From the September 2003 issue of Startups

As we've discussed before, being young in the business world can help you and hurt you. One benefit that's often overlooked is the expansive press opportunities due to the novelty of a young person starting a business.

Teenagers in the media are usually shown involved in drug busts, burglaries, vandalism and other negative events. Because of that trend, editorial staff usually jump on the opportunity to highlight positive things teenagers are doing in their community. Indeed, the idea of a kid starting a business--especially a not-for-profit one--is eaten up by editorial staff.

The "kid factor" is an important strategic advantage. With the media cutting editorial staff due to tight budgets, there are more opportunities for any private sector company to get some press in a reputable publication. If a young person's at the helm, your company is set apart from all the other companies seeking good press. If someone hasn't already told you, crafty public relations is essential to any growing company: A good review of your product in a trade journal by an unbiased reporter goes much farther with a customer than any advertisement you'll ever run.

One easy step you can take on your way to effective PR is a press release. Press releases are used to alert the media of a new product or company launch, new executive hire or any other significant event you think is newsworthy. Unfortunately, hundreds of press releases are sent to media outlets every day, with most going to the trash bin instead of the printing press. But it's here you must use your age to separate yourself and get the ink you deserve! (If you don't know how to write one, don't stress! You can get your hands on any number of examples and tips on how to write a press release.)

The headline of your press release has to catch the eye of an editor. Instead of "John's Electronics Launches Ultra-Cool Widget" try "16-Year-Old at Helm of Major Product Launch from John's Electronics." You most definitely want your age in the headline. Then be sure to build credibility in the body of the release by describing other adults involved in the business, advisors and the like.

If you're one of the lucky few who get some press on your local TV station or in the paper, make the most of it. Editors or producers will most likely want to interview you, so you should practice some potential questions and your responses. And be ready for questions that may try to show the other side of the story. For example, during one of my TV interviews the station imported footage of children playing in the park and laughing, and then popped the question, "Ben, are you losing your childhood with all this business stuff? Why not just follow the status quo and be like any other kid?" My response: "Look, I do everything my friends do--sports, homework, social outings, etc. I just do this too. Besides, I don't want to be normal. I want to be something else."

If the kid factor hasn't already been brought up by you or your advisors, it should be very soon. It's a powerful weapon you don't want to keep under wraps.


Fifteen-year-old Ben Casnocha is founder, CEO and chairman of Comcate Inc., a San Francisco firm focused on providing technology solutions for local governments. His work has been profiled in more than 50 magazines, newspapers, radio stations, TV outlets and Web sites nationwide. Got something to squawk about? Write to Casnocha at ben@comcate.com.