May 16, 2001
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'If I Can Do It, Anyone Can'

Sonia Chopra

Ruchit Shah hasn't hit 18 yet. But he's already created and managed a million-dollar company and now, he's retiring.

Maybe for a while. Maybe not. Right now, he's keeping his options open. For the immediate future, there are two items on his agenda: go to college and enjoy life.

He may be among the 'normal' teenagers in that respect, but he has been anything but that his entire life.

As a toddler, Ruchit Shah was outgoing and confident. In school, when his classmates were talking about future plans, he was sure he was going to be a billionaire by 25. He also prophesied that his success would come through computers.

Shah had reason to be confident. By age 12, he had mastered basic and advanced computer languages like C, MS Access and Visual Basic.

At 15, the North Carolina resident displayed an intense interest in the Internet and ways of doing business on the Net. Online, he met another high school student in New York Richard Hecker, who shared his passion for business.

They began chatting about Shah's Web site on the stock market, and the best ways to make money on the Web.

Within a few months, they co-founded a million-dollar company called ClickZen.Com, an advertising network that sells and serves banner space through a variety of Web sites.

Among their clients are small startups like and MasterCard. They built their company on one of the most fundamental business commandments: make more money than you can spend.

But while they set it up by their research, ideas and business savvy, they could not register a company under their own names as they were not of legal age. So the company is registered in their fathers' names.

Looking back, Shah credits his parents with his success: "A person can only be as remarkable as the people around him, which are my parents, my friends and my little brother Rishi," he said.

"I couldn't have done it without them. I really have to thank them and my teachers."

Their parents were sceptical, encouraging, supportive and today, very proud of their sons.

"We are extremely proud of him and all our friends are taking Ruchit as a role model for their kids. We are very happy... and look forward to more success and accomplishment from him," said his father Kishor, a chemical engineer who works in Saudi Arabia and visits their family home in Charlotte, North Carolina, every six months. His family visits him in Saudi Arabia during the time he can't be there.

"We are surprised that Ruchit's success came sooner than expected. Last year, he explained his business ideas to us and we could not fully grasp completely what he was saying, but at the same time we gave him all the encouragement he needed for the business venture."

Shah was exceptional as a child, his parents agree. "He was something special. We realized from the early days that he possesses very good entrepreneurial qualities because he was always thinking about the opportunities in business areas," Kishor said.

"No words can describe how bright he was... and naughty too. We were always sure he would do something great, but we didn't expect it so soon," said his mother Ramila, a teacher, who remembers scolding him for reading books way past midnight.

But Shah laughs off the idea of being a genius. "We were lucky. Maybe 5 per cent of it is luck, but you need that percentage to get the rest of the stuff to work," he said. "I am one of the lazy kind and my aim is always how can I get more by doing less. And if I can do it, anyone can."

He started ClickZen with $280 from his savings account and an $800 bank loan, while Hecker and he were pulling straight A's in high school. Shah will go to University of Texas in the fall to earn a degree in engineering and Hecker will stay on as president and also go to college to study business.

"I think things worked out for us because we took a different approach, we focused on advertising," Shah said.

It may have been easier to run the company since it's virtual. And they had help from 13 sales representatives all over the country. All administrative costs were kept low and profit margins were high.

"We also started at probably the worst time possible for the market, as last April was when the market began to bottom out, but we have managed to carve a niche in the market for our company and almost the whole industry knows of ClickZen now," Hecker said.

Born in Gujarat, Shah lived in Saudi Arabia for the first six years of his life. The rest was divided between Edison, New Jersey, Houston, Texas and then Charlotte, North Carolina.

"He was studying in an international school with children from 40 different nationalities... and he showed exceptional leadership qualities even at that age," Kishor said.

"Knowing he was extraordinary, we tried to put all resources at his disposal, so he could excel in his life in all fields."

Shah is optimistic about the future.

"This is a brief hiatus. I will be back. And I don't want to say that my Web site will be the bigger than ever, but that's what I will aim for, to keep it growing because I want to create an empire rather than work for one," he said.

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