Students, faculty, and community members packed the Rhododendron Room in the Slemp Student Center last Wednesday to hear Cameron Johnson talk about his business experiences and advice for success.
A Roanoke native and successful entrepreneur, Johnson’s lecture “The Top 20 Percent: Calling Your Own Shots” was the first in the Alfred and Shirley Wampler Caudill Lecture in Entrepreneurship Series.
Johnson captivated his audience with the story of how he started his first business at the age of nine and owned 12 companies before he was 21-years-old.
But before Johnson opened that first business, he said he learned one important lesson.
At the age of six Johnson wrote a letter to Donald Trump asking to see the suite from “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” during his upcoming stay at The Plaza Hotel and received both a stay in the suite and a tour of the famed FAO Schwarz toy store.
“I learned nobody else is going to do anything for you,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to put yourself out there. You know, ask the girl out you don’t think you have a chance with or write a letter to Donald Trump.”
Returning home from New York, Johnson began reading as many books as he could get his hands on from the successful business people of the day and at the age of nine he decided to start his first business, a greeting card company.
Seeing a prospering opportunity, his business evolved into buying and selling large quantities of Beanie Babies online up to the age of 12.
“I didn’t set out and say I’m going to be the No. 2 Beanie Baby retailer and I’m going to make $50,000,” he said. “It was never about the money, but it was about the competitive spirit how hard could I push myself or how many could I sell at the end of the day.”
Again evolving, Johnson moved into the online advertising business, eventually partnering up with two other young entrepreneurs.
As a result, in ninth grade he was getting checks in the mail for $100,000 a week. Though he was an online CEO, Johnson said he wasn’t that tech-savvy but he knew that surrounding himself with those who had knowledge he didn’t was the key.
“I could come up with the idea and then they could make it happen,” Johnson said.
Today he is still carrying on his entrepreneurial vision and says his success was all about starting small and working hard.
“If there’s nothing else you leave with today, is start small because nothing happens overnight. Everybody started somewhere,” Johnson said. “I didn’t get to where I was or where I am without working hard, working long hours. You always have to sacrifice.”