As entertainment, media and technology business models continue to evolve, many young content creators are eschewing the traditional “school, college, career” route and taking it upon themselves to forge their own paths.
A popular theme in modern, western storytelling is the plight of the millennial. Lena Dunham’s divisive Brooklyn saga ‘Girls’, MTV’s glossy soap ‘Underemployed’ and sitcom ‘Workaholics’ all rely, to a certain extent, on a degree of audience recognition; that young viewers will identify with these fictional, post-university twentysomethings who are finding life and work much more of an uphill struggle than they first anticipated.
Is it any wonder, then, that the teens of today aren’t so keen to follow in their footsteps? If a decent education can no longer guarantee a job and steady income, then it makes sense that more and more budding entrepreneurs get proactive while still in school. Below are just a few of the youngsters who have leveraged their talents and ideas into a thriving business, without so much as a whiff of a Bachelor’s degree.
It’s easy to forget now, in an age where Bieber fever has reached critical mass, that Justin Bieber got his first break aged just 13 via YouTube. YouTube has since become the platform of choice for aspiring singer-songwriters to showcase cover versions of Top 40 hits in addition to their own original material. It is also the go-to place for numerous record execs hoping to find the next big thing, and it has launched the careers of young singers such as Gabrielle Aplin, Greyson Chance and earworm auteur Rebecca Black.
The Janoskians (Just Another Name Of Silly Kids In Another Nation) comprise Beau, Jai, Luke, Daniel and James, five teenage pranksters from Melbourne whose YouTube antics catapulted them into the public eye and resulted in them acquiring both a Sony Music contract and MTV show. And while global superstardom doesn’t happen to everyone, vlogger Jack Harries has proven that it’s possible to make an honest living from YouTube. His video blog JacksGap originated as a means for Harries to keep in touch with relatives while on his gap year. As his following grew, Harries filmed a series of increasingly inventive videos with his twin brother Finn. The revenue generated from JacksGap funded Harries’ gap year travels, the blog has since reached one million subscribers, and Harries has become a YouTube Partner.
Nick D’Aloisio, the creator of news summation app Summly, began writing apps at the age of 12. He is the youngest person to ever secure venture capital at just 15, and his business partners include Stephen Fry, Rupert Murdoch and Yoko Ono. Following the sale of Summly to Yahoo! for a reported sum of $30 million, D’Aloisio can also count himself among the world’s youngest self-made millionnaires.
If that didn’t make you feel like a jaded underachiever, then this will: Thomas Suarez, the 12 year old app developer behind Bustin Jieber (in which players can hit the singer with a mallet, whack-a-mole style) has already given a TED talk and received critical acclaim for his work. And then there’s 14 year old Stephen Huber, who reached the number one spot in the App Store in the Free Games category with Wooden Labyrinth 3D, which has garnered over 7 ½ million downloads.
Finally, we have Tavi Gevison, who has been hailed by Lady Gaga as “the future of journalism” (although Gaga’s supposed expertise in this specific matter is probably best left unquestioned). Hyperbole aside, Gevison’s story remains impressive; she started the fashion blog Style Rookie at the age of 11 and solidly built herself a niche in the notoriously saturated fashion market, ultimately drawing the attention of The New York Times. Following invitations to international fashion shows, a public speaking gig and a commissioned article at Harper’s Bazaar, Gevison (then 15) launched Rookie Magazine in 2011. Contributors to date include Lena Dunham, Joss Whedon and cult filmmaker John Waters.
While higher education is crucial to many in their search for work, Gevison (who has yet to complete high school) has spoken openly about how she looks forward to university as a culturally fulfilling experience, where she can pursue subjects of personal interest, as opposed to profession-driven disciplines. To the 16 year old founder of a miniature media empire, a degree is by no means vital to a career, and the same could be said of many young people in the creative industries. Thanks to the proliferation of quick and easy online learning, and the rapid fluency that pre-teens gain in new technologies, the young entrepreneurs of today may well end up carving out a new career trajectory for future generations.