Emerson Spartz is a great example of what a young entrepreneur can do if they believe in themselves and are willing to work for their vision. Emerson began home schooling at the age of 12 and started creating a website for fun. Today, that site – MuggleNet — is the world's number one Harry Potter site.
Building on the success of his first site, Emerson has created a media empire in Spartz Media, the umbrella company for all his projects. He's also a New York Times Bestselling author and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.
Enjoy the interview, and be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below, and on our Facebook page!
You started your first website at the age of 12 — is that right? At what age did you first start thinking about the internet as a business tool, and how did that come about?
Yes, I founded MuggleNet (The #1 Harry Potter site) in the fall of 1999 at age 12. I stumbled across a free website builder and started playing with it. Over a period of months I became increasingly determined to build the best and most comprehensive Harry Potter website. Initially I had no desire to make money off my creation. Later, I learned that I could use the website for commerce without sacrificing its character. The first bill I received for $200 also changed my attitude towards advertising. The first check (several thousand dollars) changed my attitude even more.
As a young entrepreneur throughout your high school years, do you ever feel that you gave up some of what it means to be a teenager to pursue your business ventures?
Because I was homeschooled, I had 8+ hours every day to work on MuggleNet while my friends were in school. I had great friends, a supportive family, and generally speaking, I was given every opportunity to succeed.
I count 13 internet properties owned and operated by Spartz Media. Is that all? (Just Kidding!) What are your plans for future expansion? More sites, or just working to build the properties you currently have?
We launch a new site every month. Our strategy is to build tools that are so easy to use to create content, millions of passive consumers become active producers.
Social media is a big part of all your businesses, with over 4 million combined followers. How would you define your social media marketing strategy?
We're actually up to 5 million combined followers on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Social media marketing strategy is our marketing strategy. We study and measure the components of what gets shared — the viral coefficient — of each piece of content. Our success is measured by how much our content is shared.
What is the biggest business challenge you've faced to date, and how did you overcome it?
Recruiting top talent has been our #1 priority since the founding of the company. We've been able to attract some very talented people, but it is always a challenge.
What three pieces of advice do you have for young entrepreneurs thinking about starting their first business?
1) Study the patterns of those who have been successful before you. Learn from their mistakes. Read books and articles on entrepreneurship.
2) Don't make the mistake of trying to 'protect' your idea by refusing to tell people about it. Tell everyone. Get their feedback. The feedback is invaluable. Your first ideas will probably suck.
3) Study the patterns of those who have been successful before you. Learn from their mistakes. This is by far the most important piece of advice I could give.
How do you personally define success?
Like many entrepreneurs, I want to use technology to change the world — and in a big way. I was given every opportunity to succeed in life (thanks Mom and Dad) and I believe to whom much is given, much is expected.