At just 17, this boy is tech tycoon
By AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- 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.
He's 17 and 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 business demands.
"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.
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?"
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 VA Medical Center. For the past two summers, he has volunteered there.
Back at work, he smoothly teaches grannies to surf the Internet and send e-mail, linking them to families across the country.
"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. A girlfriend? No time.
"I got my card before Larry Ellison," he says, beaming at the thought of besting the president of Oracle Corp.
In Las Vegas in November he engaged in tech talk at a 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 said.
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 South Tampa driveway.
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.
"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. He realized he could earn a living.
Neighbor 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.
A babysitting job for Malcolm Taaffe, then a vice president at Merrill Lynch, led to a nonpaying, summer internship.
After two weeks, 14-year-old 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.
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.
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.
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.
Sebastien Roegiers, a Dell senior account manager, calls Tyler "impressive."
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.
This year, after selling, updating and networking three Dell computers in the Junior League's Davis Islands headquarters, he was asked to serve on the organization's community advisory board as technology director.
So now what happens when the boy voted "Most Likely to Succeed" leaves home for college?
He picked Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif., 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," Tyler says.
-- Amy Scherzer can be reached at (813) 226-3332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
local news desks