Emerson Spartz started his first company at the age of 12, when he founded MuggleNet, which became the number one Harry Potter fan site. In his early teens, he managed a team that grew into the hundreds. He wrote best selling books, developed a team within MuggleNet that produced the most listened to podcast, and dreamed of additional businesses to develop. To make his schedule more flexible, he suggested to his parents that he be home-schooled.
At a time, when many influential technologists (Peter Thiel most prominent among them) eschew the value of university education for those with an entrepreneurial bent, Spartz attended the business school at Notre Dame as an undergraduate, and used the time to strengthen his ability to learn while seeking the next new idea to pursue.
Soon after graduation, he founded Spartz Media, the organization he still runs now. His area of expertise is virality, a topic that he and his team have distilled into a science of sorts. He describes his methods herein. At 27, he has been an entrepreneur for 15 years, and speaks with the authority of a seasoned veteran.
Peter High: You were bitten by the entrepreneurial bug very early in life. As I understand it, your first business venture was at the age of 12. And I wonder if you could talk about that precocity, and how it occurred to you at such a young age to want to develop a new venture and devote your energy to that at a time when your peers were doing very different things to say the least.
Emerson Spartz: When I was 12, I convinced my parents to let me drop out of school so I could home-school myself, and I had a very nontraditional education where I designed and developed my own curriculum. That’s another way of saying that I built things, for fun. I did not intend to be an adventurer; I just came across a free web page maker, and I thought it would be fun to make a website, and I was really into Harry Potter, so I decided to make a Harry Potter website, and then I kind of just got bitten by the bug. The more time I spent on it, the more fun that I had with it. It eventually became the number one Harry Potter site, but I didn’t start off on day one intending to turn it into this thing. It was just an outlet for me to express my creativity and desire to build things.
High: You mentioned that you became home-schooled, and you proposed to your parents to school yourself, which meant that again, at a time when your peers were learning together and playing together in the school setting, you were more independent. To an increasing degree between then and now, you have had to collaborate a great deal in your business ventures. Was it difficult to go from independent study to group collaboration?
Spartz: I spent a tremendous amount of time interacting with other people, because I had to. So even though I wasn’t in school, and I was missing out on some social situations that would have occurred there, the nature of the business meant that I was interacting with people constantly and having to adopt a much more mature perspective on things. I remember thinking for a time that if my team found out that I was only 12, that they would quit en masse because of the shame of working for a 12-year-old.