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HOT TOPIC How I (didn't) become a millionaire at 19

Chris Kelsey

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MODERATOR NOTE:
STORY HAS NEVER BEEN VERIFIED.
COULD BE ENTIRELY FICTION.


I dropped out of high school in December 2014 when I was seventeen, against the decision of everyone around me (parents, friends, relatives). It was my senior year and I had a 4.0 GPA, so as you can imagine everyone thought I was even less bright than had I dropped out in my freshman year.

I had nothing going for me besides two failed businesses and the strongest desire in the world to become a successful entrepreneur.

In the beginning of 2014, at the end of my junior year, I knew that I would have to start applying to colleges soon. There was something in me telling me I shouldn't go down this path and that there was a better way.

I had told myself I wanted to be a dentist, but after asking my dentist what it was like, I realized that he had to start the same way just as any typical business was built, except he went to college for twelve years to do so (and had 300k debt when he got out).

That summer of 2014 I decided to learn as much as I could about business. I looked up all of the "classics" - Think & Grow Rich, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and some more modern books as well. I read TMF in July 2014 right around that time which turned out to be one of my favorites.

I also became addicted to James Altucher's blog and books which also helped me decide I didn't want to go to college.

I took a billion notes from each book and put them on EverNote, it was super boring but I wanted to solidify the knowledge in my mind.

In August of 2014, I started my first business, a flyer distribution business that would subcontract to different flyer distribution companies around the USA so that people could run big marketing flyer campaigns.

I made a video, put it on the landing page, and just started cold calling.

I setup payments through Square, but there was no need to as I never had one sale.

In September 2014 I decided to stop working on it and figure out something else.

By this point, school had started and I was literally just reading in class all day. I was starting to bomb classes (I only had a 4.0 cumulative GPA because I dropped out before the semester ended).

In November, my English teacher came to talk to me after class, and he told me that I was going to fail the class (it literally was the easiest classes I'd ever been in had I tried). I remember that moment very well because I just remember not caring. And I remembered thinking at the time how had it been 2 years ago I would've been crying or something like that. I asked myself, "What happened?"

It made me feel good for some reason. I began to feel a bit more free.

I started an online reputation management business at that time (October/November) which I did the same thing as the flyer business (cold-calling, etc.). I got upset with school because I couldn't cold-call during that time and I felt that it was holding me back from success.

On December 6, 2014, I ended up dropping out. I remember telling each of my teachers that I was dropping out and that I wished them best of luck. A lot of the kids were like WTF and confused. I don't really know what they were thinking, I think some had a feeling I would do well, but I think most just thought I was ready to fail.

My parents were screaming at me and it was really bad. For some reason I wasn't stressed out like usual. I just kept telling myself I would succeed no matter what. I didn't know how, but I said that I would.

At one point my dad told me I was going to fail and that nobody would want to work with me if I dropped out. I told him I would make $25k the next month and that I would prove him wrong.

Back to the second business... Yeah, it never went anywhere either. I almost had a client that was a small hotel chain but the manager quit his job and I lost the connection. I didn't feel like pursuing it and just abruptly stopped.

In mid-December, my barber told me she had an app idea. I knew a few developers and figured I could try to work something out. I gave her the contract, she said she didn't have the funds... two weeks later after I waited for her response.

At the end of December, I went and posted an ad on Craigslist saying I had a team that could build apps. I got a call the next day, I was surprised. He said he wanted to meet, but then cancelled the meeting two days after.

Out of frustration I searched Craigslist for people saying they had app ideas, and within the first 10 days of sending my first message, I had closed my first contract for over $15k. I didn't end up reaching the $25k by January 2015, but it was enough money to prove my dad wrong.

Within the first 3 months I had over $100k of contracts (payments were 50% upfront) (by March 2015).

By the end of last year I had made over $500k and had been part of a lot of successful apps like Premium Wallpapers HD which got over 40m downloads.

I felt that I did well but I wanted to become a millionaire, not a hundred thousandaire.

In January of this year I expanded the company quite a bit. $50k in January, then in February just one contract was $370k, and it was from a group of old people that pooled money together for an app idea they had, the funny thing was that they chose the price, I never gave them a quote... I soon realized that there was no limits with what I wanted to do.

What I learned:

1. There is no secret to success. I've met people that get up at 6am every morning and are super good with their daily schedule and work and make peanuts, then there's people that make $100k/month with an online business and all they do is party and almost never work. The main thing you need to have is the desire to succeed, because then the rest will come naturally.

2. Listen to your gut over anyone else, but know when to quit if the business will fail - You might have an idea that everyone hates but it succeeds. You might have an idea that everyone loves but fails. At the end of the day, only YOU know more than anyone else if it will work or not, listen to the advice of others but take it with a grain of salt. But at the same time, if your instincts tell you to drop what you're doing, then do it and follow. If I kept staying with the online reputation management business I would've just failed for more time even though I "technically" should focus on one thing.

3. MAKE CONNECTIONS WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE - This is HUGE. I've seen really dumb people raise $4M in funding for a startup that was a dumb idea from the start, but because they knew the right people, it didn't matter. SERIOUSLY, I don't say that like "Oh lucky him bla bla", I'm serious, I've met people who really don't have much know-how in business that have made money because of their connections. Now, when you are actually smart AND have the connections, it's a win-win. Just note, connections are key above ANYTHING else.

4. Don't waste time - At the same time remember that most people you meet are not going to help you move forward in business. James Altucher says how most meetings are a waste of time, and this is so true. People will want to meet with you only to "chat" and it isn't going to benefit EITHER OF YOU. So just say no upfront. This was one of the hardest things for me to get used to because I didn't want to be rude. But it's better to say NO.

There's a lot more to this but I'll post more another time.
 

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Mikkel

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That's a truly inspiring story @Chris Kelsey
Talk about a will to prove them all wrong! So did you not have any prior knowledge to app development, but hired a team and you worked with them to create certain apps?
 
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Chris Kelsey

Chris Kelsey

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That's a truly inspiring story @Chris Kelsey
Talk about a will to prove them all wrong! So did you not have any prior knowledge to app development, but hired a team and you worked with them to create certain apps?
Thank you Mikkel, I started coding websites when I was 13 but I was never a "professional" programmer. I know some of the basics of app development, but I'm not an app developer. I had a different developer I knew overview the code to make sure it was done properly.
 

Fatrys

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Thank you for sharing you story! Great advice.

"There is no secret to success."
I believe people want to be given a "path" to success but every entrepreneur has been through a unique one that will never repeat itself I think.

"Listen to your gut over anyone else, but know when to quit if the business will fail."
People who give you "advice" will not go broke when you do.

Just one question: what do people that told you you were crazy back then tell you now?
 
Last edited:
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Chris Kelsey

Chris Kelsey

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Jun 5, 2016
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Thank you for sharing you story! Great advice.

"There is no secret to success."
I believe people want to be given a "path" to success but every entrepreneur has been through a unique one that will never repeat itself I think.

"Listen to your gut over anyone else, but know when to quit if the business will fail."
People who give you "advice" will not go broke when you do.

Just one question: what do people that told you you were crany back then tell you now?
Most now say that I was right in doing what I did. There is a small amount, maybe 5% that still say I should've finished high school.
 

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Scot

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@Chris Kelsey Because your whole business is based off of contracting and hiring app developers maybe you can share some advice and wisdom on how to hire and work with developers.

For me personally, I'm developing a website and companion app. I was able to make a really rudimentary MVP website on my own, but I'm in the process of coming to an agreement with a highschool buddy who does app development. What do you suggest for guys like me who don't have $15,000 available for developing? Have you come across good developers who are willing to code for equity or royalty?
 
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Chris Kelsey

Chris Kelsey

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Jun 5, 2016
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@Chris Kelsey Because your whole business is based off of contracting and hiring app developers maybe you can share some advice and wisdom on how to hire and work with developers.

For me personally, I'm developing a website and companion app. I was able to make a really rudimentary MVP website on my own, but I'm in the process of coming to an agreement with a highschool buddy who does app development. What do you suggest for guys like me who don't have $15,000 available for developing? Have you come across good developers who are willing to code for equity or royalty?

What I want to ask is, are you sure you even need an app? If you're testing an MVP and can do it just on a website, it could be a lot cheaper.

I personally have never found good developers who are willing to code for just equity, can it happen? Yes, but literally I've had a ton of people come to me asking for help after their guy coded for just equity and ended up with crap, and it ended up taking 6-12 months longer to build instead of 1 month.

It depends on how complex the app is, because it usually isn't a priority for the developer if it's just equity (unless it's a good friend or they really believe in the idea and you can trust them).

If you literally have no money to spend and the equity route is the only way, then it's better than nothing.
 

Scot

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What I want to ask is, are you sure you even need an app? If you're testing an MVP and can do it just on a website, it could be a lot cheaper.

I personally have never found good developers who are willing to code for just equity, can it happen? Yes, but literally I've had a ton of people come to me asking for help after their guy coded for just equity and ended up with crap, and it ended up taking 6-12 months longer to build instead of 1 month.

It depends on how complex the app is, because it usually isn't a priority for the developer if it's just equity (unless it's a good friend or they really believe in the idea and you can trust them).

If you literally have no money to spend and the equity route is the only way, then it's better than nothing.
Gotcha. Yeah, our service would fall flat without the app. It'll be used in businesses that typically don't have computers in them.

The developer is a good friend so hopefully it'll work out. Worst case scenario they can get the basic app up and running and once we get some money coming in, we can hire or contract a dedicated developer.

As for money for a developer, we're pretty much bootstrapping the business so the most I could pay would be around $500, which I don't think would do us much better haha

Thanks for the advice
 

Scot

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Great. I wish you the best.

But:
Can we as a forum stop encouraging transparent, valueless, unvetted peddling of "personal brands" thinly veiled as inspirational posts?
I'm kind of confused by this... Can you elaborate?
 

Alxander

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Thank you for sharing you story! Great advice.

"There is no secret to success."
I believe people want to be given a "path" to success but every entrepreneur has been through a unique one that will never repeat itself I think.

"Listen to your gut over anyone else, but know when to quit if the business will fail."
People who give you "advice" will not go broke when you do.

Just one question: what do people that told you you were crazy back then tell you now?
Normally they will say he "got lucky" lol
 
G

GuestUser450

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I'm kind of confused by this... Can you elaborate?
Narratives and stories are worlds apart. The proven, successful folks on this forum who've been kind enough to share have given narratives - reports of process, chronicles of events.

Stories are linear - with a beginning, middle and end. They are often complete bs. Useful and persuasive but bs. Life isn't linear, business isn't linear.

So, if someone with a brand to sell (unvetted people using their real name for example), tells a short story that hits all the trite notes of entrepreneurship (even if they're correct) and zero proof of process (I cold-called! - I figured out FB ads! - I learned how to cloak!) it smacks of internet marketing circular logic.

I'll leave the thread and sincerely hope op delivers gold.
 
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Chris Kelsey

Chris Kelsey

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Narratives and stories are world's apart. The proven, successful folks on this forum who've been kind enough to share have given narratives - reports of process, chronicles of events.

Stories are linear - with a beginning, middle and end. They are often complete bs. Useful and persuasive but bs. Life isn't linear, business isn't linear. So, if someone with a brand to sell (unvetted people using their real name for example), tells a short story that hits all the trite notes of entrepreneurship (even if they're correct) and zero proof of process (I cold-called! - I figured out FB ads! - I learned how to cloak!) it smacks of internet marketing circular logic.

I'll leave the thread and sincerely hope op delivers gold.
http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/5460804-181/former-maria-carrillo-student-founds

http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/print-edition/2016/04/29/after-quitting-high-school-entrepreneur-finds.html

This is literally one of my first posts, I've been answering questions as they come. I also didn't want to write every single detail out in one post as I don't know if people would even care to read all of it. At the same time, there are a TON of frauds and there is a ton of crap out there like that so I can completely understand. I just want to make it clear that I literally wrote this post off the top of my head about how I got to where I am now.
 

Scot

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http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/5460804-181/former-maria-carrillo-student-founds

http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/print-edition/2016/04/29/after-quitting-high-school-entrepreneur-finds.html

This is literally one of my first posts, I've been answering questions as they come. I also didn't want to write every single detail out in one post as I don't know if people would even care to read all of it. At the same time, there are a TON of frauds and there is a ton of crap out there like that so I can completely understand. I just want to make it clear that I literally wrote this post off the top of my head about how I got to where I am now.
/mic drop
 

Mikkel

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At one point I tried to do a bit of contracting and hiring subcontractors, for logo design, and may want to refine how I go about doing this. My question to you is, what was your role as the contractor if your subcontractors did the coding for the apps? I assume these projects took weeks, if not months to finish these projects. I could assume you handled most of the paperwork and finding the business, but did you play any other part in the process?
 

Remnant

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I dropped out of high school in December 2014 when I was seventeen, against the decision of everyone around me (parents, friends, relatives). It was my senior year and I had a 4.0 GPA, so as you can imagine everyone thought I was even less bright than had I dropped out in my freshman year.

I had nothing going for me besides two failed businesses and the strongest desire in the world to become a successful entrepreneur.

In the beginning of 2014, at the end of my junior year, I knew that I would have to start applying to colleges soon. There was something in me telling me I shouldn't go down this path and that there was a better way.

I had told myself I wanted to be a dentist, but after asking my dentist what it was like, I realized that he had to start the same way just as any typical business was built, except he went to college for twelve years to do so (and had 300k debt when he got out).

That summer of 2014 I decided to learn as much as I could about business. I looked up all of the "classics" - Think & Grow Rich, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and some more modern books as well. I read TMF in July 2014 right around that time which turned out to be one of my favorites.

I also became addicted to James Altucher's blog and books which also helped me decide I didn't want to go to college.

I took a billion notes from each book and put them on EverNote, it was super boring but I wanted to solidify the knowledge in my mind.

In August of 2014, I started my first business, a flyer distribution business that would subcontract to different flyer distribution companies around the USA so that people could run big marketing flyer campaigns.

I made a video, put it on the landing page, and just started cold calling.

I setup payments through Square, but there was no need to as I never had one sale.

In September 2014 I decided to stop working on it and figure out something else.

By this point, school had started and I was literally just reading in class all day. I was starting to bomb classes (I only had a 4.0 cumulative GPA because I dropped out before the semester ended).

In November, my English teacher came to talk to me after class, and he told me that I was going to fail the class (it literally was the easiest classes I'd ever been in had I tried). I remember that moment very well because I just remember not caring. And I remembered thinking at the time how had it been 2 years ago I would've been crying or something like that. I asked myself, "What happened?"

It made me feel good for some reason. I began to feel a bit more free.

I started an online reputation management business at that time (October/November) which I did the same thing as the flyer business (cold-calling, etc.). I got upset with school because I couldn't cold-call during that time and I felt that it was holding me back from success.

On December 6, 2014, I ended up dropping out. I remember telling each of my teachers that I was dropping out and that I wished them best of luck. A lot of the kids were like WTF and confused. I don't really know what they were thinking, I think some had a feeling I would do well, but I think most just thought I was ready to fail.

My parents were screaming at me and it was really bad. For some reason I wasn't stressed out like usual. I just kept telling myself I would succeed no matter what. I didn't know how, but I said that I would.

At one point my dad told me I was going to fail and that nobody would want to work with me if I dropped out. I told him I would make $25k the next month and that I would prove him wrong.

Back to the second business... Yeah, it never went anywhere either. I almost had a client that was a small hotel chain but the manager quit his job and I lost the connection. I didn't feel like pursuing it and just abruptly stopped.

In mid-December, my barber told me she had an app idea. I knew a few developers and figured I could try to work something out. I gave her the contract, she said she didn't have the funds... two weeks later after I waited for her response.

At the end of December, I went and posted an ad on Craigslist saying I had a team that could build apps. I got a call the next day, I was surprised. He said he wanted to meet, but then cancelled the meeting two days after.

Out of frustration I searched Craigslist for people saying they had app ideas, and within the first 10 days of sending my first message, I had closed my first contract for over $15k. I didn't end up reaching the $25k by January 2015, but it was enough money to prove my dad wrong.

Within the first 3 months I had over $100k of contracts (payments were 50% upfront) (by March 2015).

By the end of last year I had made over $500k and had been part of a lot of successful apps like Premium Wallpapers HD which got over 40m downloads.

I felt that I did well but I wanted to become a millionaire, not a hundred thousandaire.

In January of this year I expanded the company quite a bit. $50k in January, then in February just one contract was $370k, and it was from a group of old people that pooled money together for an app idea they had, the funny thing was that they chose the price, I never gave them a quote... I soon realized that there was no limits with what I wanted to do.

What I learned:

1. There is no secret to success. I've met people that get up at 6am every morning and are super good with their daily schedule and work and make peanuts, then there's people that make $100k/month with an online business and all they do is party and almost never work. The main thing you need to have is the desire to succeed, because then the rest will come naturally.

2. Listen to your gut over anyone else, but know when to quit if the business will fail - You might have an idea that everyone hates but it succeeds. You might have an idea that everyone loves but fails. At the end of the day, only YOU know more than anyone else if it will work or not, listen to the advice of others but take it with a grain of salt. But at the same time, if your instincts tell you to drop what you're doing, then do it and follow. If I kept staying with the online reputation management business I would've just failed for more time even though I "technically" should focus on one thing.

3. MAKE CONNECTIONS WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE - This is HUGE. I've seen really dumb people raise $4M in funding for a startup that was a dumb idea from the start, but because they knew the right people, it didn't matter. SERIOUSLY, I don't say that like "Oh lucky him bla bla", I'm serious, I've met people who really don't have much know-how in business that have made money because of their connections. Now, when you are actually smart AND have the connections, it's a win-win. Just note, connections are key above ANYTHING else.

4. Don't waste time - At the same time remember that most people you meet are not going to help you move forward in business. James Altucher says how most meetings are a waste of time, and this is so true. People will want to meet with you only to "chat" and it isn't going to benefit EITHER OF YOU. So just say no upfront. This was one of the hardest things for me to get used to because I didn't want to be rude. But it's better to say NO.

There's a lot more to this but I'll post more another time.
Thanks man, this is exactly what I needed to hear today. Kudos.
 

Spoony

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I was literally about to post what you said Nily.

I honestly cannot image having the guts you did at 19--and I am honestly not sure if I still do at 21 for that matter haha.

You are honestly an incredible person with, as already said, GIANT balls.
 
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Chris Kelsey

Chris Kelsey

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Jun 5, 2016
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At one point I tried to do a bit of contracting and hiring subcontractors, for logo design, and may want to refine how I go about doing this. My question to you is, what was your role as the contractor if your subcontractors did the coding for the apps? I assume these projects took weeks, if not months to finish these projects. I could assume you handled most of the paperwork and finding the business, but did you play any other part in the process?
Initially I managed the projects myself and even came up with a lot of the creative elements/feature ideas. Now we have a whole system in place with project managers that communicate with clients/partners. It was one of the best feelings in the world to see the whole system come into place where everything becomes almost automated.
 

nradam123

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For everyone who are thinking about copying his success -> Its not going to work for you.
Stick with what you are doing and don't dabble. Once you learn the discipline required to try new things then do it.
Its never the idea, its the execution.
 

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