Inside The Mind of a Teenage CEO

What were you doing at 15 years old? Probably not meeting Peyton Manning, getting mentored by Warren Buffett, or discussing marketing strategy with Fortune 500 companies. Maybe you’re going to Herzl Camp, but then fitting in a quick internship at Land O’ Lakes before starting your sophomore year at Maple Grove High School? Not likely.

Welcome to the life of Josh Miller, founder, and CEO of Deciding Edge. His less-than two-year-old company is a youth-owned and operated consulting firm dedicating to helping clients better understand today’s youth.

“It was founded on the premise that youth should have a voice in the board room,” Miller said. “What we bring to corporations is how to get their products effectively in front of what will be 25 percent of the labor force 2020. It’s all about organizations understanding how to use the media and how to get a product in front of our generation and interacting with the product – and the brand itself.”

Miller has an ambitious goal with a small staff, working with fellow Jewish teens David Bix, the company’s VP of business development, and Max Walker, the VP of business relations. The trio’s largest client so far Red Wing Shoe Company, where Miller said he’s built a relationship with that company’s chief marketing officer.

“We’ve shifted our focus from Fortune 500 companies to more startup-size companies,” Miller said. “They don’t have a ton of money to spend but it’s easier to get in the doors.”

Super Bowl winning quarterback Peyton Manning with Maple Grove’s Josh Miller.

Miller is prescient enough to recognize the some of the obvious challenges his company faces.

“My ‘problem,’ you could say, is that we’re run by a 15-year-old,” he said. “(Companies) are willing to take a meeting, but that doesn’t mean they’ll give us money. We’ve gotten lucky a few times having some take a chance on us.

“My age is my greatest asset and greatest weakness. It’s an asset because it makes me stand out. I’m the only one doing this. At the same time, I go to school. It’s about finding the balance between a normal childhood and accelerating it.”

That’s the concern that his mother, Ann, has: Hoping her oldest child doesn’t peak at 15.

“Dry cleaning bills have been off the charts since 2nd grade when elected to student council,” Ann said. “That was the beginning of him wearing a suit every Thursday.”

As much as the young CEO is looking forward to getting a license, so are his parents.

“It’s a different kind of hobby to schlepp to,” she said. “Some kids go to swimming or gymnastics. I take Josh to a meeting downtown at a bank. It comes with the territory of raising a CEO. But luckily he’s surrounded by a good group of friends that keep him a kid.”

Miller comes from a family of entrepreneurs. His grandparents – Ann’s parents – are Mike and Linda Fiterman, well-known Twin Cities businesspeople and philanthropists.

“It’s not only them but my family in general and my upbringing. It’s been a huge part of why I’m so interested in this,” he said. “But it’s not everything. I’ve been focused on building a name for myself but using their expertise. They brought me to up to be very interested in that, and I’m very thankful for that.

“As amazing as it is to be a part of this family, it’s always important for me to take a step back and make a name for myself. At the same time, you can’t go wrong. I’m very blessed to be where I am.”

Ann Miller said that there is one key lesson he hopes Josh gets from her parents.

“It’s the sense that with great privilege comes great responsibility,” she said. “Not only in business, but wondering about the impact what you’re leaving behind and to think about your legacy.”

Miller traveled to New York last year as a speaker and part of the 600-person crowd of business and thought leaders, athletes, and supporters of student nutrition, physical activity, and youth empowerment came together for GenYOUTH’s inaugural gala. In 2012 he was the recipient of an AdVenture Capital grant from GenYOUTH, which helped him pay for his “Motivational Mondays” project at Basswood Elementary School. The project was aimed at getting his classmates up and moving during recess to be more active and healthy, rather than sitting around talking to each other. He said that earning the grant lit the entrepreneurial fire he has. The time to pull Deciding Edge together started at Maple Grove Middle School, where the school started “20-Time,” a program where companies like Google and 3M give their employees 20 percent of their work time towards on a project that isn’t correlated directly to the job. It’s where Post-It Notes came from, and Miller used the one-hour per day MGMS gave him to brainstorm.

Miller, who said he is passionate about is effective education, is hopeful that alternative programs like that in the school will take off.

“Going out of classroom, getting your hands dirty, doing things that are relevant to real world, is important,” he said. “The movement hasn’t kicked off. What I’m seeing right now is a transformation of what it should be. Our generation is recognizing that there is more out there than a traditional four-year degree.”

So what’s next on Miller’s plate (besides school, of course)?

“I go where the wind takes me,” he said. “It’s about prioritizing my time and juggling being a 15-year-old and a CEO. If I have more things on my plate, I excel. As things heat up, I’ll have to take a look and meet with the teachers and principal and see what arrangements I can make. But I’m confident I can make it happen.”