Examiner

CEOs under 25:  Brett Klasko

By Heather Huhman
September 22, 2008

CEOs Under 25 is an occasional, ongoing series about inspirational young executives and how they quickly worked their way to the top.  This is the first article of the series.

Name: Brett Klasko
Title: CEO
Organization: Phinaz Media Group
Age at Which He First Became an Executive: 14
Current Age: 25
Heather Huhman: What does Phinaz Media Group do?

BK: We are an interactive media and marketing firm focusing on sports and finance.

HH: How did you become an executive at such a young age?

BK: At the age of 13, and with the strong encouragement from my grandparents, I became very interested in the stock market, almost to the point of obsession. I was fascinated at how you could invest money and watch it increase or decrease instantly. I would check my portfolio throughout the day at school and would research new stock ideas as soon as I got home. I started publishing my thoughts and stock ideas on the Internet and slowly started to receive a following.  At 14, I registered a domain name and my company was born. I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning, on school nights, developing the site. I loved what I was doing, so it didn’t feel like work.

HH: What challenges did you face getting to this point, and how did you overcome them?

BK: My age was probably the biggest obstacle I faced – and the fact that I was in school. Until I was in college, I generally didn’t reveal my age to readers, writers or clients. Who in their right mind would take stock advice, orders or give money to a teenager?

My parents always stressed the values of education, so the thought of leaving school to pursue my business full-time never really entered my mind. Instead, I had to learn time management skills on the fly, while balancing high school/college and what was essentially a full-time job.  However, because I enjoyed what I was doing so much, it made it much easier to manage my time.

For the first three years of running the company, I didn’t have a single business class to go on.  At one point, I was going after some venture capital money and had to prepare a business plan and all sorts of financial reports. I scoured the Internet trying to find explanations and samples of things like cash flow statements, not to mention figuring out what “pro forma” meant.

HH: Is there anything you would have done differently, if you could do everything over again?

BK: There are a couple things I would have changed. First, when I was still in high school, I wanted some “gray hair” help, so I turned to a local marketing consultant in my area for advice.  While he gave me some great advice, I allowed him to handle contract negotiations with one of our biggest writers around whom we had developed a new service. The writer wasn’t asking for much more but wanted to be rewarded for the service’s rapid growth. My advisor didn’t understand how vital this writer was to the service’s future and took a very hardball approach with a guy who was simply asking for a small raise. He upset the writer so much that the writer just walked away. We tried to replace the writer, but the service never rebounded.  I should have trusted my own negotiation skills more, especially since I had a strong relationship with the writer, and not turned to someone else who didn’t truly know the business.

Second, I’ve hired friends to help me with the business in the past, figuring my trust would outweigh any other factors. I never expected the very difficult decisions that would follow between keeping friends and growing the company.  Most of the situations probably could have been prevented had I been up-front with the friend earlier, at the risk of making them upset, before things really boiled up.

HH: What advice do you have for others looking to follow in your footsteps?

BK: One word – passion. If you want to start any type of business, you need to have a passion for what you’re going to be doing. I became obsessed with the stock market and that passion carried over to my business. If you want to start a bike shop, have a passion for biking and the latest innovations in bikes. This passion will drive you to put your heart into the business, which is necessary to get through the inevitable hiccups of starting a new venture.

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