How a Bullied, Dyslexic 16-Year-Old Entrepreneur Fought Back and Found His Way
Ollie Forsyth didn’t fit in at school. Bullies picked on him for being dyslexic, for being different. They said he was a nobody and always would be. He’d never succeed in life.
The Northamptonshire, U.K. teen could have let their cruel cut-downs crush his spirit, his self-esteem and his motivation. But he didn’t. Instead, he looked to self-made billionaire Sir Richard Branson -- who also struggled with dyslexia at school -- for direction and strength. Then, just as Branson gutsily did, he used his doubters’ venom to fuel his budding entrepreneurial fire.
“Branson really has inspired me,” Ollie told Entrepreneur.com. “He was very dyslexic and when I watched a program on him, I was determined to become like him.”
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Ollie was also determined to prove his haters wrong before they graduated from school and went their separate ways. And that’s exactly what he did. After learning about how Branson turned a “disadvantage” Ollie knew painfully all too well into an advantage, he launched his first business at only 13, three years younger than Branson was when braved his first venture.
Even before he was a teen, Ollie caught the entrepreneurial bug. As a kid growing up in a relatively affluent area, he fetched his parents’ coffee and tea for 20 pence (about 34 cents) per cup. “If they wanted it reheated, I would charge another 20 pence.” Between brewing caffeine jolts for his parents, walking his family’s dogs and cutting the grass, he eventually earned 20 pounds ($33.74) per week.
Ollie’s first official foray into entrepreneurship is simply called Ollie’s Shop. It’s an online gift boutique that sells trendy jeweled bracelets, novelty cufflinks, leather belts and wallets and other “Perfect Prezzies” (presents) for teens and their parents. With the help of family and friends, Ollie fulfills several orders a day from his home, where he stores his stock, some of which he sources from China.
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He says Ollie’s Shop sales rolled in from day one and haven’t stopped since. Ollie garnered a profit of more than 2,500 pounds, he claims, in the first six months alone.
“When I hit my first 10,000 [$16,870], I knew I had something here. That’s when the light went off! I knew I was on the journey to success, and, so far, I’ve been lucky. I have never lost a penny.”
Ollie suspects he was bullied by his classmates at the prestigious Oxfordshire boarding school Bruern Abbey, his country’s only preparatory school for boys with learning difficulties, possibly because they were “jealous” of his commitment and drive to achieving his business goals.
“I never got the answer why they did it to me. It’s a shame that I didn’t get on with the boys, or they didn’t get on with me, but you have to move on in life."
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His advice to kids who are bullied in school, due to insensitivity toward a learning difference or otherwise, is to flat-out ignore their harassers. “Things like this happen in life, but you have to crack on with life. Onwards and upwards!” Better to channel your anger and upset from being bullied into pursuing your dreams and to helping others enduring a similar plight, specifically through volunteering, Ollie says.
"Making a difference to someone can mean changing someone's life. I’ve always been very passionate about helping others, not just for PR, but from the heart, too."
He’s volunteered for a variety of charities, including East Anglia’s Children’s Hospice, the Army Benevolent Fund's The Soldiers' Charity, and he’s currently the U.K. Ambassador for Winners Win, an online inspirational publication that connects readers with philanthropic organizations. Using his own money, he’s also establishing a charity to help young entrepreneurs start their own businesses while they’re still in school.
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Ollie also suggests that all kids, especially teen entrepreneurs, talk about their hopes, dreams and challenges with successful adults they trust and admire. If you don’t have access to a mentor -- aside from his parents, Ollie didn’t when first started out -- connect with a mentor through a local youth-oriented mentorship program. Or seek out entrepreneurial success stories on YouTube, like he did. ("My mentor was YouTube!" he says.)
Now 16, Ollie has opened his second online shop, Charmou. Launched just four months ago, the fashion-focused ecommerce site already features some 23 up-and-coming apparel brands, 250 products in all from across the globe. Ollie’s goal is to offer 365 brands in all by early next year.
With school behind him, Ollie’s deepening his focus on making it big in business, specifically at the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy. The school is owned by Peter Jones, a serial entrepreneur and former panelist on Dragon’s Den, the British equivalent of ABC's Shark Tank.
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By making it big, Ollie means becoming a millionaire.
“If I can become a millionaire either by 20 or in my 20s, or before I die, I would be a happy chap. Money does matter to me, but there’s no point in earning millions if you hate your job. I would much rather be self-employed. How far off am I [from getting rich]? Look at the rich list in a few years' time.”
Kim Lachance Shandrow is the former West Coast editor at Entrepreneur.com. Previously, she was a commerce columnist at Los Angeles CityBeat, a news producer at MSNBC and KNBC in Los Angeles and a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times. She has also written for Government Technology magazine, LA Yoga magazine, the Lowell Sun newspaper, HealthCentral.com, PsychCentral.com and the former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Coop. Follow her on Twitter at @Lashandrow. You can also follow her on Facebook here.