How I taught myself to code at age 10 and sold my first startup at 14

“Well, you’re going to need a bank account” my mother said as she glanced at the stack of mail-order checks I’d accumulated.

It was the early 2000s and she was happy to continue to nurture the obsession that had kept me glued to the family PC for a few years. I’d created a website where kids my age could drag and drop outfits, hair styles, accessories and more to create tiny yet expressive avatars, then download and print them out to share with friends. The game generated about 100,000 unique users per month and I was 12 years old. I had taught myself what was considered full stack development then, including a mixture of JavaScript and PHP.

My journey into computer programming actually started at an earlier age. By the time I was 10 I had written my first lines of code after hacking the wildly popular “Petz” computer game from the late 90s. I learned how to modify my virtual pets into a rainbow of different colors and sizes. Fluffy neon kittens, and horse-sized poodles, all living on my Windows PC.

A few years later, while the sound of the dialup modem screeched throughout our house alerting everyone that the single phone line was now in use, I realized that an offline version of my drag and drop game would circumvent this uniquely 2000s problem in American households. And I might just be able to get away with charging for it if I shipped out physical CDs.

Off I went to Staples to begin printing labels after creating a branded design. I setup a single landing page advertising the price and address where children’s parents could send physical checks to purchase a copy of the game.

Despite this work, nothing prepared me for the utter thrill and even hints of confusion that someone was sending me $15 for a piece of plastic, graphics and some code I had developed. And not just someone; I ended up selling about 150 CDs before I received a curious email one afternoon about a year later.

The email read, “hey, you have a great website, can we buy it for $[a-sum-any-teenager-would-take].” I gave the offer 10 very serious minutes of thought before immediately saying yes.

I was 14 and had just sold my first startup.

Pictured: My sister (right) and I (left) on an early autumn afternoon.

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