Like most businessmen, the founders of a new Web site spend their time schmoozing clients, reporting to investors and promoting their business. But unlike most guys in the biz, they still make time for skateboarding and playing Nintendo and Xbox video games.
Longtime buddies Brice Ginn, Ben Bromberg, Troy Paulson and John Schaus are the brains behind Namastic.com, a new social networking site.
They are all under 22 and represent a growing group of young entrepreneurs who call Scottsdale home. Others include two young Scottsdale businessmen who created a popular energy drink and the founder of a local spa.
The entrepreneurs say the Valley is gaining a reputation as friendly to startups.
“It is a lot different starting here than L.A. or New York or Miami, where it’s defi nitely harder, more developed and not much room for new guys to come up,” said Mike Jannicelli, 25, creator of Socko energy drink.
Three-and-a-half years ago, Jannicelli teamed up with Jordan Harwood, 31, while they were working at the Axis/Radius bar in Scottsdale.
They tout Socko as more than a drink — it’s a way of life — and now travel worldwide and work with celebrities like Hulk Hogan and Sylvester Stallone.
“Overall, the demographics of Phoenix are a good place for anybody to be,” Harwood said. “There’s a healthy economy and great weather, which is conducive to travel. No typhoons.”
For Michelle Novak, 38, Scottsdale’s reputation for chic resorts made it a natural choice for her massage and spa business. She started it just three years ago at age 35.
“I was looking for an upscale consumer, and obviously that’s what the market entails in Scottsdale,” she said. “It’s worked very well.”
Deron Webb, president of the Arizona chapter of Entrepreneurs Organization, said although the word “entrepreneur” might bring young people to mind, they actually are a rare breed.
“The perception is that they would be young, but most entrepreneurs come out of middle-level management,” Webb said. “Either they’ve been terminated, had a midlife crisis or experienced a change in their life that has caused them to go out and pursue their passion.”
But the guys behind Namastic.com don’t fit the mold. Their story began just after they graduated from Red Mountain High School in Mesa.
Bromberg and Schaus, both 20, had been running a small T-shirt business out of their parents’ backyard. After turning 18, they had already invested in equipment, registered with the state as a limited liability corporation and sold their wares at Superstition Springs Center.
Soon they met Tim and Marie Ralston, creators of the marketing firm, E-Image Agency, who saw something special in them and decided to help.
“I have never met a more motivated group of young kids,” Marie Ralston said. “They’re going to make an impact in this world.”
Before long, Ginn, 20, and Paulson, 21, also were working for Ralston developing Web sites while simultaneously writing a business plan and attracting investors to support their venture.
The site is similar to MySpace.com because it allows friends to log on as part of a community. But it also is a forum for artists and musicians to submit their work, which goes into a contest. The winner in online voting receives a deal to sell works on the site.
Bromberg said the name is from “namasté,” a South Asian word that is a peaceful way to say “hello” and “goodbye.” He hopes the site will create unity among its users.
“Our whole concept was to create this space online that was clean and world changing,” he said in an e-mail.
The friends say that although they dress the part and treat their clients professionally, sometimes they can’t escape the perception of being too young.
“We hear that all the time,” Paulson said. “We walk in the bank, and it’s like, ‘What are you doing with this money?’ ”
And they already have had to learn a few lessons the hard way, including how to deal with expensive equipment that breaks down.
“We learned that we’re going to fall on our faces sometimes,” Bromberg said. “We’re not always going to be right, but it doesn’t hurt to try.”
Jannicelli and Harwood said they also have learned a few lessons during their years in the beverage business.
“We’ll always have challenges, but I feel like they get much bigger,” Jannicelli said.
Now, instead of worrying about buying their first fax machine, they have to hire a human resources manager. And instead of one lawyer, they’re dealing with hundreds.
The two friends say they’ll stay with it while they can still be creative. “We’ve created something that when people look at it, they say, ‘Socko makes me want to smile,’” Harwood said. “Not too many people get to do that for a living.”