- Harry Sanders, 21, used to live on the streets and bunked with heroin addicts
- He became homeless not too long after he founded his SEO agency StudioHawk
- His parents were unable to support him and his business had used up his money
- Now he has worked his way up to managing a $1.3 million company
A 21-year-old CEO has revealed how he went from being homeless and living on the streets with ‘heroin addicts’ to managing a company worth $1.3million in just four years.
At the age of 17, Melbourne-based Harry Sanders dropped out of school and found himself homeless and alone.
‘It was terrible… to be honest I didn’t think it would be as bad as it was,’ he said.
‘Every youth homeless shelter I approached rejected me and the only one that took me placed me in a share house with heroin addicts who would punch the wall at night and scream abuse.’
Harry became homeless not too long after he founded StudioHawk in 2015 – a search engine optimisation (SEO) agency which aims to increase traffic to a business website.
He quickly found out that starting a business alone was a lonelier and more difficult task than he had expected.
His family struggled to support him, and his business dream had eaten up every dollar he had.
After getting assigned by housing authorities to live with heroin junkies, Harry was living on the streets of Melbourne and couch surfing when friends would let him.
He was homeless for six months during this period and would go from friend’s house to friend’s house until he ran out of places to stay.I ended up staying under a bridge for a few days getting leftover food from the likes of Bakers Delight.
‘Stranded, and not wanting to go back to another housing agency, I ended up staying under a bridge for a few days getting leftover food from the likes of Bakers Delight,’ he said.
‘Once I had hit that rock bottom it was almost good in a way as I knew the only place to go from there was up.
‘I worked ridiculous weeks, cold calling, hustling, literally just anything I could to get those first clients in the door, because I knew that I could do great work for them, I just had to get them in the door first.’
It was a rollercoaster of events that had led Harry to this moment, struggling to make ends meet.
At the age of 14, an SEO agency destroyed Harry’s father’s boat licensing business.
While watching his father continually work to keep his business afloat and his mother attempt to keep their household together, Harry witnessed his parents’ marriage collapse under the strain of financial hardship.
However, a spark inside of him was not willing to let his family fall apart.
Young Harry became determined to learn everything there was to know about SEO to help his father’s business overcome the brink of bankruptcy.
With so much focus on helping his parents, school became an obstacle. Harry was much more concerned reading about SEO and practising his newfound skills.
‘For months, I spent my free time learning, performing tests, and practising, without any apparent benefits,’ Sanders said.
He persisted even when his father started losing hope when their efforts didn’t produce results. But one day, his dad’s business phone began to ring and wouldn’t stop.
The family boat licensing business had more clients than ever due to Harry’s new knack for SEO.
Not too long after, Harry’s phone began to ring as well. The young, self-taught man had become an expert in a skill that not many had, and he attracted the attention of his industry.
As a junior in high school, he was offered multiple jobs, and by 16, he was managing a company’s entire search division.
In his final years of school, Harry was only attending 30 per cent of the time. He eventually dropped out, and temporarily struggled to find places to sleep.
Although his life has been tumultuous this is what drove him to push himself further and slowly over time he started to pick up freelance SEO work.
Harry now has a team of 10 employees and his company’s annual projected revenue is $1.3 million.
Harry knows what it’s like to hit rock bottom and how to make your way to the top.
‘I had to give up a lot to get where I am, but my sacrifices have built this amazing business,’ he said.
‘It fills my heart enough seeing my incredible team, clients, and everything we have built through blood, sweat and tears.’
He has gone on to become one of Australia’s most successful young entrepreneurs and is the youngest board member of the AWIA (Australian Web Industry Association).
He is also the youngest to ever win SEMRush’s Young Search Professional award—even while showing up to the event with stitches in his head from a recent car accident.
‘The first year was a real struggle. I was on my own, and I had no idea the journey I chose to embark on,’ Harry explained.
‘It was a very daunting and lonely experience, but it helped me grow and taught me a lot about myself.
‘The high points of life aren’t as great if you haven’t experienced the low.’
As time went on, Harry’s sacrifices and persistence began to pay off. Potential clients turned into paying clients, and the word about his talents spread.
Last year, he gained 100 new clients, including large enterprises such as Officeworks which pushed his success to a new level.
Harry had been hit by a car when he was crossing the street and ended up in hospital two days before the awards in Sydney.
‘I had every excuse not to go but that kind of attitude gets you nowhere,’ he explained.
He is also a current finalist for the Dell Young Hero Entrepreneur of the Year, B2B Business of the Year, and the Rising Star Award.
For the year ahead, Harry plans for his agency, StudioHawk, to expand to London in August and intends to double its Melbourne team size this year.
‘I turned my life around by sheer determination, and embraced change,’ he said.
‘Honestly the biggest thing that made the change for me was just saying yes.
‘Putting up my hand to do things, scary things that I didn’t want to do but did because I knew they were good for the business. Take every good opportunity you can!
‘The biggest difference between those who are successful and those who aren’t isn’t intelligence, it’s people’s willing to just start and fail along the way.’