Although Harry Sanders became homeless when he was just 17 years old, the teenager never gave up hope of achieving his dreams during his time on the streets. That striving for a better life paid off, too, as just a few years later, Sanders had hit the big time. Now, he has established himself as one of Australia’s top young entrepreneurs and has a million-dollar company to his name. But just how did the young man manage to completely turn things around?
Well, Sanders – who hails from Melbourne in Australia – seemingly sowed the seeds of his own success at a tender age. Back then, Sanders’ father ran a shipping company that employed an apparently sub-par SEO agency, and so his teenage son made it his mission to help keep the business above water.
In a July 2019 interview with SmartCompany, Sanders explained what had happened between his father’s firm and the SEO agency. He said, “One day, [my dad] just got a call from an SEO company. [And] they promised him the world – they’d double his traffic and change his business.” But those promises turned out to be hollow, it seems. Sanders added, “They did absolutely nothing.”
And the fallout from Sanders’ father’s dealings with the agency left him fighting to keep his company going. As he did so, meanwhile, his wife – Sanders’ mom – tried to ensure that family life ticked over at home. But the strain was eventually too much for the couple, and their financial difficulties led to them ultimately splitting up.
Yet the teenage Sanders was desperate to help his family in some way, and so he committed himself to teaching himself all he could about SEO. SEO – short for “search engine optimization” – involves improving the visibility of a certain website on search engines and hopefully then boosting the number of visitors to that site as a result.
And as Sanders was already spending most of his time in front of his computer, he figured he’d give SEO a go. In April 2019 he told Forbes, “I played a lot of games and wanted to be a game developer. But that industry is so hard to break into, and once I started doing SEO I fell in love with it.”
For the uninitiated, SEO can be a tough subject to get their heads around. Nonetheless, Sanders threw himself into learning the ropes – even to the detriment of his regular schooling. “For months, I spent my free time learning, performing tests and practicing without any apparent benefits,” Sanders explained to the Daily Mail in March 2019.
So, it’s safe to say that Sanders didn’t become an SEO expert overnight. At one point, in fact, it seemed his dad no longer had any faith that his son’s hard work would ever reap any dividends. Sanders himself was undeterred, though, and finally his efforts did pay off when he was able to help his father’s business out of a particularly sticky spot.
In an interview with The Young Entrepreneurs in 2018, Sanders explained, “I was motivated to start my own business when my dad signed up for SEO services and saw some results, but [he] also saw a lot of poor execution. I decided at the ripe old age of 13 to give it a go.” And it seemed that Sanders was something of an SEO natural.
“Through perseverance – well, mostly through being told that I couldn’t – I kept trying and eventually managed to rank [my dad’s website] for boat-licence training,” Sanders added. This boosted search-engine visibility proved to be a real boon; indeed, Sanders claimed that it “resulted in floods of new business for [his dad’s] company.”
And with Sanders’ father’s once-ailing firm now performing well, the teenage whizz-kid’s SEO skills didn’t go unnoticed. At just 14 years of age, in fact, he was approached by a digital company and charged with passing on his expertise to the staff there. To begin with, then, Sanders looked to be on the right track.
But although Sanders had kick-started his career at an incredibly young age, there were still some negatives that came with his new job. In particular, his school life took a knock. As Sanders explained to Forbes, “I was basically part-time at school, part-time at work and even working on my laptop whenever I got the chance at school… I was obsessed with SEO.”
Sanders even rose to take on a management role despite his tender age. He was still in his last few years at school at this time, with the result being that he only turned up for a little more than a quarter of his classes. Then in 2015 Sanders quit formal education altogether – instead choosing to set up a new venture.
Yes, Sanders launched his own business that he chose to name StudioHawk. And looking back on this decision, the young entrepreneur later realized that he was probably trying to run before he could walk. He told SmartCompany, “I thought I was going to start my own company and kill it. That was very dumb.”
Indeed, it soon became evident that Sanders was ill-equipped to deal with the challenges that a new business often throws up. And before long, the wheels had begun to come off the whole project. Sanders explained to Forbes, “I’d spent most of my money on computer parts and sunk the rest into the business before it all went belly up.”
It wasn’t just Sanders’ professional life that started to fall apart during this period, either. Following his parents’ split, his mom didn’t have enough money to look after her son. He was also unable to turn to his father, who was now in a relationship with a woman who apparently wasn’t very fond of Sanders.
So, the 17-year-old Sanders found himself on the streets. With nowhere else to go, he therefore tried to find a place in a homeless shelter. When he found himself surrounded by drug addicts, however, he left the accommodation and instead relied on the kindness of friends who sometimes put him up on their sofas.
Recalling this tumultuous time in his life, Sanders told the Daily Mail, “It was terrible… To be honest, I didn’t think it would be as bad as it was… 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.”
And with his housing placement not working out, Sanders subsequently returned to the streets. “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 explained. It was at this point that Sanders found himself at his lowest ebb.
However, it was the teenager’s belief that life couldn’t get worse that gave him the drive to turn things around. “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,” he told the Daily Mail. And it was then that Sanders’ work ethic kicked in once again.
From his spot beneath that Melbourne bridge, Sanders started reaching out to potential clients to try to sell them his SEO services. He even offered to start work for them for free if they promised to pay him once they saw the value of what he could bring. And in a short space of time, he’d been signed up by several firms.
What’s more, although a couple of those initial contracts failed to earn Sanders any money, the others continue to this day. Those long-serving customers have even recommended StudioHawk to other businesses. And things started looking up for Sanders, too. “Six months later, I had a share-house organized,” he told SmartCompany. “I remember getting in and just crying.”
Still, growing StudioHawk wouldn’t be easy. “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,” Sanders explained to the Daily Mail. “I just had to get them in the door first.”
And Sanders was eventually able to turn things around. Yes, while business was a little slow at first, StudioHawk began to take off in the end. “The first year was a real struggle,” the entrepreneur admitted. “I was on my own, and I had no idea [about] the journey I chose to embark on… It was a very daunting and lonely experience, but it helped me grow and taught me a lot about myself.”
Yet even in the tough times, Sanders’ talent shone through. “I started really hustling to get my first few clients, telling them I would get them to the top for free and they could pay me after,” he said to Forbes. “I was regularly putting in 100-hour weeks getting [the clients] top rankings so that I could get some money coming in.”
And once StudioHawk was gaining regular income, Sanders was able to take on the company’s first employee. Just a year after that initial hire, moreover, the technology mogul was overseeing a staff of nine – and his personal and professional outlooks on life began to change, too.
“Once I had that team of passionate individuals around me, things really began to take off as we fed off each other’s passion and enthusiasm,” Sanders explained to Forbes. “I’d gained strength from where I’d come from and [was] never wanting to go back there. Now, what gives me strength is my team. I couldn’t do without them.”
As of 2019, Sanders has a team of 11 employees working for StudioHawk, while the company itself boasts some major businesses among its customers. Sanders is even the youngest person presently serving on the Australian Web Industry Association’s board. But the entrepreneur isn’t resting on his laurels. You see, he ultimately hopes to pass on his SEO talents to others through the creation of his own learning resources.
Revealing why this venture is important to him, Sanders told Forbes, “The biggest problem with our industry is education – or a lack of it. If we can better educate our audience, it will help them to avoid being taken advantage of by dodgy operators. And, unfortunately, there are a lot of them in this industry.”
Plus, of course, the business was becoming a financial success. According to an April 2019 report by Forbes, in fact, StudioHawk boasts an impressive yearly revenue of well over $1 million. Yet Sanders had no intention of taking his foot off the pedal now that he’d found a winning formula. In particular, the Australian businessman planned to establish a StudioHawk office in London, England, in 2019.
In his interview with Forbes, Sanders explained why he had chosen the U.K. capital as the next StudioHawk destination. He told the publication, “Our mission is not just to be Australia’s best but to be the world’s best. We will have to go to London to do that, as it is the world leader in SEO.”
But as Sanders continues to grow his business, he has no intention of forgetting his past or those who stuck by him during his toughest times. “I’ve hit rock bottom and worked my way back up to the top slowly,” he said to Forbes. “And I’ll never forget those who helped me to get there.”
One of Sanders’ recent achievements, meanwhile, was being given a Young Search Professional of the Year award by SEMRush – making him the most youthful recipient in the prize’s history. And once again demonstrating his resilient spirit, Sanders attended the ceremony just days after being struck by a car.
That accident left Sanders with a head wound that required stitches, yet his ailment didn’t prevent him from accepting the prestigious award in person. Explaining why he had made such an effort to attend the ceremony, the young businessman explained to the Daily Mail, “I had every excuse not to go, but that kind of attitude gets you nowhere.”
And why wouldn’t Sanders have battled through his injuries to go to the awards? After all, his dedication to overcoming difficulties had served him so well up until that point. “I turned my life around by sheer determination and embraced change,” he told the Daily Mail. “Honestly the biggest thing that made the change for me was just saying yes.”
Sanders also revealed that agreeing to undertake tasks about which he wasn’t particularly keen had put StudioHawk in good stead. Expanding upon what he meant, he said, “[I put] 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!”
According to Sanders, in fact, his willingness to grab chances set him apart from others in his field. He explained, “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.” And given that his business once cost him his home, Sanders was certainly able to roll with the punches.
However, since he has risen out of homelessness to become one of Australia’s top young entrepreneurs in his early 20s, Sanders also knows a lot about success. And today, his life is a world away from the one that he experienced on the streets.
Now that Sanders is at the top of his game, in fact, he can look back on his tough times and appreciate the effect that they had on him. “I had to give up a lot to get where I am, but my sacrifices have built this amazing business,” he told the Daily Mail. “It fills my heart enough seeing my incredible team, clients and everything we have built through blood, sweat and tears.”
In fact, if it wasn’t for the hardships that he’d experienced – namely, that period on the streets – Sanders may not appreciate the success he’s enjoying quite so much. And that’s something of which he seems very aware. Putting it simply, the entrepreneur told the Daily Mail, “The high points of life aren’t as great if you haven’t experienced the low.”