likeable Local came out with a finalized product. The benefit of that experience, though, was that I met Dave Kerpen, the founder of Likeable Local. He wrote an article about me for Inc. magazine. The title was, “This 16-Year-Old Business Phenom Tells You How to Create Lifelong Brand-Loyal Consumers.”
But after TrendGen failed, and I had just turned 15, I got a little bit down and confused about what I wanted to do next. I thought I was the only young person in the world trying to do something like this, and I didn’t think anyone could relate to me.
I told one of my mentors, Cameron Herald—the former COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, an author, and now a CEO coach—that I had no one my age to talk to. He connected me to Andrew Rosenstein, who is a 16-year-old entrepreneur and lives in Philadelphia. I flew to Philly to meet with Andrew, but I still thought Andrew and I were the only kids in the world doing this stuff. Andrew told me about a conference run by young entrepreneurs for young entrepreneurs called the Next Gen Summit. That conference changed my life.
KB: How did it change your life?
CB: I got to meet many like-minded young people. I got to listen to all these insanely smart young speakers. They’re all my best friends now. Since then, I’ve become part of that community, and I’m on the board. That’s also where Andrew and I came up with the idea for YouthLogic and where we met our other team members—Ollie Forsyth, Noa Mintz, and Amani Seay.
YouthLogic is going to take up a lot of my life for a while. I already work 14 hours a day on it. Right now, it’s about finding clients, getting PR, finalizing some legal issues, and getting together team members and advisors.
KB: Tell me about the public speaking that you do in addition to building your business.
CB: I am really passionate about youth entrepreneurship, and I always liked people and being an entertainer. I figured speaking would be a good platform for me to go out and share what I know, meet new people, and to travel. I’ve spoken at about 10 conferences, not including speaking at high schools and colleges.
KB: I want to flip back to your personal life. You’re a junior in high school. What are you thinking about college at this point?
CB: I’m in the process of trying to figure that out. I’ve been told not to go and just start a real business. I’ve been told to go and meet people. I’m most likely going to take a gap year, but I would like to go to college. However, I need a college that will look at what I’ve done on the business side rather than only on the school side. My grades aren’t great, but that’s because I’m building businesses, speaking, traveling, and meeting people.
For now, my high school, St. Edward High School in Cleveland, is very supportive of what I’m doing as an entrepreneur. My business teacher is very successful, as well as a huge mentor of mine, and many alumni are well-established and people I can go to. We have a very good entrepreneurship program at our school, as well.
KB: Do you feel you’re sacrificing your “carefree” teen years by being so involved in entrepreneurial ventures?
CB: I love the work, I love the traveling, I love the people I meet, and the money and everything that comes with it. But on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, unless I have a meeting or a phone call—and I try not to do that—I’m hanging out with my friends.
KB: Finally, what advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs?
CB: It sounds really simple, but you need to be as authentic and genuine and nice as possible. Whether you’re looking for an investment, or you’re trying to get written about in the press, or you’re trying to get someone to do something for you, you should be bringing value and trying to help as much as you can. I got my first couple of clients at Utpec because I did free work for them to get my foot in the door.
I think it’s OK if someone wants to come work for me and they say, “I want to learn this, this and this, and then I want to leave and try to do something myself.” I just want them to be upfront and honest with me. Being upfront and genuine seems simple at face value, but there’s really an art to it.
Age: 16 years old
Business: YouthLogic and ARCB
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