A Founding Father and His Mom
By Shannon Henry
The Washington Post
September 14, 2000
Looking around Saied Ghaffari's bedroom/office in Oakton, a visitor
is immediately conscious of the two very different parts of his life: 16-year-old
high school student and founder of a new Internet company. Photo
Big posters of professional wrestling champions and Michael Jordan share
wall space with a large whiteboard where business strategies and contact
numbers of potential partners are scrawled in blue, black and green marker.
He has a bedspread decorated with space aliens, Nintendo games and a
huge-screen television. But his cell phone is recharging next to the power
center of his blueberry Macintosh. Ghaffari's bookcase includes such English
class favorites as "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Hobbit"
as well as "Business Plans Made Easy" and a copy of Business
Week featuring his idol, Steve Jobs, on the cover. His golf clubs lean
against the television, evidence of a new hobby the teen says is great
Ghaffari, who came to the United States from Iran when he was 3, created
his company, JuniorJobs.com, a
Web site that links teenagers with potential employers, here in his room.
The site launches this week, focusing on Fairfax.
Last month he donned a suit and presented JuniorJobs.com to the Dinner
Club, a local group of individual angel investors. He was the club's first
teen presenter, giving his pitch to a group of 40 angels at Maggiano's
restaurant in Tysons Corner. "I was pretty nervous," he admits.
But he did well, according to his audience's reaction.
The group is considering investing, and in the meantime one of the Dinner
Club's organizers, Cal Simmons, has invited JuniorJobs.com to move into
his new technology incubator in Alexandria, which the company, which consists
of Ghaffari and his mother, will do in the next few weeks.
"The group loved the presentation and his enthusiasm," says
John May, manager of the Dinner Club. "We all felt we smelled something
in terms of investment."
Ghaffari includes cool music and content he thinks his buddies would
like on the site. He believes his youthful perspective is critical to the
"If this was just run by adults it would be boring," he says.
"It wouldn't look like a teen site."
The Internet is second nature to teens like Ghaffari. When I told him
that I didn't have Internet access in high school, he looked at me with
sadness and said: "I don't know how you survived." Ghaffari has
70 friends on his instant-messaging list and says he doesn't know anyone
his age who isn't online. The family's household--four kids and two adults--has
He's a huge Napster fan and when showing a demo of his site plays a
raucous song by one of his favorite singers, Lenny Kravitz. Ghaffari is
trying out for a part in the school's performance of "The Sound of
Music," and when he needed to learn a song he was asked to sing, he
simply downloaded it. "Back then--sorry--you'd have to go buy a record."
The idea for JuniorJobs.com came to him over Thanksgiving break last
year when he and his friends went looking for after-school jobs.
Ghaffari says they went from store to store in a nearby mall, and asked
other friends and teachers for help, but couldn't find anything. He says
it never occurred to him to look for jobs in the newspaper, but that as
someone who's on the Internet several hours a day, he of course searched
for a Web site that links teenagers and potential employers. He couldn't
find one, he says.
Then he started talking to his mother, Davar Ardalan, about turning
the idea into a business. Now that school has started and Ghaffari has
less time for JuniorJobs.com, what with attending classes, singing in the
school chorus and preparing for the PSAT, Ardalan, 36, has taken over as
president. She's taken a three-month leave from National Public Radio,
where she is a producer, to be a dot-com mom.
"He's always been a very curious child and very mature," Ardalan
says before her son stops her from saying anything mushy he might not want
to appear in a newspaper.
They're charging $50 per job opening for companies to post a position
for a month on JuniorJobs.com. Companies will be able to sign up this week;
the second phase, in which teens will be able to apply online, will be
up in two or three weeks.
The site is free to the job seekers, who can also read teenage views
on how to act in an interview, what to wear and other tips. Ardalan considers
the content to be a kind of archive of teen views, concerns and questions
about the job market.
While Ghaffari will have to concentrate on classes now that the summer
is over, he's already started a grass-roots marketing effort at his school,
talking up the idea to teachers and students and writing the Web site's
name on chalkboards to get the word out. He says his friends all tell him
he's going to be rich.
But his mom says they have watched other dot-com companies struggle
and are prepared for failure.
Either way, Ghaffari's dream is someday to become an industrial designer
of Macintosh computers.
"I want to work for Apple," says Ghaffari, clutching the Business
Week with Jobs on the cover. "I want to work for this man."