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Teenage tycoon

He owns a company that expects to gross a million this year - but first he needs to graduate from high school.

By AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 24, 2002


A scholar, athlete and volunteer
Taking steps in the right direction
Pennies and pictures for patients
NEW SUBURB BEAUTIFUL - Tyler Dikman bought his first platinum Rolex two years ago. He paid $17,000 cash last year for his 1997 Infiniti J30. He has discussed the future of wireless networking with Bill Gates and had his picture taken with Michael Dell.

As president and CEO of CoolTronics.com -- a firm that sells, delivers and sets up computers -- Tyler expects to gross $1-million this year.

"I live, sleep and walk business 24 hours a day," he says.

Wednesday, he graduated from Jesuit High School.

He's 17, an altar boy at Christ the King Catholic Church in South Tampa, yet he meets payroll for as many as six employees and contractors, one of whom he pays to clean his room.

His client base approaches 250. He racks up nearly 6,000 cell phone minutes a month, tending to the demands of business.

"It started as a hobby and fun thing that turned into a whole lot more," he says.

The son of a homemaker and a real estate agent -- Jane Hardin and husband Bob Dikman -- Tyler was on the road to financial security when most kids were still getting allowances. Tyler never needed an allowance.

He attributes success to good marketing and an ability to relate to people.

"So many people know computers," he says. "But how many know how to speak to clients?"

Tyler does.

He could sell his mother a broken motherboard.

"He's a nice boy," Jane Hardin says. "I think he'll make the world a better place."

In ways, he already has. Thursdays, he plays cards, checkers and chess with veterans at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital. For the past two summers, he has volunteered there, first in geriatrics, then in the spinal cord unit, where he learned to lift quadriplegics in and out of wheelchairs.

Back at work, he smoothly teaches grannies to surf the Internet and send e-mail, linking them to families across the country.

They marvel at his impeccable manners. He pays attention when they speak and looks into their eyes, patiently answering questions.

[Times photos: Ken Helle]
Tyler Dikman, 17, who just graduated from Jesuit High School, relaxes in his office. In January 2000, Dikman started his company, CoolTronics.com, which sells, delivers and sets up computers.

"He's definitely not your typical teenager," says Scott McRae, a Plant High student. Tyler pays Scott to design Web sites and network with clients.

"He's very driven," Scott says.

The drive keeps Tyler going day and night, fueled by endless Cokes. It's a rare evening when he's home before 10:30 p.m. Dinner comes through a window at McDonald's or Taco Bell, although he enjoys fine restaurants. A girlfriend? No time.

He sleeps five hours a night, tops.

"Usually on the family room sofa," notes sister Laura, 13.

If he's not troubleshooting or teaching customers, he's often traveling. He doesn't leave home without his exclusive American Express Centurion card, reserved for card holders with at least $150,000 in charges a year.

"I got my card before Larry Ellison," he says, beaming at the thought of besting the president of Oracle Corp.

Because the card entitles him to upgrades, he'll fly first class next month when he accompanies his grandmother, Ruth Dikman, on a 10-day cruise along the eastern coast of Canada. He expects they'll be upgraded to a suite.

He likes Las Vegas. He's been there four times.

That's where he engaged in tech talk at a November COMDEX technology show attended by Gates, chairman of Microsoft, and Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer Corp.

"Gates was real loose, laid back," he says. "We talked about the future of wireless networking."

Tyler introduced himself to Dell, broaching the subject of the company's "Dude, you're getting a Dell" kid, actor Ben Curtis.

"I should be the real kid in the Dell commercials," he recalls saying.

Dell gave Tyler the name of his advertising guy.

* * *

Tyler's road to the Silicon Valley began early.

At age 5, he was earning $15 an hour peddling lemonade from his New Suburb Beautiful driveway. He lured the thirsty with a discarded Bacardi Rum display. An early marketing discovery: Moms liked him. His smile could earn a $1 tip.

Back then he wanted to be a heart or brain surgeon. He also wanted to make money.

By age 10, he was charging $25 for 30-minute birthday party magic shows and using the money to buy stock in Coca-Cola and McDonald's.

He got his first computer at age 10, an old Gateway his Dad brought home from the office. Sim City was the first game he remembers buying.

"That Christmas, I actually got a top-of-the-line Micron with Windows 95," says Tyler. He studied it inside and out.

"The Micron was under warranty so I could take it apart and break things like crazy," he says.

By eighth grade, teachers were excusing him from class to fix their computers. It occurred to him that he could earn a living.

A neighbor up the street, Joann Frazier, says she was his first paying customer, in 1997.

"I bought a computer and a printer from him, and he taught me how to use it," she says. "Then I got a scanner and he made me a woman of the 21st century."

Frazier and Tyler's mother told all their friends, and Tyler's career was launched.

In the beginning, he charged $15 an hour.

He was too young to drive, so clients would pick him up.

A babysitting job for Malcolm Taaffe, then a vice president at Merrill Lynch, led to a non-paying, summer internship.

Two weeks into the internship, at age 14, Tyler was on the payroll.

"Technology-wise, I was a neophyte," Taaffe says. "I told him what I needed, and he got me up and running."

Tyler took charge of computer acquisition, setup, training and troubleshooting.

Taaffe was struck by his sense of personal responsibility and compassion.

"He never complains," Taaffe says. "There's never an ill word about anyone."

When Taaffe changed firms, he took Tyler with him to UBS/PaineWebber, where the teenager worked 10 to 15 hours a week.

"Once again, I trusted him, carte blanche," Taaffe says. "He'd go off and do whatever had to be done."

By the middle of 10th grade, Tyler was a serious businessman. In January 2000, he formed CoolTronics.com, a sole proprietorship. Largely self-taught, he trained to be a Microsoft Certified Professional.

photo
Ruth Dikman, 84, gives her grandson, Tyler, a kiss at his graduation party Sunday. In addition to business, Tyler is an altar boy at his church and a volunteer at the VA hospital.
Now he charges $45 an hour for residential consulting, repairs and upgrades, and $60 commercial.

About eight months ago, he established a partnership with Dell.

"I'm their youngest partner," he says.

He could be, says Sebastien Roegiers, a Dell senior account manager. He calls Tyler "impressive."

"When he told me how old he was, I was like, 'wow,' " Roegiers says.

As a Dell reseller, Tyler must sell a minimum of $100,000 annually in Dell equipment. "The more volume, the better the discount pricing," Roegiers says.

That's how Tyler can beat Dell's online prices.

If he's the youngest Dell dealer, he's also the most junior member of the Junior League's community advisory board.

Earlier this year, after selling, updating and networking three Dell computers in the Davis Islands headquarters, the Junior League asked him to be the board's technology director.

"I was the only one who had to get out of school to go to the luncheon," he says.

So now what happens, when the boy voted "Most Likely to Succeed" leaves home for college?

The cake served at Tyler Dikman's graduation party proclaims his business success.

Strategically, he picked Santa Clara University, partly because it's a Jesuit school, but also because it's down the street from Yahoo, Intel and Ebay.

Come September, he'll put his Tampa business in the hands of two high school friends. He's training them now, and informing clients.

"California is only a cell phone call away," he assures them.

And Tampa, just a plane ride away.

Who knows, business could be even better out west. College students are a prime target for new computers.

"I will be selling some Dells in California," says Tyler.

- Reporter Amy Scherzer can be reached at 226-3332 or scherzer@sptimes.com.

City Times: The rest of the stories

  • Old rules illuminate the past's concerns
  • Teenage tycoon
  • Bonding, codger style
  • Adding gilt to Guilder
  • Cooking up wisdom
  • Life comes full circle, back where it began
  • Warranty protects against problems
  • Homes morph with age, lives
  • A scholar, athlete and volunteer
  • Taking steps in the right direction
  • The stars come out all day
  • Datebook
  • Beads, beads, beads
  • Prominent lawyer, public official
  • Get your java at the drive-though
  • Pennies and pictures for patients
  • Struggling Giancola's abruptly shuts down
  • Plant High graduates show their generosity
  • Old homes harbor ship and other sea images
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