Harry Sanders’ company doubled its revenue to $3 million in 2019. Picture: Supplied
Harry Sanders’ company doubled its revenue to $3 million in 2019. Picture: Supplied

From homeless teen to $3 million boss

Harry Sanders might be running a multimillion-dollar company - but he still often finds himself fretting over a humble $3 bagel.

That's because the frugal 22-year-old had to learn the value of money the hard way after spending a year of his teens sleeping rough.

Just five years later, he has completely transformed his life and is one of the country's most successful young entrepreneurs - but he told news.com.au he still struggled to believe in his "crazy" success.

Mr Sanders was just 17 years old when his parents divorced, and the disruption ended with him couch surfing, moving "in and out" of often violent government housing and even living on the streets for "a good year".

"Nobody every expects to see themselves become homeless but I didn't come from a wealthy background, and sometimes when it's pay cheque to pay cheque, a few small things can happen and that's it," he told news.com.au.

Harry Sanders, pictured at age 16, became homeless a year later. Picture: Supplied
Harry Sanders, pictured at age 16, became homeless a year later. Picture: Supplied

He struggled to access Centrelink benefits and when he was given government housing, he found himself living with people with drug addiction issues, which left him fearing for his safety.

"Getting on Centrelink is so insanely tough and there are so many hoops to jump through. Every rich person who has never been on Centrelink thinks it's just free cash going out but it's not like that - I had social workers and the whole kit and caboodle," he said.

"The whole mental headspace was tough as well - there's a feeling of worthlessness and of being a burden."

At the time, the only thing the teen had to his name was StudioHawk, a search engine optimisation (SEO) company he had registered previously.

But he was so desperate he even unsuccessfully tried to cancel it and get a refund from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

While it might seem strange that a teenager would have their own company, Mr Sanders had grown up "tinkering away" on websites and had a natural knack with technology, and had discovered his passion for SEO while working a part-time job at another agency.

Harry Sanders started his own company as a teen. Picture: Supplied
Harry Sanders started his own company as a teen. Picture: Supplied

The high-schooler soon realised he had to focus on his business out of "sheer necessity", and he spent his energy networking and working for free in a bid to attract clients.

Thankfully he had an old school laptop and a "cheap knock-off phone" and he would head into his local Vinnie's store to use their Wi-Fi and electricity.

He also managed to complete high school with a "decent" ATAR even with just 20 per cent attendance thanks to the support of a school counsellor, but after he landed his first paying clients, StudioHawk finally started to take off.

It didn't come easily - it took up to a year before Mr Sanders had enough money to move into a sharehouse, and in the first year he said he was "lucky to make $30,000 - with $6000 of that profit".

But in 2019, StudioHawk doubled its revenue to $3 million and this year it's on track to make even more - a feat Mr Sanders described as a "crazy journey".

"To go from nothing to this has been a crazy ride and it's so surreal getting on planes and doing all these things when not that long ago I was literally trying to scrape $10 together to get food from Baker's Delight for lunch and dinner," he said.

"Making all this money now is great but it doesn't really feel real. I have a company worth millions of dollars but sometimes I still catch myself fretting about a $3 bagel and asking myself, 'do you really need this?'

"When I first started using UberEats I felt almost dirty thinking it was a disgusting waste of money - now I've got money in the bank and good things are happening, but I still don't have crazy spending habits and I still have moments where I think it's too good to be true."

HOW HE DID IT

Mr Sanders got his first part-time job at a SEO agency at 14 and excelled, before landing another job as head of search at 16 and leading a team of seven - while still attending high school.

"It's a ludicrous thing at 16 or 17 having 40-year-olds report to you, but that's how it is in the SEO industry - people respect whoever is best at it, whether they're 17 or 80," he said.

"During the first week I thought I was out of my depth but I soon realised I had more knowledge compared to a lot of the guys."

Mr Sanders, who is set to deliver a TEDx talk in Melbourne next month, soon realised he could do it better, and decided to strike out on his own in his late teens when he was still "young and naive".

StudioHawk has expanded into London … Picture: Supplied
StudioHawk has expanded into London … Picture: Supplied

He said having such a grown-up role at a young age gave him the experience and maturity he needed to take a gamble on his own business - which has now paid off.

Today, StudioHawk is an award-winning boutique agency with a team of around 20 employees and with offices in Melbourne and London.

But despite his success, Mr Sanders is convinced it all came down to his simple decision to take a risk.

"Other young people out there can do the same thing - I'm not special, I'm not a crazy boy genius. I'm just a guy who has given it a go and more people should do that," he said.

DREAM JOB UP FOR GRABS

As a young person who has survived homelessness and built a thriving company without formal qualifications, Mr Sanders is now passionate about helping others reach their full potential.

That's why he's now advertising for a "dream job" at StudioHawk's Melbourne office which could pay "six figures" within two years - with no prior experience or uni degree needed.

Mr Sanders is looking for someone with "top gaming skills" who will get paid to learn on the job as a junior SEO analyst.

… and has around 20 employees. Picture: Supplied
… and has around 20 employees. Picture: Supplied

He said gaming enthusiasts were a perfect match for the entry-level role, which comes with a salary package of $50,000 plus super and the chance to increase to a six-figure wage in two years as skill levels increase.

"Gamers have the skills we need. The skills SEO needs. They work really well in teams. They're great at analysing. They have super-fast reaction times and they like to be on

top of what's trending," he explained, adding the right person could be anyone from a recent high school graduate to a "career changer".

To apply for the role click here.


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