Tuesday, February 13,
I'm just a kid, says 12-year-old CEOBy JULIE REMY
THE 12-year-old boss of a website design company is one of 300
business and political leaders accompanying Canadian Prime Minister
Jean Chretien on his current trade mission to China.
Keith Peiris, who founded award-winning Cyberteks Design in June
1999 and now has some 25 clients in North America, insisted in an
interview that he is "just like any other kid.''
But few kids face his decisions, like whether to sell out to US
or Hong Kong investors for several million dollars, and what to do
about would-be clients scared away by his tender years.
He and his father will spend nine days on the Team Canada trip to
Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, where Chretien aims to showcase the
best of Canadian business in the most populous country in the world.
Sitting in his office in the basement of his London, Ontario,
home, Peiris told Reuters he discovered his passion for web design
when he was 10 and was "playing around'' with software downloaded
from a website. Bored with singer Britney Spears and the Pokemon
cards and TV reruns his peers enjoyed, he experimented with
interactive tools as a hobby.
"There was nothing else to do,'' the dark-haired boy said in a
Demonstrating his music- and animation-laden interactive
websites, he summed up his strategy: "You find the best sites out
there and you see if you can do better. Of course, I am not the best
designer out there yet, but I will strive to be.''
A glance at the complex, elegant animations on his http://www.cyberteks.com/ site
shows both the extent of Peiris' talent and why news agencies and
broadcasters like CNN, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and
Australian television are calling daily to ask for interviews.
"He doesn't want to be No 2,'' his father Deepal said proudly,
his eyes sparkling behind square glasses.
Impressed by his son's first website, the former accountant,
president and marketing manager for Canadian computer companies
presented him with a complete kit of Macromedia applications for his
11th birthday in February 1999.
A few months later Macromedia chairman Robert Burgess introduced
Keith to the public as the youngest user of Flash animation and
Play becomes work
That launched his career as an entrepreneur and led to the
creation of Cyberteks Design.
"It was his idea,'' said his father, who is now vice-president of
operations at Cyberteks. "I am teaching my son what I know. We make
decisions together. I haven't done anything my son disagreed with.
He makes the final decision.''
The family business is already thriving. Cyberteks grew an
astounding 600% in the last seven months, thanks in part to
publicity over its young founder and the inclusion of the web design
company in the gallery of Macromedia clients, along with Kodak,
MSNBC and Cisco Systems.
With a revenue the family coyly admits is in six figures (in
Canadian dollars), the company has seven offices in the United
States and five part-time employees who, like the Peiris family,
work from their London homes.
Keith says he enjoys being able to work in his pyjamas but scoffs
at suggestions that he might eat in the office. "It's my loss if I
drop cola on the keyboard. It's my work that is going to be ruined,
so I am taking it seriously.''
An eighth grade student who wins top marks for his school work,
he also plays three times a week as goalie for the London Knights
ice hockey team and works nights and weekends on web design
"I really don't consider it work, I consider it fun. I just had
to rearrange a few things,'' he said casually when asked about his
heavy schedule. He admitted some potential clients change their
minds when they learn about his age, but the well-informed
not-yet-teenager tries to ignore them.
"There are a few people who don't understand me, but I try not
too think about that. It's just one person in 6 billion (in the
world),'' he said.
"Suddenly, I've been known as the whizkid or geek, which I can't
say I am too happy about. Some people -- very, very few -- have
asked if they should call me 'Mister,' but I try to stay as casual
as possible, simply because I am a kid still.''
But when offered a children's menu in a local bar and grill, he
looks offended and asks for a normal menu.
Already planning ahead, he is saving money to study business and
computer engineering. "People who take things for granted will be
left behind eventually. You have to continue to work hard to be part
of the new era,'' he said.
His parents, Deepal and Sryia Peiris, left war-torn Sri Lanka in
1981 to settle in Canada -- first Montreal, where Sryia was working
on a doctorate in organic chemistry, then London, a city of 300,000
some 125 miles (200km) southwest of Toronto.
Now the family admits it is at a crossroads, mulling whether to
sell Cyberteks or keep it.
"The question is whether to grow slowly or expand very fast,''
said Deepal, adding that the family may leave Canada but would leave
their head office in Toronto if it did. "We don't know where we are
going to be in the next few years.'' -- Reuters