Many entrepreneurs had their first taste of business at a very young age, but how much do the lessons they learn in those early experience influence their decisions later in life? We caught up with Alex Kehr, founder of Filterpop, who first experienced business at the age of 10 to find out…
Kehr’s first business saw him selling water to dehydrated hikers on the trail across the road from where he grew up in Malibu. “I don’t really remember how it started,” he says. “But I know that we had a lot of bottles of water in our garage and there was a pretty popular hiking trail across from where I lived so I saw a lot of thirsty people. So I decided to walk outside with a crate of water bottles and sell them to the people. I guess I just saw it as an opportunity.”
And that’s the story that many entrepreneurs tell of their first business – they saw an opportunity to do something, to improve someone’s life and, hopefully, to earn some money. “I don’t even know if I was making money to be honest,” Kehr admits. “But I think my parents thought it was cool that I was interested in doing this. I remember going to Costco with them and I’d buy granola bars and other snacks to sell out on the hiking trail. I’d just walk out there for a couple of hours and sell people the water and the snacks.”
That business venture came to an end after a while once Kehr, like many teenage boys, became more interested in computer games.
“I was addicted to this game called Counter-Strike and that helped me create a more serious company,” he explains. “I used to play the game all the time and you could host your own servers so I rented a server so that I could invite people to play with me.
“And then I realised that I could sell webhosting on the servers so I launched a webhosting company. I was selling disk storage space and servers but it was just a one man shop from a 15-year-old.”
That didn’t stop it being a success though and soon Kehr had launched a retail site for computer parts. “My parents didn’t really know what I was up to in my room the whole time, I think they thought I was just playing Counter-Strike but the business was doing really well,” he admits. “They probably thought I was dealing drugs or something because I was getting these expensive computer parts delivered all the time.”
Kehr says that perhaps one of the most important lessons he’s learnt in business comes from this time though. “It’s about being naïve and believing that nothing can stop you,” he says. “Maybe it’s a good thing to remain naïve? You think you’re unstoppable, you’re not really afraid of failing or anything.”
But it’s hard to juggle it all – running businesses and maintaining good grades – and Kehr admits that his education suffered as a result of running a business, although he does say that the Counter-Strike addiction probably didn’t help either.
“When I went to high school, I moved to a boarding school in an attempt to correct my course, it was my choice, I just felt like my current school wasn’t a good fit for me,” he explains. “But the boarding school gave me the opportunity to work on the things that I wanted to do, while also supporting my studies.”
Perhaps the freedom to develop his ideas came from the fact that in his first weeks at the school, Kehr built a website to help locate people affected by Hurricane Katrina. “People didn’t have good access to phones because of the hurricane but the website I built meant that they could find their family members. That did extremely well so I guess maybe my teachers were lenient on me working on various different ideas because the first thing they saw me do was this good natured project.”
It wasn’t until Kehr was in his first job after college that he realised he wanted to pursue entrepreneurship seriously though. “The company I worked for when I came out of university had a bit of a start-up culture but it wasn’t really what I wanted,” he explains. “I was travelling to all these other companies and it got me interested in building my own things again. But it also made me realise that I didn’t really want to work for anyone else. I feel like working for someone else was the biggest thing holding me back.”
He adds: “I’m sure the experience of running my business when I was in my early teens influenced that decision too though.”
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