Laima Tazmin, president of LAVT LLC, a Web consulting company based in a ramshackle prewar upper Manhattan building, is laying out her vision for the company's expansion into customizing computers and developing community-based online businesses. Tazmin's office is efficiently sparse, all her papers are properly filed, and her workspace is ordered and symmetrical, down to the dueling computer terminals that allow her to work side-by-side with an assistant, who scours Internet boards for new markets. It's a lean, effective operation, considerably more advanced and potentially more lucrative than the typical entrepreneurs of Laima's lot.
That lot would be babysitters, lawn mowers, paper routers, and burger flippers. Laima Tazmin is a 15-year-old freshman. The assistant is her mom, Lora.
"Laima is the top kid I have personally ever worked with, and that's out of 9,000," says Steve Mariotti, founder and president of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). "I've never met a kid like that." It was an NFTE instructor who introduced Laima, who was then in sixth grade (she was thoroughly self-taught in HTML by that point), to the world of small business. "He taught us we could turn our interests and hobbies into ideas for companies," says Tazmin. She parlayed her love of computers into a business plan that initially won a regional competition and then, after a bit of tweaking, bested plans from high school and college-age kids to win her the "Young Entrepreneur" contest sponsored by Fleet Bank. That netted her both $2,500 and a taste of media exposure.
Money doesn't seem to be the force behind Tazmin's march toward the wunderkind hall of fame. Rather she has a sincere desire to build a viable company that can more or less sustain itself when she hits some lucky college campus in 2007. Essentially, she sees herself setting up a "network of associates" (other college kids) to do her grunt work. To that end, she has burned through every program NFTE offers and is now the guinea pig in an "Executive Incubator" that offers Deutsche Bank director Joe Carvin as a mentor. "Laima has the technical skills, creative ability, and seriousness of purpose," says Carvin, "and she's in an industry where young people can have a competitive advantage."
To think she took her baby steps toward becoming a mogul on Communist soil. Laima was born in Cuba, the daughter of a Russian mother and a Cuban father who left the family portrait years ago. Lora brought Laima and her older brother Arlin, who is now 26, to the United States via the Soviet Union in 1995.
It's the American dream played out with a tinge of adolescent angst, or it would be if Laima weren't so preternaturally calm. On top of her quiet confidence, Laima has incorporated Buddhist meditation into her daily routine, which explains her Taoish nuggets like "Failure is a step to success." She is the polar opposite of the high-strung, ready-to-snap-and-go-ballistic type A's who water the lawns of prep schools with their tears over a B-plus. She is a sunny, charming, well-adjusted young girl who just happens to have a copy of the Idiot's Guide to Making Millions on the Internet on the same bookshelf as the latest Harry Potter, a Shrek DVD, and Hello Kitty memorabilia.
"I find Laima to be extraordinarily poised beyond her years," says Tom Phillips, one of her (10, at the moment) clients, who owns a communications consulting firm and hired her to give him a Web presence. "Her work is great." The accolades pour in from all corners, including her fellow students, who recently voted her class president, just another application-builder in her heavily scheduled young life, which is filled with: studying; shaking it as a member of the school's hip-hop dance team; hardwiring desktops; playing tennis and basketball; volunteering for a cyber-project that lets war veterans tell their stories digitally; speaking on behalf of NFTE; writing a novel; and oh, yes, running a successful business.
If she seems too good to be true, remember that teenagers have a way of defying expectations. So maybe she won't become Bill Gates, but she'll definitely be Laima Tazmin. "I want to direct my own life," she says with a knowing grin. "Entrepreneurship is about planning for the future, and I want to develop my creativity to have freedom. I want to grow myself."--Patrick J. Sauer
Patrick J. Sauer is a staff writer.