By Curtis Bunn, Urban News Service
Jaylen Bledsoe, 17, was astonished when a teenager told him his life’s goal was to become a drug dealer.
Bledsoe, who gained national attention for creating a thriving Internet design company, could not fathom the youth’s position … at first.
“That was his dream,” Bledsoe told Urban News Service in a rare extended interview. “(But) knowing the (lack of) support he had and the community he (lived in), there was no one there to teach him beyond school. (It) was the community, the drug dealer. That’s where he saw success. He saw drug-dealing as the (reason) they have the cars they have, the money they have, the women they have.”
In that moment, for Bledsoe, a larger vision came into focus. He had achieved astonishing success in building a website design business when he was just 14, inspiring business camps in St. Louis and Dallas for teenagers, and developing the Jaylen D. Bledsoe Global Group — a company that specializes in brand expansion consulting for celebrities like Steve Harvey, business development, venture capital funding and direct marketing strategies, among other disciplines.
But the talk with the young man inspired him, he said, to prioritize the Young Entrepreneur University, a program for teenagers where he would “teach students who have not been heavily exposed to entrepreneurship the concepts and fundamentals of building a business, based on the idea of innovating for people.”
Bledsoe has partnered with major companies, including K Swiss and AT&T, was featured on the Bishop T.D. Jakes Show and, through referrals, has a growing clientele of celebrities in need of brand development. This includes developing online strategies that expand companies’ reach and product identification.
That’s heady stuff for anyone — especially a teenager. But then, Bledsoe is hardly a typical 17-year-old.
It would be too simplistic to call him a millionaire boy-genius. Yes, four years ago, he became an internet sensation when his IT company reportedly was worth $3.5 million.
And, yes, he scored 28 out of 36 on the ACT … without even studying. But the true measure of this wunderkind is in his mission — and it has nothing to do with taking over the world, but certainly is about changing the business world.
“It’s more like crafting young people in our society to be entrepreneurs,” Bledsoe said.
“Entrepreneurship is a hot topic right now for young college students trying to find their way, but that’s the youngest age in which efforts extend to. If I can use my story to motivate, inspire and push a young person who may be lost in life, then that’s my purpose.”
“To work for him now is pretty remarkable,” said Wilmer Jackson-Spencer, Bledsoe’s business manager, who grew up in the same neighborhood. “He has such a high aptitude. He’s very clear in what he wants done and how he wants it done. He doesn’t watch football or play sports. He’s all about the Jaylen Bledsoe Global Group. His focus and diligence force me to put that into my work — and I’m 37. It’s amazing to have the kind of engagement he has.”
Bledsoe is so fiercely private that he frowns on his family having access to the media. He says “fun” is limited to an infrequent episode of video games or trips to the mall with a small group of like-minded friends.
Working is his “rush,” he said, with his Young Entrepreneurs University among his top initiatives. Through a digital curriculum of online courses, he plans to make an “international program teaching youths (around the world) how to innovate” in new businesses.
Bledsoe already employs 180 people across the nation. His company used its search engine optimization experience to help comedian and entertainment star Steve Harvey earn $8 million in presales of his book, Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man, according to Jackson.
Remarkably, Bledsoe insists he is not driven by “chasing money” or material possessions — he drives a used Nissan Altima — a mindset that he realizes makes him unlike the average teenager.
He shuns discussing the financial part of his life, believing that the focus on money subtracts from his work and gives the false impression that money rules his life.
“I look back at an interview I did at 14,” Bledsoe said, “and that interview went viral (because of the headline ‘teenage millionaire’). For me, the focus shouldn’t have been that.
“Success is not about the money you’ve made or how much your company is worth. Success is the ability to impact lives (within) your purpose, doing something you love. For me it’s about distancing myself from the numbers … Money’s not that solution.”
Then what is, especially to a teenager? “Success is impacting and innovating and helping people in their lives,” Bledsoe said. “Whether it’s through philanthropy efforts or through innovating a business idea for them …We help companies and individuals understand and operate better with technology. Now we’re helping celebrities and major brands reorganize their brands and grow and inspire people.”
Asked if he is surprised by his success, Bledsoe was typically beyond-his-years introspective. “I’m surprised,” he said, “but do I understand why? Yes. God has a divine purpose in life for me … My principle is that we all get a dream. But the difference between the successful dreamers and not-successful dreamers is that the successful dreamers take God’s dream and act on it.”
Bledsoe said he is ready to take on college, but he has to endure his last year of high school first. He has been accepted at Stanford University and plans to study international business and psychology. Meanwhile, though, high school is not much of a challenge for Bledsoe, even while taking advanced courses.
“If compared to average 17-year-olds in my community, my focus is different,” he said. “For them, it may be, ‘How do I get my next paycheck or buy some jewelry?’ For me, it’s, ‘How can I innovate for people? How can I build my brand so I can help people and save someone’s life?’
“I want to be the go-to guy for digital strategy and business development among celebrities and Fortune 500 companies.”
“It’s a cliché, but everyone agrees,” said Jackson-Spencer. “Jaylen hasn’t even scratched the surface. The best thing about that is that he will help people, especially young people, along the way.”