This sounds like any hard worker in the performance marketing space, you think. The only difference is that Gevirtz is a freshman. No, he is not a freshman in college, not the next Shawn Fanning (of Napster fame) working out of a dorm room. Gevirtz is a freshman in high school – a 15- year-old wunderkind.
Gevirtz first got exposed to the world of online commerce by selling diamonds and stamps through eBay auctions and Overstock Auctions when he was 12 years old. Mostly he sold items in the hundred-dollar range but once he sold a $4,000 diamond. The experiences were exhilarating but he was not so thrilled with the shipping process – packing material filled his bedroom and the every-other-day trips to the post office were a drag.
Next, Gevirtz built a MySpace help site through a turnkey solution that cost him $12 on the Digital Points forum. He promoted the site through “basic marketing initiatives like directory submissions” and uploaded ads and also created ads that were his own but looked like AdSense ones.
He says it was his “first gallop into affiliate marketing” and he began to bring in some bucks. But because Gevirtz was on a “crummy ad network” he was getting 1/10 of a click and giving them thousands of clicks for $50-60 a day. “It was terrible but I did not know any better.”
His interest now piqued, Gevirtz started another resource site that provides code generators like profile tracker and layout generators for users to put graphics on their MySpace pages. He moved to Yahoo Publisher Networks and the ValueClick Networks and started to make a lot more money.
By July and August of 2006, Gevirtz was looking into ways that he could make money off of CPA instead of CPC because he prefers the feeling of fulfilling an acquisition – he doesn’t like taking money for a click. Gevirtz says that he once was accused of clicking on his own ads and notes that “you can’t be held liable for click fraud if you are doing CPA stuff.”
Although he does not want to reveal the specifics, Gevirtz says that nowadays he runs a few interactive websites, including graphic sites, which have thousands of pages of content, and says he specializes in things that target a younger audience. Because he is a teen, he knows what teens find appealing, such as ringtones and clothes.
He makes most of his income from CPA nowadays and he focuses on landing pages, noting that in a few years, “landing pages might be on phones.” He says he makes money with paid search and would like to leverage mailing lists to promote offers but acknowledges, “There are so many people like that already.”
Last summer, Gevirtz hired developers to work on his next big project, the details of which he is keeping under wraps. He says the site is based on the idea that “content is king” and it will be focused on getting users to create the content. He hopes to have the main version of the site done by this summer. He has a company with 38 employees in India working on it – a company he found “after hours and hours of Googling.”
Gevirtz’s experience with outsourcing work to a company in India has been very positive – he describes these Indian workers as the most trustworthy people that he has ever worked with – he continually is impressed by their eagerness and how hard they labor to get a job done correctly. He feels good about working with them – not just because they are “respectful and honorable” – but because he literally is “helping them eat.” No doubt there have been “minor problems with the language barrier” but they work through it – by communicating both on the phone and through instant messenger.
Gevirtz blogs at his site, CPAShare.com, which he started this past January, but acknowledges that he struggles to come up with topics. He says that one of his goals is to get a user base going and to get a site where other people are blogging so that he can have mixed opinions – “it would be a portal for e-marketers.” He would like to drive more traffic to his site and in fact, entitles one of his blog entries “Nobody Reads This F—ing Thing.”
A Day in the Life
Not surprisingly, Gevirtz lives at home with his family, in Santa Barbara. He has an older sister, Eloise, who is 22; a little brother, Harland, who’s 10; and a 3-year-old sister name Madeline. His California-born father is in finance and his French-born mother is a part-time yoga teacher and full-time mom.
A typical day starts with Gevirtz “waking up 20 minutes later than he should” – he has to get to school by 8:00 a.m. and his mom takes him on the 20-minute drive. His first class is science, followed by a class entitled “careers,” then a graphic design class, followed by English. He breaks for lunch, and then it’s on to math and the last class of the day, which is “stagecraft.” School ends at 2:49 p.m. – “not that [he is] watching the clock,” he jokes.
He says he does “pretty well” in school, noting that he doesn’t skip class. He says he can’t help but feel like he is rotting away and wasting time during the school day because he would rather be uploading his sites, emailing with affiliate managers or working on some aspect of his business. He says he has a pretty good relationship with most of his teachers, although his math teacher does not like the fact that he text-messages in class.
At school, Gevirtz tries to keep his business endeavors on the down-low – he believes his teachers would get irritated and suspicious if they found out about his online dealings. He recalls a time when teachers were annoyed that a student was selling shirts online and attributes their irritation to two reasons: 1) teachers think there could be a shady aspect to it, like drugs, and 2) the kid was making approximately $50,000 a year and Gevirtz thinks that’s possibly more than the teachers were making and that could rub them the wrong way.
Gevirtz jokes that his favorite class “aside from lunch,” is graphic design, which allows him to get a little bit of work done because he can check email. Recently his parents “flipped a lid” when he told them he was getting a ‘B’ in his graphic design class. They thought he should get an ‘A’ because that’s what he does for a living. He says the class doesn’t really help him because they teach Dreamweaver and he doesn’t use an application to build his sites – he writes code by hand.
He likes math, because he does well in it, and likes the writing and the vocabulary part (it’s easy to memorize) of English class, but he does not like all of the required reading. Even the class’ current read, Lord of the Flies, doesn’t appeal to him. He “hates” science, dismisses stagecraft as “a joke” and does not have a very high opinion of his career class, which is designed to expose students to a variety of future occupations. This type of class is probably the last thing Gevirtz needs; he seems to have a clear understanding of what he will do next.
When he gets home from school around 3:30, Gevirtz sometimes works until midnight or later and says he gets most of his schoolwork done during classes. Gevirtz doesn’t sound that interested in spending a lot of time at the beach (the Pacific Ocean is cold, he explains) or engaging in sports, although he does like to watch college football and root for his father’s alma mater, the USC Trojans. But he says he is not missing out on his teen years – he goes out with his friends and does all the normal things that high school students do – especially now that he has a Treo that makes him mobile.
His mother tells him that when he was 3 or 4 years old, he was playing around on his family’s Macintosh and broke it. The repairman told his mother that her son had somehow tried to access the hard drive and did some serious damage to the $2,000 machine. “After that, I was banned from the family computer for awhile,” he laments.
Gevirtz says he always liked computers – he knew how to save something on the hard drive by the time he was in first grade. He says they teach kids how to type in third grade and he was recognized by his eighth grade class to be the fastest typist – approximately 100 words per minute.
Gevirtz seems to be a natural born entrepreneur and exhibited the opportunistic traits at an early age. When he was in sixth grade, he had a teacher whose friend had a supply of plastic wristbands. Gevirtz agreed to buy them from him for 50 cents each and then sold them to “drunken college kids” for $2. He says he made enough of a profit for souvenir money for his trip to France that summer.
Learning the Business
Gevirtz says that he learns the business by communicating with his affiliate managers, emailing and instant messaging with industry folks whom he meets online and keeps in touch with by talking on the phone. He keeps up with the industry from reading other people’s blogs, like Shawn Collins’ and Jeremy Schoemaker’s ShoeMoney and laments that he does not have the time to read “the thousands of blogs on Technorati.” He also learns from listening to the Affiliate Thing and other WebmasterRadio Shows and “pestering people at Ad:Tech.” He plans to go to more shows in the future because he “likes to be connected” and says that he has a mountain of business cards that he goes through when he needs “to meet new advertisers and stuff like that.”
One observation that Gevirtz has about the industry is that there are a lot of click fraud companies out there “which is kind of sad that the world has come to that.” He says that there is an overabundance of affiliate networks and says some of the networks just piggyback off of other ones – which is bad because it makes it difficult to find a direct offer.
Gevirtz says that his parents are OK with his online endeavors despite not really understanding what he was doing until fairly recently. In April, Gevirtz and his father attended Ad:Tech in San Francisco and one of the affiliate managers from NeverblueAds took the time to explain to him how the system worked and how they worked together.
He says that for the most part, being 15 has not been a disadvantage in the industry. He thinks that people have helped him a bit because of his age and that he should use that wisely because he “only has three years left.” He has had a problem with one affiliate network for not being 18 but he would rather not use them than get his parents involved, saying that he wants to keep things separate from his parents because “there are liabilities even if you are not doing anything wrong.”
Gevirtz has lots of aspirations – one of which is to continue to make money. He enjoys the fruits of his labor; he owns lots of gadgets – including a $3,000 laptop and several servers – is putting his money into a savings account, buys airline tickets (which he says are expensive from Santa Barbara) and treats himself to sushi.
His short-term goal is to buy a BMW m6 10- cylinder vehicle and his longer-term one is to be the next powerhouse. “Google’s becoming a beast; I want to be the beast,” he jokes. He doesn’t feel the need to go to college and would like to continue what he is doing but increase the volume – saying he’d like to “add a couple of zeros” to what he brings in on a monthly basis.
He is ambivalent about wanting to go to college and says he has to be careful about what he says about this issue because his parents are going to read the article and says he likes to tease his parents that he is going to drop out of high school.
Despite his success and business acumen, it’s clear that Gevirtz is not an adult trapped in a teen body – or any of the other Doogie Howser cliches that are used when talking about mature teenagers. Gevirtz is definitely a teenager who complains about having to take the trash out and walking his dog – a task he sometimes outsources to his brother by paying him $10. Given his drive and ingenuity, it will be interesting to see what Gevirtz does next – that is, when he is a high school sophomore.