Jeremy McGee's youth is a benefit.
It helps the 17-year-old president of TwoToads.com stand out when he's meeting with potential investors, trying to raise the $3 million he needs for the next stage of his Internet business.
A senior at North Augusta High School, Jeremy is no stranger to the computer business. In 1997, at 14, he applied for a retail license and started his first company, JM Computer Services, customizing computers and network services, hiring some friends from school to work with him. In 1999, the year he won the Young IT Entrepreneur of the Year award, he sold 250 computers.
"I've always kind of liked working with computers," he says in his downstairs office, where half-gutted hard drives are stacked against one wall. "I started out repairing them for friends of the family."
TwoToads.com is a Web site that offers free, Web-based e-mail and other attractions for kids ages 5-13. "Toadmail" filters out profanity and pornography. The Tad Poll asks questions such as "At what age do you think kids should have cell phones" and tabulates the answers. Toadal News provides news stories of interest to kids.
The cheerful, brightly colored site, supported by advertisers, also includes games; the Ribbit Room, a chat room, is planned; and the site will hold a contest to name its mascots, two toads - no surprise there - who perch on the site's logo and adorn decals, T-shirts and hats.
The company is trying to raise a second round of investors for the site.
"We intended to spend a lot of money branding," Jeremy says, pulling T-shirts out of a box and talking about plans to make the TwoToads name recognizable. "We wanted something original, a nice image for kids, something that would be recognizable.
"Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck ... TwoToads," he adds with a grin.
TwoToads CEO Roger Brown, who met Jeremy at First Baptist Church, which they both attend, suggested the alliteration of the name, based on work he has done with Disney. Mr. Brown, 43, has produced children's books and comic books. He and Jeremy settled on toads because they had universal appeal and recognition - frogs and toads are found all over the world, Mr. Brown said.
Mr. Brown tries to come up for ideas for the site, then gets Jeremy to try to make them work, he says with a laugh.
"Jeremy is an amazing young man," he says. "He can burn me into the ground on computers. He's teaching me."
Jeremy's parents, Phil and Diane McGee, have always been supportive, but the high school student says he knows it has to be a lot easier on them now that he's focusing on the Internet business rather than JM Computer Services.
"They've always been very supportive, and they don't get very involved - they let me do this on my own," he says. "The big problem was getting the huge shipments of computer parts - big boxes coming into the house and being sent out all the time. I don't think it would have been possible if they weren't supportive."
The change in focus has made things easier for him, too, he says. Between the business, maintaining a 3.4 grade-point average in school, extracurricular activities that include the National Honor Society, the Beta Club and coordinating the Freshman Friends program, not to mention preparing for college - he's considering Clemson University, with a major in computer engineering and later plans for Internet law - he was kept busy last year. He has managed to shorten his day at school this year.
"Sometimes it's tough," he says. "Last year was definitely a stressful year - and I learned from that. But I still have a lot of late nights."
Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or email@example.com.