Silicon Valley is known for attracting the world’s most ambitious young entrepreneurs. With accelerators like Y Combinator and access to the world’s top venture capitalists, it continues to dominate as the hub for technological innovation.
When you think of a successful young entrepreneur, a few traits might come to mind: coder from an elite university, lives in San Francisco, raised millions from investors. This tale is so common that HBO made a sitcom about it.
But not all young entrepreneurs code or live in Silicon Valley. This one is about a kid living in a small town in Georgia who became a millionaire by 20. He can’t code. He didn’t go to college, and he doesn’t have a single investor.
This is the story of Deep Patel — one of America’s youngest self-made millionaires.
Deep Patel, An Entrepreneur From A Young Age
From an early age, Patel showed signs of being a business wunderkind. He spent his middle school days flipping rare coins on eBay, saving up to make his first $2,000 by the time he was 12.
By 17, he published his first book, A Paperboy’s Fable: The 11 Principles of Success. The book is a dramatized tale about a paperboy who uses simple principles to create his own business. Success Magazine named it the “best business book” of 2016. Professors from Harvard and Princeton lauded its message for young entrepreneurs.
“It was inspired by my father’s childhood as a paperboy — all of the stories he used to tell me about his first job when he moved to the U.S.- and my own ambitions. In a way, it was fueled by a desire to figure out how to get to where I wanted to be,” Patel said.
“I think I started flunking English class that year,” lamented Patel, laughing about the demise of his high school grades as his focus shifted to entrepreneurship.
Luckily, the fall of his grades was countered by the rise of his career. Patel’s book launch caught the eyes of executives at Fortune 500 companies. Businesses like IBM, Warner Brothers, and Unilever hired Patel to help them rethink their strategy to reach a young audience. This growing list of clients soon turned into Deep & Co., a marketing agency for fast-growing startups and Fortune 500 brands.
It might be hard to imagine a 17-year-old kid in a New York City conference room strategizing the future of digital marketing with industry veterans, but his clients saw beyond his age.
Breaking Into Tech Without A Single Line Of Code
After two years of running an agency, Patel took his marketing experience and used it to build two new startups: Brandmates and Owlmetrics. The products would offer a suite of marketing tools to help brands and influencers use empirical data to grow their social media presence and increase sales.
“I realized that companies were building entire teams around spending money on social media, without properly measuring where that money was going,” explained Patel.
According to Nielson’s CMO Report of 2018, 82 percent of companies plan to increase their online marketing spend by 50 percent this year. However, only 26 percent expect to receive a positive return on investment. While brands are acutely aware of their need to grow a presence online, few are properly tracking their performance, resulting in consistently poor investments on social media campaigns. Patel sought to solve this discrepancy.
There was only one problem with his plans: he didn’t know how to code. He found himself in need of a team of developers and the capital to hire them. Rather than turn to investors, Patel partnered with an experienced technical co-founder and funded the company himself using profits from Deep & Co.
“Focusing on building a sustainable, profitable business model has always been my priority,” he explained, contrasting this model with Silicon Valley’s grow-at-all-costs culture. That model has paid off for Patel, who maintains full ownership of his companies.
He continued to rely on this profitable approach while building Mood, an e-commerce startup that specializes in CBD products. Mood aims to be a Warby Parker–like brand for CBD, selling an assortment of flavored and unflavored oils, capsules, creams and gummies.
Patel’s startups have collectively generated over 3 million dollars in revenue. Brandmates and Owlmetrics work with mega companies including Hulu and Interscope Records. The platforms provide comprehensive analytics tools for brands and consumers to track the performance of their social media campaigns across multiple social platforms.
Making Millions And Skipping On College
Patel was raised in a middle-class family in Macon, Georgia, a small town with the third-highest level of concentrated poverty in the U.S. Today, the 20-year-old entrepreneur lives in SoHo. He takes client calls from his couch and sits at his living room desk to manage remote employees from his four companies.
Patel originally planned to spend his post-high school days at the University of San Diego. His plans were complicated by the success of his companies. He decided to drop out of college on the first day of class.
“It was hard to justify spending $250,000 dollars to prepare for the real world,” explained Patel, especially when he was already experiencing a fruitful career.
Joresa Blount is the founder of GoFlyy, an author and creator of Brown Girls Innovate too which provides tools and connections for women in tech.