Josh Shipp used to get kicked out of class for talking. Now he gets paid for it.
Shipp, 28, is the founder of Hey Josh, a company devoted to providing practical, non-preachy advice to teenagers. From booking speaking engagements across the country, to maintaining an advice website that generates 70,000 page views a day, Shipp has built a brand that he believes serves an unmet need -- providing an outlet for teens in search of help.
"Adults had Dr. Phil and Oprah, kids had Barney," Shipp says. "But there's no one speaking to teenagers and college-aged students."
Shipp says his understanding of teen issues is a product of his own childhood. Until the age of 14, he shifted from one foster home to another, where he says he was mentally and physically abused. He soon became a resentful outcast in school.
"I went through all this unfortunate stuff, and there was a point in my life where I assumed I was the only one in the entire world that was in foster care or didn't know his parents," Shipp says. "The way I dealt with it was, I ate a bunch of food, became overweight, was picked on, and became suicidal."
Shipp says he lashed out and became the class clown, easily capturing the attention of his classmates. But at the encouragement of a high school teacher, to whom he credits some of his success, he started speaking about his issues to junior high kids. Before long, he went from getting paid $75 per engagement to his current fee of $5,000 for a one-hour speech. Shipp's appearances, along with book deals and merchandising, brought in $580,000 in revenue last year.
"The speeches earned me the leverage and credibility to take my business into other platforms," he says.
As his speaking style -- comedic, yet earnest and direct -- became more popular, Shipp began receiving more e-mails from teens seeking advice. This provided the inspiration for the launch of HeyJosh.com, which serves as a resource center for teens, and the viewing place for Josh's new advice show. Shipp's quirky, animated flair is in full force here: some of the video highlights include a talking ceramic owl and the occasional rap or song. On occasion, he'll break out his best bobblehead doll impression.
"You have to earn the right to be heard, and with this generation, there's no better way to get through to them than to make them laugh," he says.
Shipp says he will be taking his special brand of humor to television in the coming months, having signed a deal with a yet-to-be-named network to star in his own show called "Jump Shipp." In the meantime, he is working on pitching his teen advice packets to schools -- which he says could turn into a major revenue stream for the company.
"If a parent goes in and buys a book at Barnes & Noble, they might buy one or two copies," says Shipp of the packets, which contain workbooks, CDs and DVDs. "If a school buys this packet, they buy 5,000 at a time."
While the business continues to grow, Shipp vows to never lose focus of why he started all this in the first place -- providing advice for teens.
"My ultimate goal has always been to help teenagers," Shipp says. "Sometimes the things that have hurt you the most are the things you can use to help others."