From reptiles to riches: 24-year old millionaire

@CNNMoneyTech May 19, 2011: 10:31 AM ET
Nat Turner, Invite Media, Google

Nat Turner turned a startup he founded in his college dorm room into something he sold to Google for more than $70 million.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Last year, at the ripe old age of 24, Nat Turner sold his company, Invite Media, to Google for more than $70 million.

The idea that made him a multimillionaire was a new technology for online advertising. But Turner had always been an entrepreneur. At a young age, he created a reptile breeding business out of his bedroom.

"I kept snakes and a few pets. That ended up blossoming. I ended up having 400 snakes in my bedroom. And then I started building websites. So I got asked to build a website for one of my snake clients."

After learning to build a website, Turner started expanding his clientele. His next company was a web design company. Turner also created a business around collecting baseball and basketball cards, traveling around the world to sell at conferences.

Turner eventually wound up attending the University of Pennsylvania, and it was there that he hatched the idea that became Invite Media.

Of course, many of Turner's fellow twentysomethings haven't been so fortunate. With the unemployment rate higher than average for younger folks, many would say the chances of building a successful company at a young age are few and far between.

But Turner disagrees. He says it's a great time to have a good idea.

"I honestly think people who are younger have a much bigger advantage," he said. "They also have a lot more insight into what people like - Facebook couldn't have been invented by someone that was 50 years old."

Turner says building a technology company during a downturn in the economy gave him an advantage. "The best time to start a company is when no one else is, in my opinion," he said "When there's a recession, it means people aren't innovating."

The recession also created a demand for his advertising venture.

"The economy crashing actually helped us," he said. "Our clients were more concerned with the performance of their online advertising."

Chris Dixon, CEO of online recommendation site Hunch and an early investor on Turner's company, says many of the engineers that would normally take Wall Street jobs started to think outside the box.

"Once the crash happened, I think people did a lot of soul searching and thought about different paths," he said. "We've seen a pretty big migration over into the technology world on the East Coast."

Although the job sector is still polarized, Dixon says the tech sector is a bright spot in the economy.

"The technology world is actually doing very well both from an economic point of view. it's one of the U.S.'s best exports."

More on America's job hunt

And there's evidence that technology startups are looking to hire aggressively despite the economic conditions -- just months ago, the NYC Startup Job Fair drew a packed-to-capacity crowd of both job seekers and those looking to hire them and was forced to send away 80 startups looking to attend and recruit.

But a career in technology and innovation doesn't necessarily mean a fast track to millions. Turner admitted that many of his ventures weren't successes.

And Turner, who's currently at Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), continues to work on Invite Media with no plans to slow down.

And while he'll admit, part of his fortune is luck, another part is hard work and the pursuit to innovate.

"We always felt serendipity was our favorite word -- that the harder we worked, and we worked way harder than our competitors, the luckier we would get," he said. To top of page

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