Josh Brnjac looks like a CEO. He acts and talks like one too. So it’s not unusual that he founded and runs two companies that bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Why millennials get stuck in low-paid jobs for longer
What is surprising is he’s a 16-year-old high school dropout who hasn’t sat in a classroom since Year 8.
“As a young person, especially in Australia, there are so many opportunities on our front doorstep, and it’s just about grabbing those opportunities head on,” Josh said.
The South Africa-born teen migrated to Australia with his family when he was seven and started his typical Aussie childhood.
His mum is a teacher and his dad works in education, but Josh has an entrepreneurial streak.
After being gifted a point-and-shoot camera for his 10th birthday he started taking and selling landscape photos.
By age 12 he’d saved $90 in pocket money and used it to create a website — something he learnt to do by watching YouTube tutorials.
The website turned into a creative agency that provides visual content for clients, employs two full-time staff alongside Josh, and brought in $110,000 in the last year.
“My parents have been emotionally supportive, but they’ve never been able to support the businesses at all financially,” Josh said.
“I totally stumbled on the passion and it went from there.”
When the company grew Josh left traditional school in Year 8 and began online education.
In January this year he took the capital raised from his creative agency and used it to start his second company — an online fashion retailer targeting millennials.
At this point he decided it was time to stop formal education altogether.
“It was so hard because I’m still under the legal age that you’re allowed to drop out in Victoria,” he said.
“So it was a process of writing to the head of education in Victoria and getting the whole approval, so that took a few months but I did it in the end.”
His online fashion store now employs three full-time staff and since launching in January has brought in more than $100,000 in revenue.
Josh’s ultimate goal is to create an international investment group that funds start-ups and invests in technology.
But being one of Australia’s youngest CEOs hasn’t been without challenges and Josh calls it a “blessing and a curse”.
In the last year alone he’s hired 11 people who have later quit after finding out his age. And he’s missed out on clients for the same reason (although, interestingly, he said the bigger companies tend to care less).
“I learned over the years that age is not important, so as best I could I try to hide my age,” he said.
“I’m not really playing the victim here, but there’s a lot of negative bias around age.
“Which is totally understandable, I can get that from a client and also an employee perspective, but I think it’s the responsibility now in our generation to lift that stigma a bit.”
Josh has also had to deal with serious mental health issues in the past, including being suicidal when he was 12.
He said finding purpose and meaning in his work helped lift him out of his spiral, and he’s taking this message to the public.
Josh will present a TEDx talk in Melbourne on August 13 where he will delve into issues of depression and youth suicide.
“I wanted to find something that I wanted to wake up and do every day,” he said of his time dealing with depression.
“When you’re going through that suicidal mindset you look in the short-term a lot. It’s a defence mechanism.
“Speaking from my experience, you don’t look at the next year or the next five years, especially as a young person. You look at the next six months, then next month, then next week.
“And then on the dangerous level the next day.”
He’s hoping his story can help inspire others who may be facing a difficult time to realise there is hope.
“It’s working on looking forward and towards the future and seeing, ‘Well, my life can come towards this’,” he said.