Bright ideas take lots of hard work

What are the secrets to success at a young age? Larissa Ham finds out.

What are the secrets to success at a young age? Larissa Ham finds out.

At just 26, young entrepreneur Fred Schebesta had the biggest pay day of his life when he and his business partner sold their first start-up for $1.36million.

Despite the heady sum, Schebesta, 32, says the deal was "more relief than anything else".

"To me it was a fair payment for five years of hard work and earning not much money at all," he says. "It was a hard, hard slog."

That business, Freestyle Media, had its beginnings in Schebesta's college bedroom, when instead of studying for uni exams, the 20-year-old would spend hours immersed in the wonders of the internet.

"One night I was just experimenting on the internet. I was like, 'How hard can it be to build a website?"' he says.

Two years later, Frank Restuccia joined the fledgling business, helping to manage the commercial side. Building websites for other companies, and undertaking online marketing such as banner ads and search engine marketing, the business was in hot demand.

By the time the pair sold Freestyle Media in 2007, they had 20 staff and had survived various close shaves.

"I was just making a lot of mistakes, the money wasn't coming in right, there were staffing problems. I didn't know how to hire staff [properly]," Schebesta says.

While he did end up with a finance degree, Schebesta says he learnt far more on the job and "found the limit of how hard you can work".

He became sick a number of times, and his appendix burst. The stress of managing a growing business at such a young age also left him depressed at times.

Meanwhile, he and Restuccia, who have known each other since high school, were living on a shoestring, often paying themselves last. "We actually lived in the same house for 2 years. We ate spaghetti bolognese every night, we just scraped it together," he says.

But the mistakes have served the pair well in their second successful venture, comparison website finder.com.au, which began in 2009.

The site helps users compare various financial products, such as credit cards, home loans and savings accounts. Finder.com.au receives a referral fee every time someone signs up to a product.

Schebesta's instincts have so far proved correct. In the past two years, staff numbers have doubled to 28, with the site now getting about 250,000 visits a month.

"It has grown out of me starting early, building and selling another business and learning it all when I was young. It's a cracker business now," Schebesta says.

Most popular is the site's section on credit cards.

"We've built that up to be number one in the credit card space. About one in 10 Australians apply for their credit cards from our site."

Schebesta says the first couple of years of finder.com.au were "explosive".

"It's still a wild ride but it isn't as fast-growing. [Although] we're still growing at least 100 per cent a year."

These days Schebesta is more experienced at finding good staff, with candidates put through a rigorous set of interviews.

Still working about 100 hours a week - but now with a supportive wife and two young daughters - the energetic Schebesta describes the long hours as "fun".

Early attempts at working for others, including a stint as a kitchen hand, have left Schebesta in no doubt that he's a born entrepreneur.

"I would say, why don't you do this and this? I think I said, 'Why don't you put salt on the chips - they'd taste better and people would buy more drinks."'

His advice was quietly ignored, but Schebesta was still thinking big in his next job as a Pizza Hut call centre operator.

"I was doing my job but all I was thinking about was about how to take over the place," he said.



Fred Schebesta's million-dollar tips

Start young

Find mentors who believe in you and can guide you

Focus 100 per cent on your strengths

Have that savings mindset

- be frugal

Recognise that money doesn't come easy; you've got to

work hard

Be "all in"

It's only a dream until you do something about it

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