ANCHORAGE, Alaska—At age 18, South High School grad Tyler Arnold has long since left home for the first time. He's in Romania on a business trip this week, promoting his Internet firm Tyler Systems.
“We're an international business, so I find myself in different destinations every month if I'm lucky,” Arnold said in an interview conducted via Skype, an online telephone service.
While Arnold makes the travel sound old hat, the company is young: he started Tyler Systems at the ripe old age of 16.
“I got a book from a friend and mentor and middle school teacher called ‘The World is Flat,’” Arnold said. “(Author Thomas Friedman) was talking about globalization and how things are going to be changing and how competition is going in the 21st century, and I just read the first 100 pages and that was enough for me.”
After spending birthday money on a down payment for his website and convincing a few investors his business was worth it, Tyler Systems was born. Arnold says the company fills an information-technology niche for ad agencies.
“Advertising agencies are very creative people; something like IT or code can scare them at times,” Arnold said. “And so we take their designs, build for the Web in a Photoshop form, and convert them to HTML -- or essentially a working website.”
Arnold is an unconventional businessman, who got his business started unconventionally.
“It actually started on the other side of the world, then came back to Anchroage,” Arnold said. “Ironically, since things are getting more and more connected, businesses became more comfortable working virtually.”
Although his corporate rise has been impressive, Arnold didn't get to his position alone -- he had help from local businessman Allan Johnston.
“He was a very precocious 16-year-old,” Johnston said. “And he sent an unsolicited e-mail to me, saying a friend of a friend suggested that I might be a good mentor for him, and he asked if I might work with him; not many people ask somebody they don't know for assistance.”
Johnston calls himself the "chief encouragement officer" for his non-profit team, which helps grow budding entrepreneurs.
“My whole mission is kind of growing been-there-done-thats with wanna-go-theres,” Johnston said. “He's a real logical person that listens and wants to learn and grow -- that's what we're looking for in Alaska.”
Arnold says his trip to Romania reflects both business and personal goals.
“Right now, we're just looking to grow our client list, always recruiting great coders and great clients, but really interested to see -- especially here in Romania, it's a country geared for growth,” Arnold said. “It seems easy, because to me it's fun; I almost feel like it's a perpetual weekend, sort of. I wouldn't be doing anything different, it's what I love.”
What Arnold loves to do is already paying off. Major clients like Microsoft, eBay and HBO have already signed on, and his mentors are chearing him on.
“Helping somebody else make a significant impact, that we've done a tiny bit of it, that's extremely rewarding,” Johnston said.
Arnold has no plans for school right now, but right now that's OK: he's got a few more employees to hire and a few more countries to visit.
“I am a geek, I am a proud geek -- that's what I know, that's what I love,” Arnold said.
This week, Arnold will head to the Netherlands to try and sign some more clients. Next week he's home for about two days, before heading to Silicon Valley for a few months.
Even though he's gone so much, Arnold is still very involved in Alaska, donating some of his profits to the business school at UAA and sponsoring local sports teams.
Johnston says Arnold is responsible for getting a small tech conference called Rethink to come to Alaska, in a bid to entice Silicon Valley companies to invest in the state.
Contact Todd Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org