Entrepreneurs Corner: ‘Most of my friends think I’m a total nerd’
by Alan Turner
Published: March 14,2010
Instead of partying or watching TV, 21-year-old Allen has started two businesses
It’s probably true that most 21-year-olds are more focused on partying and fun than on business. However, there is at least one 21-year-old whose mind is squarely on business.
In her senior year of high school, Sheena Allen decided that she wanted to be her own boss and “do things my way.” She has taken that determination and put it to work. After much careful planning, learning and preparation, Sheena has started not one but two businesses in the past year, and both are showing good progress.
“Most of my friends think I’m a total nerd,” she said. “They don’t get why I’m not ready to spend my time partying, watching TV or hanging out.”
Instead, she spends her time on her businesses, working and refining the models, focusing on marketing and business development. She figures she’ll have plenty of time for parties when her businesses are solidly established.
Sheena runs two Internet-based businesses, Photolinkage and Midchat. Photolinkage is a photo-exchange business somewhat similar to Photobucket or Flickr. In a matter of months, Photolinkage has grown rapidly, and now generates thousands of pageviews monthly. Midchat is a social site for kids, primarily in the 9-15-year-old range, which Sheena describes as a “clean and safe site” for young people. The site is constantly monitored and tracked to be sure it stays that way. Also in a matter of months, that site has grown, so that it already has about 800 members. She plans to add numerous other enhancements and options to both sites in the coming months.
Just how did she get the bug to start these businesses, and how did she raise the capital to get started, before she was 21 years old?
“I just made up my mind that I wouldn’t take no for an answer,” she said. “Of course, I got plenty of no’s, but I just figured that with every no, I was getting closer to a yes.”
That turned out to be true. Through perseverance and determination, she finally managed to connect with an investor in Atlanta who was impressed with her business plan and her ideas, and was willing to provide the basic start-up capital she needed to get started.
Asked how she developed her business plan, Sheena smiled and said, “By studying other business plans.” She found a template, reviewed other successful plans and used that information to construct her own plan in several phases. She considers a well-organized business plan to be essential to success, and in fact, her plan is based on 10 year projections. And where does she expect to be in 10 years?
“I’ll be running a multi-million-dollar company with 100 or more employees, “ she said. “I fully intend to have at least one site in the top 50 most viewed on the web. I know my vision, and I intend to make it a reality.”
What does she consider the most important elements in starting a business?
“You have to know where you want to go,” she said. “You have to want to do things your way, and you have to be determined not to let anything stand in your way. If you’re not positive and upbeat, forget it. It’s really tough approaching investors when you’re just 20 years old, but I figured that I could learn something from every no I received, and try to improve my presentation the next time around.”
Evidently, she succeeded at that, since her businesses are now up and running, and she has the capital to develop them as her vision matures. She acknowledges that she chose the Internet business model because it clearly has the lowest entry price and generally requires the lowest capital.
Currently a senior majoring in film and psychology at Southern Miss, she has attended the university on a full scholarship. That’s probably another indication of her dedication to meeting objectives.
Does she feel that she’s missing anything when her friends come by and urge her to come out and party?
“Not a thing,” she said. “I have to say that I really love what I do, and to me, my businesses are lots more fun than partying.”
She has many other interests she intends to develop in the coming years, including fashion, real estate and the entertainment business (primarily as a concert and event promoter). For now, though, she’s happy building her internet business models.
Asked whether she had someone who had helped to encourage her, she suggested that her family has been extremely positive along the way. She also points to a book by Russell Simmons titled “Do You!” that motivated her to step out into the business world and do things her way.
Having spent an hour with Sheena and seeing the kind of determination, dedication and positive aura she projects, it’s hard not to see her as the CEO of that multi-million dollar company in 10 years. And who knows? It could be that some of those friends who think she’s a nerd might just be working for her.
Photos by Don Smith.
Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at email@example.com or (601) 364-1021.
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