By Jan Norman
With a little help from family and friends, Ben Seidel is fast becoming a serial entrepreneur.
Ben was just 13 when he built his first website to share information and showcase personal photos. His uncle, Mark Beall, shared his Web skills with Ben. He also provided guidance and encouragement.
Then, the teenager built a company website for BioDiverse Energies LLC, an environmental consulting firm in which Ben’s father was involved.
The experience was an eye-opener for Ben.
“I saw a real need for affordable websites for companies in my hometown of Columbia, Mo.,” Ben says. “I saw one business get ripped off paying a huge price for a site and I thought, ‘I could do it so much better and cheaper.’ That’s when it clicked. I could make money doing this.”
It was the challenge rather than a desire for money that prompted Ben to launch SRADCO Web Design with his father’s help in the summer of 2007. The umbrella company, Seidel Research and Development Co., was started by his father, Dave Seidel, an engineer and inventor, in 1991—“the year I was born,” Ben says.
As Ben built websites for everyone from plumbers to real estate agents to engineering firms, he added website hosting, search engine optimization and other services that clients requested.
By 2009, he realized businesses and their customers could benefit from a community resource website, so he launched a second company, Central Missouri Online LLC (CentralMO.com). The website provides an events calendar, business directory, free classified ads and links to other resources for the region. The business makes money through banner advertising and premium listings.
“There weren’t a lot of those [community resource websites] at the time, and I set it up so that one registration would allow users to do everything on the site.”
Ben runs CentralMO.com and SRADCO Web Design while working on a double major in economics and finance at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo., where he’s a junior.
This year, Ben started yet another business, Magnetic Advertising LLC, to make vinyl vehicle decals for companies.
“I started that because we needed a vinyl sign to promote CentralMO.com, and it cost so much to get one and slap it on the back of a car,” Ben says.
“I asked a friend who was in graphic design, and he said it could be done a lot cheaper, so I said, ‘Do you want to run it?’”
Typically, sign companies make the vinyl decals, and the client provides the vehicles on which the signs are mounted. Ben capitalized on his presence at the University of Missouri by paying students to place his signs on their cars, which broadly expands the advertisement’s geographic reach.
Dedicated College Student
Ben’s energetic pursuit of building three companies with four employees, while maintaining a 3.84 GPA in college, contributed to his selection as the NASE Future Entrepreneur for 2011.
The scholarship competition, which started in 1989 for dependents of NASE Members, will award Ben up to $24,000 toward his education. It is the largest scholarship of its kind in the U.S. and the only one that promotes the entrepreneurial philosophy. With this year’s award, the NASE program hit the $1.9 million mark in scholarships.
“Ben Seidel is a passionate entrepreneur,” says Gregory Bier, an associate professor of management and adviser to a group of students in the University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business. “Ben works projects start to finish. He is not just an idea generator. He nurtures the idea until it is ready for implementation. Then he implements it from start to success.”
Dave Seidel, an NASE Member, says that his son has always been a great organizer and motivator.
“He has an older brother for whom Ben would organize all his activities. Ben is very dedicated and quality-minded,” his father says. “It comes from the fact that he was given opportunities through being home-schooled until fifth grade to excel at whatever he did.”
Ben says he has to work constantly at being organized so that he can balance school and business and still enjoy a social life.
“I have a huge color-coded whiteboard in my bedroom,” says Ben. “I have business tasks that I need to get done, but I need to focus on school at the same time, and planning this way helps.”
Savvy Business Owner
When Ben launched SRADCO Web Design, he set his prices significantly lower than the prices competitors charged.
“I didn’t want someone to be scared off by my being a kid,” he says. “It was obvious with the first few clients that they expected some big firm, and in walks a teenager. They were asking how old I was. At times I think respect is associated with age. But now I use my age as a benefit. I’m high energy. I show clients that regardless of my age, I know what I’m talking about.”
Clients apparently agree.
They refer him to friends who need a business website. They also ask Ben about other aspects of running their businesses such as offline marketing and how to handle sales representatives.
One of the most valuable and surprising lessons Ben has learned while building three companies is that it takes time—lots of time—to handle the people side of the work.
“If I have to deal with three or more people to get a project done, I add additional time [to the contract]. They want multiple renditions,” he explains. “The contracts have to be specific so they don’t keep making changes forever.”
He now describes his pricing as competitive, but with more services than other Web design firms provide. In fact, Ben is studying whether to separate his business from the SRADCO umbrella and is considering changing the name to emphasize that his business is a comprehensive marketing and technology company.
He expects to be running the company in a more expansive form long after he graduates from college in 2013.
“Ben is a great example of the type of young entrepreneur that the NASE Scholarship Program is designed to help,” says NASE President Kristie L. Arslan. “He excels as a student and as a business owner. We’re proud to be part of his success by presenting him with the 2011 NASE Future Entrepreneur Scholarship.”
Jan Norman is a freelance writer who covers entrepreneurship—at any age. Read her blog at jan.ocregister.com.
Learn More About NASE Scholarships
The award-winning NASE Scholarship Program is open to legal dependents of NASE Members, ages 16–24. To apply, students must be high school students or college undergraduates planning to enroll in college for the upcoming fall semester.
Get all of the details about the NASE Scholarship Program today.
Just click here.
And mark your calendar! Applications for scholarships for the 2012–2013 academic year will be available on Jan. 1, 2012.