At the age of 11, Ben Towers started a bedroom-based web design business. But, when his class-mates at school found out, not all of them were very supportive.
“It led to a lot of comments,” he remembers. “I wouldn’t say it was bullying, exactly – not like some people get – but it was a constant stream of trying to put me down. They called me ‘Business Ben’ and stuff like that. There were a couple of times I went home and cried.”
By the time he reached 14 that bedroom business had expanded so much that he took on his first member of staff. At the age of 16, he had two offices – one in London and one in his home town of Gillingham. And now, aged 19, he has just overseen a seven-figure merger of the company.
Now, Ben is one of the UK’s youngest self-made millionaires – and a member of a very exclusive little club: one of the few people to reach that financial milestone while still in their teens.
While, speaking to Ladbible – he puts his success at least partially down to those bullies.
“I think they inspired me,” says the baby-faced deal-maker who has since become an ambassador for the enterprise Bullies Out. “I wanted to prove them wrong.”
Ben lives at home with his parents and kid sister, likes football and a good night out, and says his only extravagant outlay has been treating himself to an Audi S3 car, the occasional box at Chelsea FC and the odd VIP table in a nightclub.
“My dad is a designer and mum works for the NHS, and they make sure I keep my feet on the ground,” he says. “I’m not a big spender. I’m not about to go off the rails.”
At the age of 11, he set up his business, called Towers Design, after being given £50 ($69) to build a website for a family friend.
In order to earn extra pocket money, he used a specialist app, PeoplePerHour, to find small firms – plumbers, taxis, solicitors – looking for freelance designers to build their websites. He applied to do the work without revealing his age, and many hired him.
“Because it was all done online, most never knew how young I was,” he says. “The only time there was a problem was when I took a phone call, and my squeaky voice gave me away. That put one client off.”
He upped his price, when he was getting commissioned very often – £100 ($138), £200 ($276), finally £500 ($689) – and added social media marketing to his portfolio.
At 14, fearful he was neglecting school work, he took on a member of staff. And then, a couple of months later, he found himself having to fire her.
“She was in her 40s and, maybe because I was at school all day, she didn’t take me seriously,” he recalls. “She wasn’t doing the work. I looked in her company email one day, and she’d been pitching for other jobs in the hours she was supposed to be working for me. I phoned her and let her go.”
Anyway, the company continued to grow. Another staffer was hired. By the time he sat his GCSEs – at Rainham Mark Grammar School, where he got As, Bs and one C – he had eight full-time workers.
After revealing his age to potential clients, companies including Amazon and Pot Noodle became customers. Both were attracted by Ben’s youth.
“It just kept building,” Ben tells us. “There’s no secret. I make quick decisions and stick to them, I don’t let anyone down, and I brought in people who I knew would be good.”
Last year, with the annual turnover passing seven figures – and with 26 staff – he agreed a merger with Kent marketing agency, Zest. After overseeing the transition, he left the company in September as a newly-minted millionaire and ready to take on new projects and make new investments.
It’s not all been plain-sailing, he admits. He occasionally gets anxious new people might only be interested in his money.
“There are some people – male and female – who act nice to you, especially on nights out if you have a table in a club, and the girls obviously aren’t unattractive,” he says. “But it’s pretty obvious if they don’t want you for your personality.”
And he adds: “You deal with it by surrounding yourself with real friends and family who love you for you.”