June 22, 2007 – 20-year-old lacks business plan, but earns six figures (Source: Poughkeepsie Journal)
By Carolyn Torella
For the Poughkeepsie Journal
Fahim Saleh of Hopewell Junction has created a Web site that caters to teens. HOPEWELL JUNCTION – Interviewing a 20-year-old about his six-figure business success is not something you do every day. But with more and more teens and twentysomethings becoming Internet moguls, a writer had better get used to it.
Fahim Saleh is 20. He is on a fast track to Net business success with his WizTeen. com Web site that offers teens and kids exactly what they’re searching for – fun on the Internet.
“We provide services and content to customize your online identity on sites like MySpace, Facebook, message boards and instant messenger systems,” Saleh said from his spacious second-floor “office” in the guest room of his parents’ home in Hopewell Junction.
WizTeen is a network of 12 or so Web sites targeted toward the teen and “tween” (8- to 12-year-old) demographic, one of the fastest-growing and most sought-after markets in online advertising.
Visitors can create online “avatars,” or icons – a cartoon, photo or art-based image that represents the user’s interests or portrays their likeness. These representations give users a visual identity for online communities, instant messaging or online gaming.
Saleh’s site also features MySpace layouts and backgrounds, flash-games, image hosting and a place for girls to “dress-up” their online dolls, or avatars. Users can also chat and utilize message boards to talk about their dolls.
Who wants to make and chat about cartoon dolls? Many, apparently. His most popular site, MsnDollz.com, has 17 million page views per month, Saleh said. His combined sites get 23 million.
The MsnDollz.com site had a trafffic rank of 16,094 Wednesday on the www. Alexa.com tracking system.
Like many Internet site owners, Saleh makes a six-figure income by selling advertising space on his sites. He has used an advertising middle man to sell his online ads but is switching over to an on-staff advertising rep.
“For every 1,000 page views, you usually get 25 to 50 cents,” Saleh said, “By selling our own premium ad space, we’d get $5-$10 for that same 1,000 page views.”
Saleh, who is – did I mention – 20, might not know his potential earnings, based on 23 million page views per month at $10 per 1,000, are over $2 million per year because … Saleh has no business plan.
“We had no business plan, we had no idea what we were doing. I didn’t know html coding; it was trial and error,” Saleh said. “After four years, we still have no business plan, but if we ever wanted venture capital, we might need one.”
While Saleh has no formal business plan, he certainly has a clear idea of where he wants to be in 10 years.
“I see myself behind one project that I’m very passionate about, funded by venture capitalists, in California, working full time in an office with like-minded people working on a project that we’re all passionate about. Everything I’m doing now is leading up to that.”
Saleh shares his passion for the Internet with his business partner Kyle Kapper, also 20, of Canal Fulton, Ohio. He “met” Kapper in 2003 while chatting online using AOL’s instant messenger service, AIM, and on gaming sites. What started out as games and chatting quickly became profitable time spent on the computer.
“The first site that I made was called Teen Hangout, where you could post articles, chat. That’s where I learned my programming,” he said. “I made a few dollars on it and that was my inspiration – I could actually make money from this.”
Checks come in
He added Google’s AdSense to another site for a revenue stream. “Before long I had a $250 Google check in my hand, and my dad said, ‘I guess you’re doing something with this,’ so we opened a bank account.”
Kapper owned his Web site and sold it for $1,000.
Not to be outdone, Saleh sold his “AIMDude.com” for $1,200 on eBay to another webmaster.
“After that, we didn’t have any Web sites left, so we started something for the tween market for dressing up dolls, icons, customizing.”
Saleh has only met Kapper once in person, two years ago in New York City, but the distance between them vanishes with the help of a cell phone, e-mail and messaging. The two have monthly meetings to discuss upcoming projects, strategy and deadlines, all on instant messenger.
Their overhead is minimal, as for many Internet-based companies. His initial investment for Teen Hangout’s online hosting was paid for by a $100 birthday gift. The investment of time on the family computer after school and late at night was a greater investment, and cause for concern for his father, Ahmed, a senior engineer at IBM Corp. in Poughkeepsie.
“My dad was really skeptical. He wanted me to focus on schoolwork, but after the $250 check, he softened; but he said to still work hard in school. Then a $500 check, then $30,000. Then he let me stay up late to work on stuff,” Saleh said.
“I was worried that he was surfing the Internet, not working, and was very upset about how he would manage his homework,” Ahmed Saleh said about his son. “But his report cards showed he was doing fine at school. I was reassured.”
“Once, he wanted to take a semester off from college. I did not let him do that,” said Ahmed Saleh, who is originally from Bangladesh. “I told him that every person in our family has college education; in our culture, it means a lot.”
“It’s a lot of pressure, but he can take it,” Ahmed Saleh said.
Fahim Saleh now has his own computer set up, an accountant in Ohio, servers in Arizona and a fleet of consultant computer programmers around the world, recruited from RentACoder. com, a custom software programmer’s marketplace, with nearly 180,000 registered coders with 77,000 buyers, according to the Web site.
“It’s crazy how you can network with people online,” Saleh said.
In between his 35-hour work weeks in summer, 25 during college at Bentley, Saleh likes to sketch and paint, play basketball and tennis and hang out, face to face, with his friends.
Before graduating from John Jay High School in 2005, he took advanced placement classes. He also worked as layout editor for the award-winning student newspaper, The Patriot, helping put writing, story submissions and editing online.
“Before that, it was all disks, with no names on them, and you had to find out what was on there,” Saleh said.
There were no old-fashioned disks to be found in Saleh’s office. Only a laptop computer, a high-speed Internet connection, a fancy flat-panel monitor and the ambition, confidence and apparent success of someone far older than 20.