It started around the time of his Bar Mitzvah at age 13, when Tomer Hen decided it was time to open his first business.
“I wanted to be independent and not take money from my parents,” Hen told The Media Line. “I was too young to get a job so I started an online business. First, I started selling stuff from my room on Ebay; then I started buying Dead Sea products and Israeli army T-shirts. Soon it became larger than I expected and I was making $200 a month at 14 years old.”
Today, at 19, Hen is a millionaire and owns three homes – one in Dallas, one in Tel Aviv, and one in the Israeli beachfront community of Netanya. Yet, he lives in a small one-bedroom apartment that he rents in Tel Aviv, walking distance from the beach.
While it’s nice having the money, he says, his life is similar to those of other Israeli teenagers.
“I have my money and I have my bank account which my parents, both accountants, are managing,” he said. “But I’m like any regular kid. I think twice before I spend money and I even sometimes spend less than my friends because I know about money. But everything I want to buy I just go and buy it; it’s really fun.”
Hen got in on the ground floor of mobile marketing, an extension of online marketing featuring mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. He has 200 clients all over the world, including in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and even Iran. For each one, he comes up with a strategy to get targeted ads to pop up on people’s mobile phones.
“Look around us,” Hen said on a busy Jerusalem pedestrian mall, “All around us you can see people using their mobile phones for information such as restaurant listings. I said there must be a way to make money from this.”
Hen was one of the first in Israel to jump on the bandwagon of mobile marketing, which today is estimated to be a $4 billion industry worldwide.
“Today everyone has a mobile device but not everyone has a computer,” Akiva Ben Ezra, an expert in mobile marketing told The Media Line. “These days everyone is mobile and everyone is looking for Internet on the go. If you are out with your friends and are looking for a restaurant, you pull out your iPhone and look it up.”
Ben Ezra said that text messages are read an average of three minutes after they are received while emails often go unread for as long as three days, and some are never read. He also cited a study claiming that the average person has a telephone within three feet of where he or she is at any given moment.
Studies show that people are buying more and more through their mobile phones.
“It’s amazing how pervasive and integrated shopping is becoming, such as Facebook pushing purchases of real gifts when you wish your friends a happy birthday,” Nadine Wildmann, founder of Meeple Communications, told The Media Line. “Online marketing continues to adapt to multiple platforms, supporting the trend toward responsive websites, which automatically provide an optimal viewing experience across various devices.”
While still in high school, Hen started teaching his friends how to start their own online businesses. Today, he runs the Mobile Marketing College, which offers classes in mobile marketing. Prices range from $200 for a one-time six hour workshop; to $2,000 for a year of one-on-one coaching.
Each month, Hen says, he has between 100 and 150 new students.
“I love teaching,” he says enthusiastically. “I can take someone with no business sense at all and teach him to start his own business.”
Most other Israelis of Hen’s age are in the army. He was given an exemption for health reasons, but hopes to begin volunteering in national service, an alternative program to army service, soon.
Hen says he works between two and eight hours each day, and spends his free time at the beach or hanging out with friends.
“I’m just a regular kid,” he insists.