YHP had the opportunity to speak to Jason O’Neill, Jason is the founder of pencil Bugs, the business he started while he was only nine years old, guess what? Jason is only 13 and already in his fourth year of running his business, he has been featured in ABC, MSN, NBC, FORBES.
Hey Jason, How you doing today, Thank you for the opportunity.
Can you tell the readers, how the idea of PENCIL BUGS came about?
When I was nine, my mom was doing a craft fair. I wanted to help her paint the doorstoppers that she was making so I could get some of the money. She said “no” and told me that if I wanted to make money I had to come up with my own idea. That is just what I did. I started by drawing out some designs on paper and came up with the idea of Pencil Bugs.
What was your inspiration? What made you start your business?
After the craft fair, I took Pencil Bugs to school and showed other kids what I was doing. They liked the Pencil Bugs so much that they wanted to buy them. Most of my classmates bought Pencil Bugs so I knew that they were becoming really popular. One day a classmate came to school with $100 and offered to buy my business. I turned him down because I knew I would make more than that in the long run. That was the real turning point from making Pencil Bugs just for a craft fair to becoming a full-on business.
How do you feel starting up a business at such a young age? Has there been any pressure?
As a kid you have nothing to loose. You don’t have to start a business but if you do, you can take it slow. If my business doesn’t work out then not only have I made a decent amount of money for my age but I have learned so much through all of this. So there is not much pressure since if I fail I still have all of my adult years to work.
How did it make homework fun for you?
I didn’t really create Pencil Bugs for myself. I know that there are many other kids who have a hard time with school and especially homework. I have received many e-mails from other kids telling me how my Pencil Bugs have helped make school work a little more fun for them. But Pencil Bugs are not just for kids. Older students and even adults seem to like them just for fun.
How did you find out whether your idea would appeal to others?
I took it to my target audience, my fellow students, and showed the Pencil Bugs to them. The reaction was immediate. They loved them. From the first day I received orders for them, I knew that if I got this reaction from one school that more kids would like them. I tested it on a small scale and expanded it from there. Plus I believed in my product.
What made you come up with that name?
The original name when I sold them at the craft fair was Pencil Pals, but when I went to set up my website after that, I found out how many things go by that name. I had to change the name to something else. Since it is a bug on a pencil, I thought it was appropriate to call them Pencil Bugs. It was simple, easy to remember, and the domain name was available for my website.
How does it feel speaking publicly to large amounts of people and also dealing with this amount of press?
It is really fun and exciting to speak to audiences of all ages and any size. It gives me butterflies for a few minutes each time I start but that is part of what makes it so exciting. The best part of speaking in front of people is that each time is different. Even if your speech is the same, the audience reaction totally can change the whole tone of the speech. Each time I speak I look forward to something new and I never know what to expect.
I know you’ve been featured in top shows such as ABC, MSN, NBC, FORBES, I could go on? How did that come about?
I have never paid for ads so I had to find other ways to get noticed. My mom has really helped me with getting publicity. Some people think that the only good publicity is when you have to pay for it. I am living proof that is wrong. I have won awards, been on national TV, in Forbes articles twice, on radio, in articles all over the Internet, and in countless newspapers and magazines without spending a cent. So if you know what you are doing and use a little creativity, you can get great free media coverage.
I know your parents have been very supportive in your progress? How does it feel to have parents that believe in your idea, your business and you?
Without my parents, neither my business nor I would be here. I am very thankful that they support and help me through everything. Help and support for anything you do is key especially at a young age and parents are the best support a child could have. But even if a parent isn’t able to help, kids can still find other adults to be their mentors and help them start their business.
I know you got some great projects such as working prototype for a board game. You’re also working on a book. I’m not going to give everything away but how is it going? When should we be expecting your book?
My manuscript for my business book is with my agent right now and we are hoping that it will be on store shelves late next year. I also am working on several other books. Early next year, I plan on working on a plush toy version of Pencil Bugs for little kids. The other products like the board game and video game are much further in the future but definitely still part of the plan.
How do you feel to be included in the book The Richest Kids in America?
It is an honor to be named with other very successful young people. The best part about the book is that is recognizes many different kinds of rich. I am not a millionaire yet but I am still very rich in other ways. It’s not about how much you make but what you do with the money once you earn it. I’ve been donating to help other kids since I started my business and I know it makes a difference to them. It’s good to give back when you can.
How do you cope with going to school and running a business?
Balance is important and my parents make sure that I still have time to be a kid. I am not involved in extracurricular activities so I am not running from practice to practice after school. I guess you could say my business is my extra thing. I am also an A-student so school is not much of a problem for me.
What do you like most about running your business?
I love speaking and with speaking events comes travelling. I like to share my story and inspire people to try their ideas. I’ve had so many opportunities and fun experiences because of public speaking.
Who are your role models?
My parents are definitely on the top of the list since they have always been there for me. Bill Gates is also a role model to me since he is a very successful business person and also is a philanthropist. I hope to be able to donate a lot more and help other kids as my business continues to grow.
Who is your favourite from everyone you’ve met so far, and why?
TV personality, Art Linkletter, who happens to be 97 years old. I didn’t know who he was but when I did a speaking event with him and Mark Victor Hansen and other young entrepreneurs, I was fascinated just listening to his stories of how he started as a business person and what he’s done in his life.
Who’s your favourite young entrepreneur at the moment?
Entrepreneur/author Cameron Johnson who is in the “Richest Kids in America” book with me. He is about 24 years old so he has a few more years of business experience than I do. He has a great story of how he got started and even though I have heard it many times, it’s still fun to listen to it because it’s so entertaining. He has had several businesses that he has grown and eventually sold and his business sense is amazing.
Do you have any advice you will like to give to young entrepreneurs thinking of starting an idea/business?
Try your ideas even if people don’t support you. If you believe in them, you have to go for it. You won’t get anywhere by sitting on your ideas.
Don’t give up. Starting a business isn’t easy but if you give up, you’ll never know what might have happened.
Get a parent or someone else who might have gone through some of it before to help you through it. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. You can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes.
Thanks you for your time Jason.
We wish you the best in touch in the future.
Contact Jason/pencil Bugs