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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 here

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 for networking.

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 site's success.

"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 six computers.

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."


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