I have previously written about how elementary school-aged kids are capable of learning and grasping complex business skills if instructed on such topics, and that the core K-12 curriculum is broken—too much about rocks, state capitols, and cotton gins, and not enough about entrepreneurship, technology coding and other useful skills they may need to succeed in life—especially if they can’t afford the skyrocketing costs of a college education. In this post, I am going to bring that point to life with a case study on Brendan Cox, a 19-year-old entrepreneur I recently met, that has founded 10 different successful businesses to date, which collectively grew his $900 loan from his mother into $250,000 of profits today.
Brendan was an introverted, eager, and creative kid with a fascination for business and a drive to be successful (passed down by his mentor father). He was never interested in more typical school-age activities, like playing video games, which he found boring. Instead, at an early age, he was driven by finding creative ways to make money and “scratch” his entrepreneurial “itch”.
Inspired by his fascination with the DJ setups at a few family bat/bar-mitzvahs, his first business was a DJ company that he started at the ripe old age of nine years old. He demonstrated his desire to learn the business and figured out on his own how to mix music by conducting research on YouTube. After pitching this business idea, Brendan’s parents agreed to help with funding for his equipment as a Christmas gift. And, to get the word out there about his business, he created business cards, flyers, and promotional products, which helped to acquire new customers, and in turn, happy customer references which helped propel word of mouth marketing from there. He learned early the mantra of “under-promising, and over-delivering”, to wow customers and motivate them to help refer new customers.
After working his first job for the community, he was completely hooked and determined to find ways to grow his business and make it even better. He saved all of his earnings, and once he had enough funds in place, he reinvested his profits by purchasing additional equipment and lighting, party giveaways, company gear he designed and by adding a team member. Brendan knew his limitations and outsourced the MC’s job at the gigs, so he could focus on his growing his business skills and eliminate his shortcoming as an introverted person. Brendan was fortunate to have supportive parents, who fostered his interests and encouraged and supported his business endeavors. And, Brendan immediately reimbursed his mother’s investment with the profits from the business.
By the time he entered middle school, Brendan lost his passion for entertainment, which he knew was critical for business success, so he shifted gears and focused instead on using his innovative skills to create a new business. At 14 years old, he took out a $900 loan from his father to start his social media management company. Although his father was skeptical at first, Brendan assured him with confidence in his abilities. His father agreed to let him borrow the $900, and within a week Brendan was able to pay his dad back. Brendan’s success in his social media management is due to his vast understanding of different ways to monetize platforms, which allowed him to grow a combined following of over a million unique users on Instagram. Understanding how to connect with brands, partnering with other agencies, and retaining your audience’s attention are three factors Brendan deems crucial to running a successful Instagram account. Unfortunately, the business side of Instagram became less profitable when Instagram began “sponsored posts” directly through Facebook advertising. So, Brendan switched gears.
Brendan’s next endeavor arose when he saw the profit available by selling phone cases. However, if he wanted to stand out from other competition, he realized his designs needed to be unique and eye-catching. Brendan went back to researching and learned how to master Adobe Photoshop. He named his business Kicks Cases and used social media as his platform to promote his products. While mastering Photoshop, Brendan developed his creative skills abilities beyond phone cases and learned to design advertisements, banners, websites, and other various products.
Brendan got his first design client in 2015 after a startup company in Brooklyn asked him who his graphic designer was for his phone cases. From there, he began outsourcing his talents to other small businesses. He eventually launched Cox Visuals, on a mission to assist small businesses with establishing and growing their brand image. Cox Visuals has since made thousands of designs for satisfied clients who continue to return with new endeavors. Brendan has worked with large startups, such as Habits 365, the next big name in streetwear, that amassed a following of over 125,000 followers on Instagram.
These businesses created a solid foundation for Brendan’s knowledge in business having learned a variety of different skills throughout his multitude of endeavors. Some of the most important skills he learned were through branding various companies. Through these companies, he learned: how to create an appealing company image and corresponding content, how to grow a targeted Instagram following, and how to work with difficult clients.
However, his interest in entrepreneurship continued to grow, and his next business emerged when he found a vacant niche in the market he could fill. At age 17, Brendan created Teen Assistant, a business that matches local teenagers with odd jobs from residents that need help in his community. His goal was to provide teens with extra spending money while they learned basic skills needed when entering the workforce. Luckily, many adults don’t have time to spend accomplishing tasks around the house, and this is where the company found success. Brendan sold Teen Assistant in August 2019 as he was ready to move on to his next big idea.
Through this successful business, Brendan learned how to communicate with customers allowing him to apply this new knowledge and focus on his ultimate passion. “Communication is one thing and good communication is another,” said Cox. He explained that being clear with your customers is crucial to retaining customers and establishing a good reputation. “The best way to satisfy any customer is to give them what they want plus more, go above and beyond their expectations,” said Cox, when asked about how he became successful.
Overall, Brendan’s fascination with graphic design and social media management drives his success at Cox Visuals and its sister company Cox Social Media Management. Brendan believes the key to a successful graphic design business is patience, openness and having the ability to take criticism. If you can’t listen and take constructive criticism in business, you will never succeed. His graphic design skills teamed with his knowledge for entrepreneurship allowed him to cultivate a following of over 30,000 on an entrepreneurship account. Brendan’s advice to grow a following on social media is to stay consistent. “So many people reach out to me and don’t understand why they haven’t received 1,000 followers within the first 24 hours of starting their page. Instagram is all about providing consistent valuable content. When starting a page think to yourself if you would follow it yourself?” said Cox, when discussing how to make an account on Instagram go viral.
While focusing on Cox Visuals, Brendan is expanding his knowledge in a new way and creating a podcast called All Up in Ur Business, a way for Instagram viewers (already up to 36,000 followers) to learn about all different entrepreneurs and their businesses. Brendan understands the value of trends in businesses and realizes some endeavors will phase out; however, with constant creativity new ventures are bound to arise. All Up in Ur Business will take the same approach of educating his listeners. Over the years, Brendan has grown an extensive network of likeminded individuals through making an effort to seek out those with the same mindset. He now wants to use his network to enable others to learn tips of success by those who are continually succeeding.
Brendan is a unique character for his age group. His knowledge and experience is accumulated from vast hours of work and determination to succeed. A crucial lesson Brendan has learned from his startup companies is how to budget time. Brendan explains that budgeting time is everything in business, “Budget your time wisely otherwise you will catch yourself scrolling through social media wasting time. Download a calendar app and create a strict schedule for your day – of course with time off for relaxation and other activities.” While being in high school for many of his endeavors, Brendan sought out a strict schedule to budget his time for work and school. Although he did well in school, he mentioned that work came first. “Even though I still study hard and maintain good grades, I see my businesses as a higher priority than schoolwork. Throughout my several years of being involved with businesses, I have learned so much more than I will ever learn in a classroom,” said Cox.
Brendan is currently in college at the University of Scranton, because he felt he “needed to”, to fit within societal norms and expectations, not because he wanted to. But, he knew college would help him grow his base of connections and help him mature, socially, more than any other reason. He is supposed to graduate in 2023, but that entrepreneurial “itch” is scratching again, and he may take the coming semester off, to better focus on growing his business ventures. The business workload has grown to 90% of his time, versus school work at 10% of his time, and he needs to prioritize his efforts. Brendan much preferred his educational time at the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, as it directly ties to his business passion.
When asked where he sees himself in five years, Brendan says “5 years is tough. Things change every day for me. My dream is to ultimately be working behind the scenes branding some of the world’s largest social media influencers. Since I was young, I have been fascinated by the business side of influencers. When I watch a YouTuber I am not necessarily watching them for their content but more watching them to study them as an entrepreneur. Through my businesses, I have learned the behind the scenes of the social media world and would love to apply that knowledge with influencers and helping them monetize their followings.”
To all you young school-aged readers out there, take these lessons and apply them to your life and educational path, and you may build a small fortune for yourself. And, to all you school administrators building curriculums for our schools, we can do a lot better for our kids, in teaching them lifelong skills they can immediately apply into success, a lot earlier in their lives, as they may not be able to afford the rising costs of college. It’s time to step up your game, as our future generations’ collective economic success are relying on you, especially in a world where 40% of jobs today are going to be disintermediated by automation in the next decade or two.