Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Net maven, 19, worries about burnout

By Christine Van Dusen
Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Brett Klasko burst into the high school attendance office, glaringly late, and signed in with his excuse:

“Business meeting.”

The secretary screwed up her face at the 14-year-old, the first few times.

But eventually, to the secretary and most everyone else at Cherry Hill East High School in New Jersey, Klasko became known as the kid with the company.

That title still stands. Now Klasko is a 19-year-old freshman studying business at Emory University. He remains managing director of Investors Alley, a financial news and market analysis Web site with 250,000 visitors a month.

The business broke even in 2001, he says, and is expected to do $250,000 in revenue and turn a profit this year. Klasko has four full-time employees and 21 people who do sales or writing for the site, part time.

Klasko knows Investors Alley has benefited from the “gee-whiz-I-can’t-believe-a-teenager-did-this” factor. But his youth has also, at times, been an impediment.

Not only does Klasko struggle with the typical difficulties of running a business, he must also fight to win respect. Plenty of people assume that, because he’s young, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Add to this the pressures and pleasures of student life, and he’s got a lot to deal with.

“The big thing has been making sure I don’t get burned out,” he says. “It’s been interesting.”

“Interesting” is not the word Klasko would have used to describe the stock market when he was first introduced to investing at age 13.

For his bar mitzvah, Klasko’s grandparents gave him some shares of McDonald’s stock and a subscription to Kiplinger’s personal finance magazine.

Klasko could barely contain his boredom — that is, until he realized his stock represented money that could supplement a meager allowance.

Klasko started reading charts and retrieved the Kiplinger’s from under his bed. He became preoccupied with the market and put up a Web site to display investing news and related ramblings.

Soon after, his was named “site of the day” by his home page provider.

Klasko wanted to capitalize on the attention, but his knowledge of the markets was limited. So he solicited advertisers and contributing writers, to make his site an investing newsletter.

Klasko’s father, Ron, put up $500.

“He takes after me, piling stuff on, filling his plate,” says the elder Klasko, an immigration attorney at Philadelphia’s largest firm, Dechert. “I can’t tell you that I was ever concerned. He was energized more about this than I’d ever seen him energized about anything.”

During the day Klasko would go to school, practice baseball, then head home to work. He’d stay up until 1 a.m. — fueled by Mountain Dew and nervous energy — improving his site and recruiting advertisers and writers.

Gene Inger, a market commentator based in Florida, remembers taking Klasko’s call four years ago:

“Where’d you go to college?” Inger asked.

Silence.

“Are you still in college?”

“Not exactly.”

“You’re in … high school?”

“Um, well. I just finished the ninth grade.”

Inger sputtered. Then he signed on.

“I can’t explain it, really. Brett is persistent,” Inger says. “He’s good at getting people to do stuff.”

Suzana Rockwell was a reader of Klasko’s site. Three years ago, he asked her to be a writer.

“I didn’t know his age, and he did everything to conceal it,” she says.

Can you blame him, what with teenagers like Jonathan Lebed giving young investing mavens a bad name? Lebed — who, like Klasko, is from New Jersey — was accused of stock market fraud after touting stocks on the Web. His case was settled in 2000.

“Kids like that, I hate them,” Klasko says, quick to point out how he’s different. He doesn’t push stock picks, doesn’t claim to be an adviser or a broker. Regulators don’t require that sites like his be licensed.

“I found out [Klasko’s] age nearly a year into the relationship,” Rockwell says. “I was more impressed than unnerved.”

Now that Investors Alley has become more well-known — receiving honors from Go Network and Infoseek — Klasko has less explaining to do.

He’s even received and rejected a $3 million buyout offer, he says. He may eventually sell and become an investment banker.

These days, Klasko is enjoying life as a college freshman/business executive. His day planner may be blank and his wall calendar may say October 2001, but his days are full. He’s taking classes, pledging Alpha Epsilon Pi, playing intramural sports, training to be a campus tour guide — all while running a business.

“I felt like I missed out on some things in high school, and I regret some of that,” he says. “Now, it’s different. I’m really able to see and do everything I really, really want to do.”

If you know of an interesting small business or entrepreneur in the Atlanta area, contact Christine Van Dusen at cvandusen@ajc.com. Businesses must be at least a year old, and the owners must be able to demonstrate they are producing revenue.

STAYING IN BUSINESS

Some tips for teens who want to start businesses:

> Think about your own passions. Only if you create something that is based on your passions will you be able to focus on it and put the necessary time into making it successful.

> Develop a niche.

> Capitalize on your age. Being young isn't a disadvantage. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

> Engage others in your work. You've got plenty of things to do, like going to school. Delegate to your peers.

> Create a time line so that you can measure your success. Take into consideration your priorities.

> Tap into the experiences of other young leaders. Learn from their examples and network with them.

> You need to be your best messenger. Be confident. Dress for success. Do research. Know your product and industry.

> Start small. Resist the urge to begin with a huge, national enterprise. Be realistic.

Source: Leigh Seligman, executive director of Youth Venture, a group that helps young people create enterprises that give back to the community.

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