I Started Building Websites At 16 And Now Own A $3M/Year Agency

Jay Owen
Business Builders
from Saint Augustine, FL, USA
started June 1999
alexa rank
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

When I started Design Extensions, which has since been rebranded as Business Builders, I was just 17 years old. Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. I was just a teen trying to make some side money doing something I loved — building websites.

I’d love to tell you that I had some grand plan from the start, but I didn’t, I just kept learning and kept getting better. As a result, we’ve grown year over year for over twenty years.

Today our services are focused on three key areas: coaching, marketing & development. Our mission is to help other people grow their business - like we have our own. We’ve gone from just $5000 in the first year to over $3,000,000 in sales this year.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I’ve always loved technology and the internet. I remember being logged into a bulletin board service back before the internet was a thing and reading an article about this new thing that was coming called the World Wide Web. People would be able to type in web addresses to get access to information. That sounded amazing.

I started building websites at about the age of 12. At 16 I was hired by a local company as a summer intern and at 17 (in 1999). In the early days, I’d build the websites from scratch, with basic HTML and by cropping graphics out of photoshop. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done at the time.

When I first started the business, being just 17 years old, I wasn’t even old enough to legally sign a contract. As a result, I often ended up just doing work with the old promise and a handshake.

This was the start of Design Extensions, which are now called Business Builders. I’ve worked everywhere from my dorm room to my mom’s garage to the studio we have today in St. Augustine, Florida.

Everything we do is built around the idea of progress over perfection. We’re only competing with ourselves from last year. We want to be better than we were and if we keep doing that, we believe we’ll keep growing. For over two decades that has remained true.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

When we first started, well, we are a bit royal, it was just me back then… I just did basic websites. Today, our team has about six unique service sets: coaching/consulting, websites, web hosting, maintenance, marketing, & development.

A typical customer for us is a company or organization that has made it through the early years of business, has an established product or service line, and now needs help taking its brand, messaging, and marketing to the next level.

Most of these clients have exceeded a million dollars in revenue, although there are still some situations in the consulting & coaching areas where we can help smaller businesses We are constantly innovating on our ideas, processes, and procedures.

If anything, I have to tapper my desire for constant change to ensure the team feels stable and secure in the process. In the early days, it was just me, but today, we’re an incredible local team of full-time team members plus an amazing network of contractors and support teams.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Launching the business just involved me with a computer working to create my first paid website for a client. I had been doing it professionally for a business in my area and believed I could do it on my own. So I did. I started selling one thing at a time to build upon the business.

When I first started the business, being just 17 years old, I wasn’t even old enough to legally sign a contract. As a result, I often ended up just doing work with the old promise and a handshake. It wasn’t formal, but it worked. As I grew, I figured out how to handle more complex sales and contracts. Progress over perfection.

For over a decade, I remained debt-free as a business. I later took on a mortgage for our office, but otherwise, I prefer to run the company as debt-free as possible. As Dave Ramsey says: “Debt is dumb and cash is king.”

“I’ll ‘do that important thing’ once this project is done…” is a cliff I’ve seen many marriages and leaders fall off of. If it matters, you’ll make the time for it.

Over the years, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to never put too much value in one client. Don’t let the business control your life, let it support your life. I desire to have a lifelong marriage with my wife claire and to be a great dad to our five kids, I can’t do that if I’m constantly obsessed with the business.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

We’re in the business of helping others get attention and acquire customers, as a result, it comes somewhat naturally for ourselves. There is not one single silver bullet and the best referral sources have changed over time, but we’re constantly improving here.

At one point, networking groups like BNI had a huge impact on our growth. As our services, changed, larger business communities like EntreLeadership and C12 have had a big impact.

Typical digital marketing plays a role for us as well (see attached how organic traffic has steadily increased over the last few years). We also stay active on social media and have an e-mail list we market to regularly.

In addition to those, my speaking engagements are a big pull for new customers as well. This comes in the form of live webinars, live events (like businessbuidlerslive.com), speaking at other live events, and conferences. Building relationships with people, providing some level of free or low-cost value, and then converting that into higher ticket items has been key for us.


How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We’ve remained profitable every year for over 22 years. Today, we’re running a larger team, with more revenue, and better profitability than ever. A big part of that has been implementing EOS (see Traction by Gino Wickman) as an operating system for the business. Having clear systems and processes in place have allowed us to grow without stress and it makes things more predictable.

We’ve simplified our sales p[rocess over the years to start with what we call a marketing (or development) blueprint. This involves a consulting session with a client to discover their needs and complete some foundational deliverables needed for all clients. Once this is done, we quote the next step in the process. We think of it this way: Plan > Produce > Promote.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

There will always be another project, people matter more. It seems simple, it seems obvious, but when you need to hit a goal or make a budget, the money and projects can seem overwhelming. “I’ll ‘do that important thing’ once this project is done…” is a cliff I’ve seen many marriages and leaders fall off of. If it matters, you’ll make the time for it.

Don’t fool yourself into believing that you “just need to get through this project” one more time. Before you know it, you’ll be in a cycle of that and lose what matters.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Have the right people in your life first. You need someone to look up to, someone who’s looking up to you, someone who stands beside you, and someone who believes in you when you don’t believe in yourself. If you have the right people in your life, business becomes much easier.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re always on the lookout for stellar marketing team members who want to help others grow their businesses.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

Jay Owen, Founder of Business Builders
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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