A young Urban legend

What’s the matter with kids today? Not much if most kids were like Toronto’s Urban Lee. To be fair, Lee’s not so much a kid as he is a savvy businessman with two years of entrepreneurial experience under his belt.

Born in India 19 years ago, Lee moved to Canada with his family at the age of five and became interested in computers shortly after.

“I got my first system when I was 10,” Lee remembered. “I started using DOS and learned how to do this and that.”

The son of a high school teacher and a hairdresser, who according to Lee “don’t even really understand what a computer is,” Lee entered the dot-com business arena at a time when most online entrepreneurs were beating a path to the digital door.

“When I was 17, my cousin got involved in a dot-com business and told me how great it was, so I started working with him on projects. I noticed as I flipped through pages on the Internet that some sites were really annoying. I thought that there should be a Web site to help automate buying computer-related products.”

Lee, his cousin and his brother discussed this grievance and decided to do something about it.

“We had a couple of meetings, spoke about it and started it,” Lee said, referring to his Web site, www.pricenetwork.ca.

Pricenetwork.ca is a site intended to educate its visitors about computer-related products by listing models and prices from a variety of vendors. As Lee described it, the site is there to “help Canadians save a buck.”

The high school student then embarked on developing a dot-com business by taking the mistakes of his online forefathers into account.

“I thought that most dot-coms weren’t running efficiently, because most of them relied on one stream of revenue: ads. Once that dried up, they died. We planned the site for multiple streams of revenue. We currently have two, but are planning a third.”

Pricenetwork.ca makes its money from advertisements, but also from a commission paid by vendors who sell products as a result of customers visiting Lee’s Web site, and while he doesn’t have plans to retire anytime soon, Lee’s profits are in the bank rather than on paper. “We’re doing okay,” he said.

Lee’s plans for the Web site’s third stream of revenue involves the offering of value added services for users and vendors including developing a system to track live inventory numbers. He is also considering expanding the site from providing information about strictly hardware and software to DVDs, books and other categories of products.

Like any good businessperson, Lee watches his Web site with a critical eye, and has observed some flaws that he is in the process of tweaking.

“What our customers are looking for, they usually buy only once or twice a year, so we’re trying to make our site more community-based,” he said. “We want to give incentives for our visitors to come to the site more often, so we’ve built a new application called Price Watch, which lets people watch prices fluctuate in real time.”

While he’s experienced some adverse reactions from others within the industry because of his age, Lee has been able to maintain a positive attitude.

“I used to drive around Toronto, stopping at companies to leave my business card and talk about the project,” Lee said. “Some vendors were nice and liked the idea, but because I’m only 19, some vendors weren’t interested. They treated me like I was a lot younger than I am, but I’ve learned to expect that. They thought that because I’m so young my project wouldn’t work, but my site does make sales for them and the vendors that work with me are happy. I work hard.”

According to Lee, working hard is a family trait. Now attending York University, studying business in the Schulich program, Lee relies on his 16-year-old brother to do most of the programming for the Web site.

“He helps me out a lot – I’m not as technical as he is,” Lee said. “When I was younger I wanted to be a programmer, but once I got involved in the business side of it, I realized that I’d rather use my coding skills as general knowledge in terms of knowing what’s possible and what’s impossible. Among other things, Lee’s got his sights set on home networking as a possible business venture, and is looking at assisting businesses with their e-commerce ventures.”

“I have a friend in Germany who does something very similar there. It seems like vendors are more technology-friendly over there than they are in Canada,” Lee explained.

“I want to manage and run things. I want to be an entrepreneur.”