While most 19-year-old college students’ biggest concerns are where to get a summer job and what classes to take in the fall, Cameron Johnson, a sophomore at Virginia Tech, is thinking about how much profit his next Web company will bring in this term.
Johnson, a well-established business "man" from Roanoke County, Va., sold one of his most popular Internet businesses this summer, CertificateSwap.com. After he turned down a multi-million-dollar offer from a venture capital firm, a New York City firm bought the company, which allows consumers to sell or buy unwanted gift certificates.
The business management major is currently the owner of three other for-profit online companies. Johnson described EmazingSites.com as a free service of Web portals paid for solely by client advertisements. He also owns an online start-up company, TrueLoot.com, as well as another site offering customer referral tools for auto dealers.
Johnson comes from a very business-oriented family. Johnson’s parents always supported his entrepreneurial effort from the time he started his own greeting card company at the early age of nine,. The business was based out of his home where he used his parents’ personal computer and printer to make greeting cards.
"My father owns a Ford dealership, and I work full time there as the sales manager, along with my other companies," he said.
The Magic City Ford dealership was started by Johnson’s great-grandfather and has been passed down through the family.
Business ownership isn’t just on his father’s side of the family tree, though. Johnson said his mother was also "entrepreneur-oriented" having opened her own restaurant delivery service.
While his family’s businesses are the typical brick-and-mortar kind, Johnson’s ventures have all been Internet-based since he was 12, when his greeting card business expanded to sell Beanie Babies online. The website was ringing up $50,000 in monthly sales thus making Johnson the second largest Beanie Baby retailer on the Net.
Most would imagine such a busy person to be pretty wrapped up in his work, but Johnson doesn’t feel he’s much different from his peers.
"I would say I’m a typical college student," he said.
While his business endeavors certainly consume a vast majority of his time, Johnson still finds ways to hang out with his friends and not miss out on much of the "normal life" of someone his age. He enjoys nights out with friends, and joked that most of the time, new friends don’t realize he’s so business-oriented until their parents read about him in a magazine.
Even during high school, he participated in everyday extra curricular activities. Johnson said he enjoyed sports and played varsity soccer for his high school.
"The thing I miss most is sleep," he said. "I do a lot of the work for my businesses late at night or early in the morning."
Johnson said his decisions for school and business are made on more of a short-term basis.
"It’s hard to look six months ahead, much less make plans for the long run," he said.
Due to his busy schedule, Johnson did not enroll in classes last spring, but because of credits transferred from high school, he still has sophomore standing. He will also not be taking any classes this fall, but plans to go back in the spring.
Though Johnson can still relate to his college peers, he said there are other young entrepreneurs that he better compares to. But it’s doubtful any of them can claim they had a best selling autobiography by the time they were 15 years old.
Johnson’s unusual business success made him very popular in Japan, so his publishers distributed the book solely in that country. The ghostwritten book, "15-Year-Old CEO," became a best seller in Japan and he frequently traveled there for book signings.
"When I was 14 or 15, I was considered very successful for my age, but as I’ve gotten older, there are a lot of people just as successful or even more so," he said.
While Johnson’s monetary worth could certainly be an interesting topic of discussion, he no longer releases that information to the media. Revenue growth for his companies has also been rather extreme, but those income figures are staying under wraps for now. After all, he needs to save something to write about if he ever does another book.
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