February 19, 2000 Florida Times Union
Think teenagers are just a bunch of baggy-pants-wearing, gum-chewing slackers? Check this out: An Orange Park High School senior, just 16 years old, already runs his own business — with six employees on the payroll.
And no slacking off is allowed.
The owner of DravenWeb.net is an anti-slacker named Shaleen Shah, who runs daily work strategy sessions from his parents’ living room. From the get-go, Shah is all business about his firm, a Web-site design operation.
“Going global,” Shah said, “can really open up the market for us.”
Every day, he sets a up a schedule for his employees. They work in teams to collaborate on projects. And he and his staff wear ties to their “office.” One employee wore a suit to a recent after-school meeting.
The professionalism has had results. Shah has a client list of about 20 customers, most from around Jacksonville, but one as far away as New York.
The company acquires some clients through word of mouth around school and the neighborhood, and others find out about the firm through its Web site — which doesn’t mention the fact that the entire staff is under 18 years old.
DravenWeb.net gets paid per project, and Shah divides the money among his staff. The firm has made roughly $10,000 so far, but like polished business executives, Shah and his team are resistent to talking about prices for fear that the competition will get wind and lower their rates.
The prices change, depending on how many pages the client needs and what kind of graphics and detail need to be built into the pages. Shah said a basic page could cost as little as $100, but the price can go up quickly.
Shah got the idea to open his own business more than a year ago. The name Draven is based on his favorite mythological character, a dragon, and his favorite bird, a raven.
He always excelled with computers and started asking around school for other people he could work with. By last month he had a team of six employees.
“They are not here to work for me,” Shah said. “They are here to build up a company.”
And like Shah, they all represent a contrast to the stereotypical teenager.
Dennis Eusebio, also a senior at Orange Park High School, is one of the technical gurus. He had been working various odd jobs for a few years, looking for money to help restore a car. Now he might be set enough financially to quit all of his other jobs.
Kelsey Binkley, 16, is the only junior on the staff. She worked at a local Papa John’s pizza and played soccer after school, until a knee injury took care of that. And even though she is one of the valued artists on the staff, she readily admits to hating computers.
“I like art and designing things,” Binkley said. “My dad pushes me to do everything on computers.”
Chuck Ahern makes up another part of the technical team. The soft-spoken 17-year-old works part time at Sears — selling computers, of course.
And then there is Michael Fierro, another senior at Orange Park. He got started with computers the old-fashioned way: He read a book on programming, and got hooked. Now he spends a lot of his free time — and school time — designing Web sites.
“I just did it because I was looking for something to do more or less,” Fierro said. “I did it because I can.”
After meeting at Shah’s house for the strategy session each day, staff members spend a lot of their work time at home in their own rooms, in front of their computer screens.
Most of Shah’s bedroom in his parents’ suburban Orange Park home is decorated like any other teenager’s room, with knickknacks clogging up space on shelves and a few CDs lying around. A framed picture of Shah and his family hangs on the wall.
But there is also the framed business license from Clay County hanging on another wall, the stack of PC Computing magazines piling up on a dresser and a book titled Small Business Legal Smarts.
Shah’s parents are amazed by what their son has accomplished, and not just within the world of computers. His father, Sunil, moved the family here from their native India just six years ago. Shaleen took English as a second language classes to catch up.
Sunil Shah said his son has done everything with this business on his own. He called attorneys, did the research, even set up his own business phone line.
“He was mature for his age,” the elder Shah said, “right from the word go.”
- Mark Gordon
Florida Times Union