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A Teenage Founder Looks Back

Joel Mueller founded MacUpdate in high school. Now it’s a $3 million business.

Joel Mueller was a high school student in Traverse City, Michigan, when he started the website that would become MacUpdate.com. He is now 31, and his site boasts 5.3 million monthly visitors, who buy and sell software for Apple computers. In 2008, revenue hit $3.7 million, and the company landed at No. 114 on the 2009 Inc. 500. Mueller remains on a roll: MacUpdate took the No. 233 spot on the 2010 list.

High school is a great time to start a business. When else in life can you minimize risk and focus your efforts on growing a company, while not worrying about paying for rent and groceries?

I always had a passion for Macs. In 1996, when I started the site, it was called Extreme-mac.com, and it was a place to read news and talk on a message board. I changed the name two years later. The site has grown into a community in which developers buy and sell software and get feedback on their applications.

The MacUpdate team is entirely virtual. I worked with my first employee for two years before meeting him in person.

I've traveled to and lived in South Africa, Peru, Japan, Italy, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom, and all over the U.S. I have not lived in one place for more than six months in years. But I'm slowing down. I've been splitting my time the past year between Traverse City and Kalamazoo to be near my friends and family.

I think because I jumped so quickly into MacUpdate, I missed out on learning many of the things that different companies do to operate and grow. I sometimes feel naive on how the world does things in business.

I'm excited about the future. It's time to start expanding the company, and I believe MacUpdate is in a unique position to take things to the next level.

For more on the Inc. 500|5000, go to www.inc.com/inc5000.

Last updated: Nov 1, 2010

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DARREN DAHL is a contributing editor at Inc. Magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, NC.

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