Andrew Mernin meets a young entrepreneur who, despite still being a teenager, has already got a string of internet-based success stories to his name
WHILE most of his 12-year-old peers were immersed in a world of video games, football and general mischief-making, Jonathan Grubin was already working on creating his own business empire.
Fast forward five years and Grubin - now studying A-Levels at Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School – has established himself as a veteran of online enterprise.
Earlier this year, the 17-year-old launched a website which allows customers to receive Christmas presents for free in return for filling out sponsors’ offers and recommending that their friends do the same.
FreeXmas.co.uk offers free gifts such as iPods, games consoles, digital cameras and TVs on the condition that users complete various online marketing forms run by clients such as movie rental firm Lovefilm.com and dating website Match.com.
Jonathan said he was inspired to set up the business by the current economic downturn which looks likely to put embattled consumers under further pressure this Christmas.
At the time of the launch he said: “I think it’s unfair that the international economic climate should mean that parents have to feel they’re letting their children down, as pennies are counted all over the region.”
But Grubin’s pre-Christmas business is just the latest in a long line of online ventures which have enjoyed a level of success which belies his age.
To date he has netted himself around £100,000 – not bad in comparison to the typically measly teenage income made through flipping burgers or stacking shelves.
His first business, which he set up when he was barely out of short trousers, offered free screensaver downloads for mobile phones after rival sites were charging youngsters for downloads.
More recently he launched ForFree4U.co.uk which offers visitors free iPods and digital cameras for signing up their friends to its advertisers.
He also runs livenewcastle.co.uk, a resource website for Newcastle with listings, reviews and directories.
Grubin’s business started life as a hobby after he taught himself how to set up and run a website.
However, when a cheque landed on the doormat, significantly boosting the coffers in his piggy bank, he realised that he may have stumbled on his chosen career.
He said: “I started it as a hobby but after five months a £10 cheque came through the door and thought I could make more of it. I was very naive when I started out but I have learned a lot about cash flow and getting my name out there in the last five years.”
The A-level student, who claims his studies have never been compromised in the pursuit of revenue, also credits his family for playing a major role in his success. He said: “My dad was really proud of me getting something started but my mum and brother were quite apprehensive at first but now they are moving towards accepting it. My brother telling me that I couldn’t do it actually spurred me on and now he’s been asking me for a job.”
In fact, Grubin recently gave his sceptical brother the reins of the business for a month while he enjoyed some of his earnings with a month-long trip to Asia. He is yet to be offered a permanent position however.
In the meantime the Gosforth resident is hoping his latest venture will prove profitable in the run up to Christmas while he is also currently working on his own corporate social responsibility (CSR) plan.
“I’ve learned a lot about what a business’s role in society and how to use what I’m doing to grow my business and to engage with things that are happening in the world. I’m exploring ways of doing more in the community. Hopefully I will be able to invest in more social projects.”
Of course there is still the small matter of A-levels and maybe a degree for Jonathan to battle through, but there’s no doubt that the budding Richard Branson is a name to look out for in the future.