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An Interview with Ben Casnocha, Teenage Entrepreneur

After reading the USA Today article about Ben Casnocha, I was intrigued to read about a man whom started a software company at such a young age.  I found myself reading his personal blog every day.  If you read the posts that Ben writes, you will soon find out that he is wise beyond his years, and he has a passion for knowledge and understanding the complicated issues of our society.  The most refreshing part about Ben is his humble attitude that oozes out of everything he writes.  I introduced myself to Ben through e-mail about a month ago, and recently I asked him to answer some interview questions for this website.  He was kind enough to do so.  Here is the full interview.

1.  Describe the company you own and the products and services it sells

Comcate delivers on-demand software to small and mid-size local governments around the country.  Cities, counties, and school districts have real needs that affordable, easy to use software can help solve.  We deliver CRM, code enforcement, GIS, and other products over the web to our clients to help them improve customer service and increase efficiency.

2.  When did you start the company and how old were you when you started it?

I founded the company in fall 2001, and I was 13 years old.

3.  How did you come up with the idea for your company?

My previous company worked on behalf of citizens to resolve their municipal complaints.  My experience there proved that many local governments needed tools to help them deal with customer inquiries.  The genesis for my first company started in a 6th grade technology elective.

4.  How did you fund the start-up costs?

By bootstrapping we kept costs quite low.  The bar to start a company has never been lower through marketplaces like eLance.  Friends and family contributed the initial funding.

5.  What is one of the biggest obstacles you have had to overcome while owning your own business?

All entrepreneurs face similar challenges: developing a scalable business model that solves a critical problem for a consumer or enterprise.  There are plenty of good ideas out there, but not all can be made into profitable businesses.  Specifically in my case a major challenge for us has been keeping the costs of sales low.

6.  What is one of the biggest advantages to starting and running your own business?

You can control your own destiny, to a certain extent.  You can dream and think big.  You have a more flexible schedule.  Most important, you can partake in one of the great joys of life: creating something and watching it grow.

7.  Has it been a struggle for you to balance the typical teenage lifestyle while being a successful entrepreneur?

Yes.  But I’ve done okay.  The teenage lifestyle has its advantages, but much of teenage culture I’ve rejected.  The entrepreneurial lifestyle is also unduly glorified.  I’ve tried to take the best of sterotypical Silicon Valley and mesh it with my own worldviews.

8.  Do you have business mentors, and if so, how have they helped you develop as an entrepreneur?

Most of success is luck.  By happenstance I bumped into some awesome people early on, and they have been invaluable.  Recently, I’ve widened my circle of mentors and advisors, because surrounding yourself with people smarter and more successful than you is always a good thing.  My mentors have helped me develop as a person, which in turn has helped my entrepreneurial life.

9.  What piece of advice would you give to a young person thinking about starting their own business?

Every time someone asks me this I tell them to talk to someone more qualified!  There is a surfeit of business advice on the web, you just need to look in the right places.  Outside of this, I would suggest developing an insatiable curiousity to acquire information and knowledge about things you are genuinely interested in.  Good business ideas seem to emerge organically from everyday experiences and readings.  It’s rare for someone to sit at an empty desk and say, “Ok, I’m going to come up with a killer business idea.”  Be an active actor on the stage of life and opportunities to make a difference will emerge.  And of course…take the plunge!  Go for it!  Fail forward!

Erik Folgate
Erik and his wife, Lindzee, live in Orlando, Florida with a baby boy on the way. Erik works as an account manager for a marketing company, and considers counseling friends, family and the readers of Money Crashers his personal ministry to others. Erik became passionate about personal finance and helping others make wise financial decisions after racking up over $20k in credit card and student loan debt within the first two years of college.

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