The co-founder and CEO of Schmidt’s Naturals, which makes natural deodorant and other household products, brought in over a million dollars when he was 13 by running a web hosting company. Cammarata, now 33, was an avid player of the video game StarCraft, around the turn of the millennium.
He was dyslexic and was struggling through school when he was around 11, Michael Cammarata says. But he discovered an inviting new world in the internet. He learned how to build websites and program software through fellow StarCraft gamers.
Soon he borrowed $2,000 from his college-age brother to get a dedicated server, which allowed him to start a hosting business. When his dad found out about the purchase, he gave Cammarata several months to start making money from the venture. “I got tens of thousands of people to sign up when I was around 13. I got into a very large amount of money,” Cammarata says.
He expanded by launching his own online advertising network next at the age of 15 years old.
Cammarata has since used his fortune to invest in a wide array of companies from tech to natural products. Schmidt’s Naturals has become one of the biggest players in its field, recently adding toothpaste and soap to its products. Unilever acquired Schmidt’s at the end of 2017, and Cammarata is working to make his brand even more mainstream.
We talked to Cammarata about his unusual career background, the hard lessons of becoming rich early, and his business mantra.
Cammarata’s first millionaire snafu
Cammarata scored over a million nearly overnight with the web hosting company he operated on his server. After figuring out how to automate the process, with no employees or budget, money from customers started rolling in.
“A little lesson I learned is that I signed up with a credit card processing company. I went from zero money to millions of dollars in revenue,” he says. But the processing firm held the cash, which he needed as soon as possible. So he was able to very early on, with the help of his dad, structure his cash flow because he wasn’t really thinking like a 13-year old
Cammarata’s father came from a corporate background, having worked at McCann Erickson. And his dad’s help connecting him to a sales team that allowed him to push his ad network reaching 150 million people a month to clients, which became a lucrative business of its own.
As Cammarata’s businesses grew, “attorneys and advisers magically appeared,” he says. “I had to learn how to deal with all these opinions. I wasn’t used to it back then and gave them more weight than I should’ve.”
“I was dyslexic, I could barely read and write, and I tried to be normal and fit in. Cammarata says. It didn’t work, and I learned it’s okay to be different. Dyslexia is an advantage because I see things differently than most people.”
Doing things the hard way
Cammarata graduated high school early and didn’t go to college. In his late teens, he was busy trying to build his mini-empire.
One headache resulted from hiring an outside firm to look into a company he was investing in that sold consumer electronics. “I assumed they did it correctly. They didn’t cross-check licenses for all products,” he says. “The company started losing money because they didn’t have the right licenses.”
He suddenly had to come up with a plan to reposition the company and make it a profitable investment. “When you have advisers, you can’t accept their word as gold even if you hire the biggest firm,” he says. He had to be active and hands-on in his investment portfolio, really do the work himself, and not rely on other people to do work for him. When you have money, it doesn’t change that you have to act like you don’t. If you just rely on experts, you’re going to fail and have a rude awakening.
Listening to the customer
“I always wanted to manage a rock band,” Cammarata says. He got his wish when he started managing the boy band Big Time Rush, formed in 2009. The band launched its own show on Nickelodeon, which became one of the highest-rated live-action programs for the network.
“It taught me two things: how to really scale a promo, utilize different PR firms’ specialties, and time it with content and a social-media strategy. It’s really complicated,” he says. “I learned how to launch a product.”
And in doing so, Cammarata developed another idea by interacted with the fans in real time on certain platforms. By being on the ground listening to those consumers, he discovered their passion for natural products, in particular deodorant.
He eventually bought Schmidt’s, at the time a tiny company in Portland, Oregon, which sold its deodorants in jar form. He had to learn how to get its powdered product into a stick and in doing so, was able to scale Schmidt’s into a market leader. It’s gone from four employees in an office attached to a pet store to over 150 employees.
His No. 1 rule for investing
One thing has remained consistent in Cammarata’s ventures since he launched his web hosting phenomenon at 13: He spends money only on what he is passionabe about. That has always being true across his work as an investor.
“My philosophy from when I was a kid was I always wanted to have a positive impact on the world and push humanity forward,” Cammarata says. “When I started to invest, I looked for companies with purpose.” He would get to know companies for two to three years before jumping into business with them.
He’d advise that other aspiring entrepreneurs do the same.
“Deploying money into things that don’t give y