Sleep. Study. Sell: One freshman takes business beyond the curriculum

A watch for sale by Trevor James Products. (Photo courtesy of trevorjamesproducts.com)

Midnight, Saturday, and Corrinne Hall Towers is quiet, having emptied out for a night of partying. Outside of room 345, anyone can hear the consistent “tap, tap, tap” of strokes on a keyboard, and maybe the faint echo of indie folk band Lord Huron coming from under the door.

This is the main office of Trevor James Products, where young entrepreneurship and self-employment go beyond Framingham State’s curriculum and become very serious business.

“On Saturday night, I called him,” said John Oldham, father of 18-year-old Trevor James Products CEO Trevor Oldham. “And I said, ‘Hey Trev, what’s going on? Are you going out tonight?’ and he said, ‘Dad, I’ve got about five hours of work for my business – I can’t go out.’ And I’m thinking to myself, ‘19 years old on a Saturday night and he’s in his dorm working on his own business.’ It’s like every parent’s dream.”

Freshman finance major Oldham is the sole owner of this online bracelet and watch company.

The humble design of his wrist-ware suggests the simple pleasures of relaxing by the shore, as his product line is focused on symbols of summer and the beach, specifically the Cape Cod lifestyle.

Metal anchors, compasses and ship helms are the most common symbols in Oldham’s products. These charms are held in place by different colored ropes, and each rope wraps four times around the wearer’s wrist, creating the illusion of a set of bracelets, rather than just one.

Though Oldham does not design or manufacture his own products, he makes certain that his bracelets appeal to fans of this coastline aesthetic.   

Oldham half-heartedly designed the site when he was in high school, receiving his product from the outsourcing site Alibaba. He posted a few pictures and ignored the site for some time, selling only one bracelet over the course of months, before he began to take his own business more seriously.

Prompting Oldham’s sudden boost in motivation was an unpleasant brush with the world of retail. After having worked for a short time at an Olympia Sports store, Oldham decided that from that point on, he always wanted to be his own boss.

“I kind of got fired,” he said, “and my mom was the manager. … I realized that I don’t like working for people.”

Learning from that experience, Oldham quickly discovered the benefits of owning his own business, and those benefits became an everyday reality for him.

“It’s really great,” he said. “I create my own hours. I don’t have people telling me what to do, or a boss or a salary cap.”

Oldham started his entrepreneurship career by selling cell phone cases, which he had imported from China, to friends and family. While this business was short-lived, lasting about a month, he gained valuable skills pertaining to buying on the global market.

After having lunch with Griffin Thall, CEO of Pura Vida Bracelets, a similar bracelet startup company out of California that grossed about $7 million last fiscal year, Oldham thinks he could achieve the same results, but with an East Coast appeal. Thall was recently featured on Forbes’ “30 Under 30,” and has given Oldham advice about how to market properly and how to engage with other people, Oldham said.

Oldham remodeled the site he attempted to make in high school about six months ago using the website design company, Wix. Within three weeks, he said, he had full understanding of their simple software and designed a professional-looking website under his own domain, TrevorJamesProducts.com.

Oldham agreed to donate 10 percent of his total sales to Waves for Water. This charity organization provides $50 water filters, each serving 100 people, to impoverished areas in third world countries.

To get the company started, he said, cost him “no more than $100.”

By using an impressive collection of different online services such as UpWork, Wix and Alibaba, Oldham was able to create revenue not physically, but virtually.

Now, averaging about $500 a week, Oldham maintains an impressive budget for not only a college student, but also a teenager. Age, in the case of any young entrepreneur, is both an advantage and a hindrance. Oldham is no exception.

Over the last month, Oldham has been advertising his products to local jewelry stores and gift shops, hoping to get his wrist-ware on to actual market shelves. As he anticipated, he is experiencing a lot of discrimination not only because of his age, but also because of his gender.

“I’m young, and people don’t take you seriously when you’re young,” he said. “Honestly, the hardest struggle I’m having right now is trying to get into stores. Also, I’m a guy selling women’s bracelets, which doesn’t help.”

But his friend, business associate and mentor, 20-year-old Nick Piva, constantly reminds him to keep his head in the game, and that persistence is key to financial success.

Piva, founder of Candleworks Publishing and Xtrend, co-owner of BecometheLion.com and chief financial officer of Driven Activewear, maintains a consistent gross of six figures per year. Piva said Oldham has asked him about many aspects of the Internet entrepreneurship industry.   

“At the beginning, he struggled with the mindset,” said Piva, who shares the motivational website BecometheLion.com and the affiliated Instagram account with Oldham.

“When you’re not surrounded by young entrepreneurs, when you’re surrounded by guys who don’t really care about business at this young age, and just want to party and all that, it’s hard to care. I think I’ve given him the influence to keep doing the right thing,” he said.

Piva introduced Oldham to a group of friends who share a daily “mindset bubble,” in which their motivation can remain unhindered by the sometimes distracting pressures of the academic atmosphere around them, he said.

Being taken seriously as young entrepreneurs is one of the industry’s biggest pressures, but what some see as a deterrent others see as an advantage.

“I’m sure we would both rather be underestimated,” Piva said, “because that’s only going to fuel us to go further and further. The real entrepreneurs in our industry know we are not a joke. With the Internet, age is never a factor.”

But in the short life of the Internet, the work of a young entrepreneur has gone from door-to-door to site-to-site. The majority of Oldham’s daily work is networking. He spends about five hours a day making phone calls and contacting people online. On top of school work, maintaining an online business is a mundane task, he said.

“I send out hundreds of emails a day to people who might want to advertise our brand, people who buy my products and people who want to take photos for me. That’s the hardest thing – getting my name out there.”

For now, Oldham’s workload is about 50 hours per week, mostly night hours, he said. But soon enough, he plans on putting his business on auto-pilot and starting the whole process again.

“I’m trying to become a millionaire by the time I am 25,” he said. “That’s the goal.”

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