Success Secrets of 30-Something Moguls
By Lea Goldman
Photo Credit: Perry Hagopian
Tina Wells, 30
CEO, Buzz Marketing Group
AGE AT TIME COMPANY WAS FOUNDED: 16
INITIAL INVESTMENT: $0 she founded the company on a quid pro quo basis.
CURRENT NUMBER OF FULL-TIME EMPLOYEES: 7
"I'VE MADE IT BIG" SPLURGE: "My house. I bought it on my own, renovated it, put in a new kitchen, treatments in the dining room, and custom closets. My siblings call it home. I'm really proud of it."
Wells knows what girls want. Her teen-focused market research firm, based in Voorhees, New Jersey, boasts blue-chip clients like Sony BMG, PBS, and American Eagle. She is also the author of the Mackenzie Blue young-adult book series.
"In high school, I wrote product reviews for a local newspaper. Pretty soon, companies started sending me things directly, asking me to give them feedback. It got to be too much for me to do by myself, so I brought in friends to help, in exchange for free samples. Before long, my friends started telling their friends, and by my senior year of college, I had 250 'buzzSpotters' and was working with Verizon and Chrysler."
SECRET #2 Stir up some controversy.
"I decided that if I was to be taken seriously, I had to get noticed. So I began to publish reports about things nobody was talking about. One was on illegal downloading, which the recording industry wasn't too concerned with at the time. I did a survey with 500 buzzSpotters that found that 99 percent had illegally downloaded music in the previous month. People paid that report serious attention."
SECRET #3 Money is always an issue, even after you've made it.
"My friends and I joke that we've got 'high-class problems' the same problems we used to have, just multiplied by 100. I started out thinking, Oh, crap, I need $1,500 to pay the rent. Now, 10 years later, I think, Crap, I've got to make a $15,000 payment. Last fall, I had a ton of clients, but then the recession hit. And when big clients stop paying their bills, you feel like you're starting all over again."
SECRET #4 Successful moguls are frugal.
"Business first is a lifestyle. I drive a Nissan Murano. Sometimes people say to me, 'Oh, I'm surprised you don't have a Mercedes.' But you have to have something to work toward. If I had that now, then I'd feel like I'd made it and become complacent. Besides, your employees need to know they're working for someone who isn't buying Louis Vuittons one day, then laying people off the next."
SECRET #5 Reputation is everything.
"I just turned down an offer to star in an episode of Millionaire Matchmaker. It highlights a pretty flashy lifestyle, and to do the show would have been really off-message. There are definitely times I wish I could just chuck my reputation aside and do things for fun. But I've got to preserve my image."
SECRET #6 Be an idea machine.
"A couple of years ago, I was hearing from moms that their daughters were into Gossip Girl, but that it wasn't really age-appropriate. I challenged myself to come up with something that could interest these girls. So I developed the Mackenzie Blue books for HarperCollins. I've shifted from doing research to creating new, innovative products. Five years from now, I'll probably be running my own media company."