Twentysomething startup founders are more of an exception than a rule.
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in their twenties were outliers, yet they ingrained in us the idea that startups are typically founded by young adults. The reality is quite different: According to Harvard Business Review, the average age of a successful startup founder is 45.
Here are 7 entrepreneurs who in some way might be as exceptional as Jobs and Gates, as they founded their first (and successful) companies when they were teenagers.
Catherine Cook — MeetMe (formerly MyYearbook)
Country: United States. Founded company at the age of 16. Now she is 33.
Catherine Cook founded MyYearbook (now called MeetMe) when she was 16. (Photo: Courtesy)
When Catherine Cook and her brother David saw their high school yearbook, they realized it was a terrible way to meet new people their age. So the siblings decided to create MyYearbook (later renamed MeetMe), a social network for high school students.
Catherine and David had been working on the MyYearbook wireframe until 3 a.m. on school nights, but then they decided to outsource the project to a development team in Mumbai. The development was paid for by their older brother, Geoff Cook, who joined the project as CEO.
In the first week of the launch in 2005, 400 students signed up for the service. In 9 months, the platform gained 1 million users. In 6 years, the platform had grown to 20 million users and generated nearly $24 million in revenue.
In 2011, MyYearbook was acquired by Latino social network Quepasa Corp. for $100 million.
Nick D’Aloisio — Summly
Country: United Kingdom. Founded company at the age of 15. He is 27 now.
Nick D’Aloisio founded Summly when he was 15. (Photo: thestar.com)
Young audiences don't like to read longreads — they’re often described as a generation of “skimmers.” British teenager Nick D’Aloisio was one of them. So, in 2011, at the age of 15, he created an app for iPhones called Summly, which summarizes news stories.
“It’s not that the younger generation don’t want to read in-depth content, but they want to evaluate what the content is before they commit time. Especially on a mobile phone — you don’t have the phone, or cellular data, or screen size to be reading full-length content,” says D’Aloisio.
Summly has attracted more than £1 million in investments throughout its history. The first $250,000 of investment came from Horizons Ventures.
At the age of 17, D’Aloisio sold his news-reading app Summly to Yahoo! for $30 million; it’s now part of Yahoo! News Digest.
Boyan Slat — The Ocean Cleanup
Country: Netherlands. Founded company at the age of 19. He is 29 now.
Boyan Slat founded The Ocean Cleanup when he was 19. (Photo: theoceancleanup.com)
In 2011, during a diving expedition, Boyan Slat discovered an alarming phenomenon: The quantity of plastic exceeded the count of fish. He decided to focus his high school project on battling ocean plastic pollution. Later, he came up with the idea of a passive plastic catchment system that uses circulating ocean currents to net plastic waste.
In 2013, Slat launched The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit organization aimed at reducing the amount of plastic in the ocean. Through a crowdfunding campaign, he raised $2.2 million.
Over time, the organization has raised tens of millions of dollars in donations from entrepreneurs from Europe and Silicon Valley, including Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.
The Ocean Cleanup collected more than 153 tons of plastic from the Pacific Ocean in 2022.
Nazar Ponochevnyi — Harmix
Country: Ukraine. Founded company at the age of 17. Now he is 20.
Nazar Ponochevnyi founded Harmix when he was 17. (Photo: dev.ua)
In 2018, Nazar Ponochevnyi graduated from music school and developed an interest in neural networks. The combination of these hobbies resulted in him creating a tool that selects music based on what a person sees or feels — he founded Harmix, an AI platform that selects music for videos by analyzing their dynamics, mood, and content.
The platform is suitable for anyone working with video: content creators, music producers, sound engineers, game developers, creative agencies, etc.
In 2021, Harmix received a $25,000 grant from the Ukrainian Startup Fund and $13,000 from Amazon in the form of AWS credits. In 2023, the startup raised $500,000 from an unnamed Canadian investor.
The app currently has more than 30,000 users from 90 countries.
Avni Madhani — The Healthy Beat
Country: India. Founded company at the age of 16. Now she is 23.
Avni Madhani founded The Healthy Beat when she was 16. (Photo: Courtesy)
Losing two family members to diabetes, 16-year-old Avni Madhani began to learn more about the disease. She realized that most people in India have no idea how to deal with it. At that time, in 2017, around 62 million Indians suffered from diabetes and, according to predictions, this figure would increase to 100 million by 2030.
To aid individuals in disease prevention through proper nutrition and lifestyle, Avni introduced The Healthy Beat in 2017 with financial support from her parents. This platform serves as a personal health advisor, providing nutritional information for various Indian dishes.
The platform allows users to track their daily dietary choices by providing accurate information on the calorie, carbohydrate, protein, fat, and dietary fiber content of a variety of food items.
Christian Owens — Mac Bundle Box, Paddle
Country: United Kingdom. Founded company at the age of 14. Now he is 29.
Christian Owens, founder of Mac Bundle Box and Paddle. (Photo: Courtesy)
At the age of 14, British schoolboy Christian Owens used his pocket money to launch Mac Bundle Box, which packaged macOS apps at cut prices. In its first two years, by the time Owens was 16, Mac Bundle Box earned close to $1 million.
Later Mac Bundle Box was closed, but when he was 15, together with Mark Bao, Owens also founded Branchr, a pay-per-click advertising network. In the first year, it brought a profit of $800,000. In 2016, the startup distributed more than 300 million ads per month, with customers including Pepsi and Virgin.
In 2012, Owens also co-founded Paddle, a payment infrastructure provider for software companies.
In 2016, Christian Owens was featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list under the Consumer Tech category.
Sean Belnick — BizChair.com
Country: United States. Founded company at the age of 14. Now he is 36.
Sean Belnick founded BizChair.com when he was 14. (Photo: Courtesy)
Sean Belnick began selling online as early as the age of 12, earning approximately $1,000 per month by selling Pokémon cards.
At the age of 14, he founded BizChair.com, a website dedicated to selling office chairs. He received assistance in understanding its operations from his stepfather, Gary Glazier, a seasoned veteran in the office furniture industry.
Belnick imported office furniture from China and then advertised and shipped it to customers in the U.S. His competitive advantage lies in using drop-shipping, enabling the startup to offer lower prices and a more extensive range of products compared to traditional retailers.
After several years, his profits were tallied at $42 million, with clients including Microsoft, Google, and Abercrombie & Fitch.
Cover photo of Boyan Slat, the founder of The Ocean Cleanup, taken from theoceancleanup.com.