This is the very personal story of when I was 18 and started a podcast and community for teenage entrepreneurs, interviewed Seth Godin, and in spite of all that success, still had the largest burn out of my life.
I was homeschooled during high school and had a very work-based education. My Dad is a software development entrepreneur, and during high school I designed web mockups for his company for years. In addition, outside of work I started many projects and planned on starting my own business one day.
My Dad always has many ideas, and one day he told me he bought the domain name teenpro.net. He said it would be great for a website about teenage entrepreneurs and professionals. And that it could be a bestselling shirt.
Dad: "Sell a shirt that says "Teen Pro" on the front. It would sell so well! I bet people would pay to get that." Me: "Selling t-shirts is one of the most common get-rich-quick-failures! And anyway, there's not enough of a target audience."
But the thought about there being other teenage entrepreneurs kept growing on my mind.
What if there were other young entrepreneurs like me?
There is a lack of support for extra-young entrepreneurs. Although adults have many years of experience, they haven't necessarily been treated differently because of their age or struggled with starting a career years before the norm.
The seed of an idea appeared and started growing: a community run by teenagers for teenage entrepreneurs. I used my Dad as a sounding board, and he suggested I start a podcast and online community. I brainstormed and scribbled a torrent of ideas, and after a month or two of wondering if I should start, one day I did.
Hi Seth, My name is Hannah Wilson, and I seventeen years old. I love entrepreneurship but have always had an extremely hard time finding anyone else my age who also wanted to create value by starting a business, so recently I founded an online community called teenpro. We are in our second week so we don't have extensive content yet, but my goal is to make it the best resource for motivated teens who want to make great things and change the world! We would be so excited if you could do a short phone call interview to give advice on how to make the most of the high school years. (Not simple, guaranteed, easy and free advice such as "follow your dreams and the rest will come" or "go to a good college and you will have success," but the difficult type that requires grit and perseverance and results in growing as a person.) Your wisdom and experience would help one of the most underutilized generations make a difference! It's amazing that you read all your own emails, so I will keep this brief. If you are interested in any way or know someone else who might be, we can use any help or advice! (By the way, I watched your TEDxYouth talk "Stop Stealing Dreams," and I bet every single person in the audience wished you were in charge of the school system! The metaphor connect dots verses collect dots particularly illustrated a major flaw in education, and I'm so glad that you and others are arguing for a change!) Thank you so, so much for your time and everything you do for people! I'm very sorry if I've wasted your time in any way. Thanks, Hannah
Before leaving for lunch break I checked my email one last time, and there sitting in my inbox was an email from Seth Godin, sent 15 minutes after my email. My heart pounded as I read that he would do the interview - in fact he said he could do it right now! I freaked out. At first I thought it was spam, but the email address was ligit. Then I realized that I didn't have any podcast equipment set up, because I'd never recorded a podcast before. My brain couldn't handle it and assumed still that it must be spam, so I went and ate lunch without replying.
Over lunch break I played ping pong with my brother, I didn't play well because my hands were shaking. Afterwards I went back to my computer and opened up the email again, reread it 16 times, and finally showed it to my dad. He said it looked like it was actually from Seth Godin, and he would go get a headset so I could record the podcast.
Desperately hoping that he would still be able to record the podcast even though I was replying back 45 minutes after his initial email, I wrote this email.
Thank you so much for replying! I'm so, so sorry, but I have a meeting and I'm not able to talk right now, but anytime after 3:30 today or tomorrow (or after) at any time I would absolutely love to!
You can tell the state of my mind.
After my meeting I researched Seth Godin and wrote down a list of potential questions. I had never read a Seth Godin book at that time and had only read a few of his blog posts, but thank goodness for Google. I also figured out how to record a podcast through Skype.
Then I interviewed him. It was scary, but my notes helped and I was able to (sort of) block out the fact that I was interviewing one of the most popular marketing gurus.
The interview ended, and I stopped the recording. Then I went to find the file and had a heart attack when I couldn't find it at first. Could you image interviewing Seth Godin and then loosing the file? But then I found it, thank goodness, listened to it, moaned about how stupid I sounded, and uploaded it to YouTube.
I thought I was handling the whole thing pretty calmly, but my sleep that night told me otherwise. I wrote this on August 13th, 2014 - the morning after I recorded the podcast.
It's 4:57am right now and usually I'd be fast asleep (I am not a morning person), but I've been awake since a little after four and finally admited defeat. Although I will blame any awkwardness of my interviewing to the fact I was talking to Seth Godin, I was not as nervous as I could have been since it all happened so fast. Only five and a half hours after I emailed him asking if he would do an interview, we were finished. I'm having a delayed case of being starstruck, and tonight I've been processing the fact that I just received advice from one of the most famous business gurus in the world.
The next day I was expecting I was expecting something to be different, maybe the sun would shine brighter and I would have 100 new community signups. But I was just extra sleepy. The podcast had a few listens, but not as many as I thought. But I was still building the platform, so I got out my ambitious list of potential guests and emailed some more people.
I interviewed some more amazing guests for the Teenpro podcast - Dan Miller was my second guest! I'm embedding all of the podcasts at the bottom of this post that you can listen to if you'd like. I had the most fun with Lauren's (#3). If you listen to them, please don't judge me for the recording quality and my lack of fluency. Keep in mind these were the first podcasts I'd ever recorded.
I would post in the community forums, email potential guests, and post podcast episodes whenever possible. I became addicted to checking my email, even checking it in the middle of the night when I woke up. I would check email in the morning, work Teenpro during the day, and work into the night. One week I tracked 40 hours of Teenpro in addition to my part time job.
A few more people signed up, maybe 30 total, and we had some great Google Hangout calls where we met each other. My initial theory that there were teenagers who wanted to do their own thing and start businesses was true, and I'm so glad that I got to meet some. Meeting awesome people is the part of Teenpro that I miss the most.
I also continued emailing potential guests, and got an open invitation to submit a question to the Ask Gary Vee YouTube show, which gets over a thirty thousand views per episode.
But then -
I was 18. If I wasn't working every waking hour, I was at least thinking about the podcast and community. And I probably dreamed about it as well. I'm an introvert and recording podcasts was draining. I was not entirely happy with the amount of signups.
In my regular part time job, I was also in the middle of the most stressful and depressing work projects I've been a part of.
I was tired.
And I stopped.
That's it - one day I just stopped recording podcasts and posting in the community. I never sent an email to everyone explaining why I disappeared and that I wasn't dead. I am most embarrassed that I never told people why Teenpro disappeared. Maybe I hoped I would start again after a break, or maybe I didn't want to admit that I gave up.
If you used to be a Teenpro member and are reading this, sorry. This is the story I should've told you a year ago.
What Happened Next?
After stopping Teenpro, I went back to focusing on my part time job with my dad's company. Life went on. I disabled the Ning community site.
By the time my local business community got around to hearing that I interviewed Seth Godin, I had to explain that I had already stopped the project. A year later, I still have people asking me about what it was like to interview Seth Godin, and I have to explain that I stopped the whole project after a few months.
They say "Oh that's ok, you have to move on and know when to stop."
But I still wonder...
Did I really just "move on," or did I give up?
What if I hadn't stopped?
Where would Teenpro be now?
This post is closure for Teenpro.
Here are the podcasts if you're interested in listening to them. Please don't judge my frequent lack of fluency.
1. Seth Godin, New York Times Bestselling Author and Marketing Guru
2. Dan Miller of 48 Days, Author, and Speaker
3. Lauren Krakauscas of Freaker USA on Kickstarter, Shark Tank, and Grilled Cheese Sandwich Parties
4. I'm Not Gary Vaynerchuck Minicast
Occasionally I would record podcasts without a guest and call them Minicasts.