For most teenagers, it’s stressful enough as it is to keep up with school grades while navigating puberty. Yet, some students kickstart their professional careers early as teen entrepreneurs. Is it possible to be a successful entrepreneur at such a young age?

At age 24, David Zamarin has been an entrepreneur for almost a decade. He joined the EWOR podcast to talk about founding his first company, DetraPel, at age 15. David attended Babson College on a full scholarship to complete a Bachelor of Business Administration.

In this article, you’ll learn what it takes to become a teen entrepreneur. Let David’s ambition and perspective inspire you on your own journey.

For more insights from experienced entrepreneurs, sign up to our EWOR Platform to gain access to over 17 courses and a plethora of resources.

Founding a Company as a Teen Entrepreneur

EWOR collaborates with some of the most interesting and successful entrepreneurs in the world. David is one of the youngest entrepreneurs with an impressive resume. How did a high school student turn an idea into a successful business venture?

Humble Beginnings

To understand why David discovered his entrepreneurial spirit at such a young age, we have to learn about his upbringing. The son of two divorced immigrants, David comes from a low-income background. He watched his mother struggle to put in 17 hour shifts and make ends meet, while his father taught him about business.

Those two influences sparked an early interest in entrepreneurship for David. He experimented with his first business ideas as a young teen, selling popsicles, headphones, and watches to classmates. It was around this time that David “fell in love with business.”

The Birth of DetraPel

David’s DetraPel is a chemical manufacturing company that focuses on liquid repellent sprays. The company started when David entered an entrepreneurship programme at age 15 and had to find a solution to a daily problem. His idea was to finally combat one of his biggest personal issues: to keep his sneaker collection protected from dirt and mud.

The first iteration of this project was a subscription-based cleaning business for local university sports teams. Lacking passion for the small business, David sold it for €150,000 at age 15. “That was the most amount of money I had ever even heard of,” he remembered. He invested the money from his successful exit into nanotechnology and college classes in chemistry.

Due to his extra education and passion for his original idea, David focused on developing a spray to repel liquid-based substances. He wanted to revolutionise this powerful tool without using any harmful chemicals. “I wanted to pursue this business because I thought it was the most scalable,” David explained.

David publicly launched DetraPel at age 16. The product was a spray for textiles at first and evolved to cover more materials. He spent the next few years advertising his business and turning it into a successful start-up.

Accelerator Programmes for Young Entrepreneurs

As a teenager, David attended as many entrepreneurship accelerator programmes as possible. “They’re not necessarily technology and physical sciences related all the time,” he noted. They also have limited resources. Yet, these programmes are valuable learning opportunities for young entrepreneurs.

During his early founding years, David was always concerned with two main issues. One, he was looking for a co-founder who would take equity and no pay at first. Second, he needed technical people to solve his research and product development issues. He wanted experts who had access to resources without jeopardising loopholes in ownership of DetraPel. Complex contracts made this search more difficult.

Given these challenges, David valued accelerator programmes for their networking opportunities. Finding experienced mentors and helpful technical supporters is key as a young entrepreneur. Yet, given the different life stages, it was near-impossible for David to recruit older people early on.

Shark Tank as a Turning Point

In 2017, David had the opportunity to present DetraPel to the American Shark Tank panel. At that point, he had worked on the company for about five years and was still struggling with research and development. 

This episode was a pivotal moment for his entrepreneurial career. While he failed to close a deal with two of the sharks, the episode itself boosted DetraPel’s sales on a big scale. Overnight, they earned €300,000 via their website alone.

This money made it possible to start pushing the business. After years of struggle, David finally invested in hiring technical experts for his research team. He hired the first full-time employees, including a CFO, COO, and CTO. With an in-house chemical engineering team, DetralPel built a unique technology platform.

Being featured on a popular television show like Shark Tank can be a significant exposure boost for a start-up. Look for similar opportunities and put effort into your pitches. Even if you can’t work out a deal with investors, the exposure can generate more interest in your product.

Age – Blessing or Curse for a Teen Entrepreneur?

One of the questions David receives the most is how his young age affected his ability to build a successful venture. How difficult is it for a teen entrepreneur to launch a business?

“Age can be both a positive and a negative,” David concluded. It can serve you, but it can also cause issues. Generally, David counts his young age as something that helped him during the early stages of DetraPel. It’s easier to get help and advice for free when you’re a teenager. Mentors and industry experts see your ambitions and want to support you.

The main issue with age is your own attitude about it. David explained his perspective and shared how “people find age to be a problem for them when they don’t take themselves seriously.” If you let your insecurities and naive thinking define you, older people won’t take you seriously either.

The number one tip from David is to show up and show out every single time. If you prove your maturity, age won’t be an issue. Be gracious and curious, show you’re invested in business, build a network, and stick to your promises. “If I didn’t want age to be a factor, I had to go above and beyond to prove that I wasn’t just a typical 15-year-old,” David said.

Advice for Young Entrepreneurs

As someone who learned how to be an entrepreneur at an early age, David shared his three most important tips for young entrepreneurs:

Be Vulnerable

One of David’s biggest regrets is his reluctance to be vulnerable and honest early on. If you run into issues that are beyond your expertise, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t let your ego or insecurities get in the way of solving an important problem.

“Kick the ego to the side” and be honest with yourself and others. If David had asked for help with research sooner, he would have solved those production issues earlier. Learn from his mistakes and stop caring about what other people think. Be vulnerable and ask for the help you need. 

Mentors and Networking

Find mentors to have weekly meetings with and learn from their experience. Attend accelerator programmes, take extra classes, and look for entrepreneurship events in your local area. Once you meet people at these events, form a connection with them.

“You never know how your paths may cross,” David advised. They could know someone who will be relevant to you years later. These same early mentors can become the first investors as well.

Build your network from the beginning and actively seek mentors.

Be Smart About Hiring

If David could go back in time, he would invest more time and effort into finding experts to help his product development. “If you need help in any area, you should be hiring for it immediately,” he stressed.

It’s hard to find the right fit when you can’t pay them a reasonable salary yet. As a very young entrepreneur, it’s also difficult to pitch to potential co-founders. They’ll be around your age and just as inexperienced or they will be older and in a different life stage. Both make co-founding difficult.

Don’t let these challenges discourage you. If you can afford it, ask for help and hire experts. Don’t waste years of your time by trying to figure out technical solutions on your own.

Bottom Line

Entrepreneurship is the hardest career in the world. It requires dedication and sacrifices, but it’s worth it. Even as a teenager, it’s possible to dip your toes into the entrepreneurship world and learn from more experienced people.

Lose your fear of rejection and be vulnerable to succeed as a teen entrepreneur. David’s story shows that age doesn’t have to be a factor if you’re passionate about your project and use your resources.

About the author
EWOR Team

EWOR is a school conceived by Europe’s top professors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. We educate and mentor young innovators to launch successful businesses.

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