Start small to be big

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Written by Cameron Johnson

I started my first business when I was only nine years old, with just $50 and only a 4th grade education. Before I graduated high school, I had started a number of different internet based businesses and had made my first million dollars.

When I was only 15, I was the CEO of an internet company generating nearly $15,000 in daily revenue and that same year, I became the youngest American appointed to the board of a Japanese based company. A bestselling biography book was released in Japan on my life that year called "15-Year-Old CEO." I'm now 23, and to say I've been there, done that I think is an understatement.

Each of my businesses built on the success of my previous ones, although there is one lesson that stands out more than any other. And that is this simple principle: Start small. So many entrepreneurs or wannabe business owners think they need massive capital, a fantastic education, endless connections or resources, or perhaps better timing. While I agree education, connections or resources, or brilliant timing can all help you find success. I can't stress to you enough my philosophy of starting small. Starting small allows you to be nimble, to grow over time, but most importantly it's the path that requires the least amount of risk.

Time after time I've seen brilliant entrepreneurs with great ideas fail, simply because they rush into things and before they know it, they lose their focus and become frustrated and unprofitable.

No one wants to experience either of those feelings. I think a lot of would-be entrepreneurs are attracted by the idea of big gambles and big risks, dramatic gestures, and flamboyant moves. That's not smart business. Business is much more common sense than rocket science and I'll remind you that both Microsoft and Dell started small – and in dorm rooms. In my book You Call the Shots I describe how I always start small – but also, always dream big. You have to dream big and be bold – but don't be too proud to start with baby steps. Test your idea first on a small, manageable scale, so that if it doesn't work the way you thought, you haven't bet the farm.

Back in 2000, during the dot-com bust we saw plenty of startup companies who had, what many would consider, everything needed for success: talented people, sometimes good ideas, and endless amounts of money. They hired insanely fast, grew overnight, spent millions, yet never became profitable. Had they started small with limited resources, they would have reached profitability.

In addition to starting small, entrepreneurs have to be willing to put themselves out there. This is what I'd consider one of the most things anyone can do and that's why the first chapter in my book bears the same name. In that chapter I tell the story of how I put myself out there when I was just eight years old.

I was eight years old and had just seen the movie Home Alone 2: Lost in New York starring Macaulay Culkin. It was a worldwide box office smash so chances are you remember the film. You may not remember, however that Macaulay Culkin stayed at The Plaza Hotel which was then owned by Donald Trump. After seeing this film and seeing New York City in such a manner, I wanted nothing else but for my parents to take me to visit New York.

I begged and pleaded with my parents until finally they made me a deal: If I were to get straight A's for the entire year, then they'd take me to New York City that next summer. I did just that and when I found out we'd be staying at The Plaza, I decided to write a letter to Donald Trump. I was only eight but I knew Mr. Trump owned the Plaza as he had a cameo in the film.

The time had finally come for us to fly to New York yet I was a bit disappointed as I never heard back from Mr. Trump. When we arrived at the hotel and my parents began to check-in, the receptionist leaned over and said to me: "Hi, you must be Cameron!" I was elated as I then realised Mr. Trump must have received my letter. So go ahead and Start Small, Dream Big – and always, put yourself out there.