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Zune player forum makes teen a fortune

Jan Norman
The Orange County Register (MCT)

SANTA ANA, Calif. - Young entrepreneur Hansup Yoon, 15, recently sold his creation ZuneBoards, an Internet forum devoted to Microsoft's Zune media player, for $62,000.

The teenager, who lives in Fullerton, Calif., created the site months before Microsoft introduced its answer to Apple's iPod in 2006.

"It was the most perfect time to start a Web site about Zune, and I was one of the first few to create a Zune-related site," he said.

Yoon built the site using the free MyBBoard software, later shifting to vBulletin and Joomla. In less than two years, it grew to 60,000 members with more than 270,000 posts, all about Zune. It has been making about $1,000 a month from Google Adsense and TribalFusion, both with tools that place ads that are relevant to a Web site's visitors.

When he decided to sell, he posted it on SitePoint.com and other sales Web sites for a minimum of $30,000 or "Buy It Now" for $60,000. Two bidders chose the latter option, and crowdgather, a Woodland Hills, Calif., company that has bought more than 70 message boards and forums as a foundation for Internet advertising, upped its bid to $62,000.

"Bidding was getting close to the Buy It Now price, and I didn't want to lose (ZuneBoards) over a few thousand dollars," said crowdgather founder Sanjay Sabnani.

Sabnani wasn't surprised to learn that his acquisition was created and owned by a teenager.

"I'm getting more and more used to that," he said. "My first acquisition was a graphic site from someone in Italy. I was blown away when I found out he was 16."

Because Yoon is a minor, crowdgather negotiated with his parents, and the deal closed in a day. They used escrow.com, an Irvine, Calif., site that acts as a shield against fraud between buyers and sellers of businesses, Web sites and other ventures, Sabnani said.

Yoon's ability to build a profitable site would be the envy of older entrepreneurs.

"At first I tried to teach myself with books I would buy from bookstores. ... However, ultimately, I was mostly self-taught from other Web development communities like Forums.DigitalPoint.com, SitePoint.com and NamePros.com,"

Yoon said. "The Internet is an amazing place. You can practically learn anything you want if you're willing to make a time commitment.

"It is so easy to make money on the Internet. Web development. Made-for-Adsense sites. Affiliate marketing. Paid to post. And the list goes on," Yoon said. "I guess that's one reason why I am so thankful to God. Not everyone has the mentality and understanding of how things work online as I do."

After he designed ZuneBoards, he marketed it by exchanging posts with other small forums. In a few months, he had several volunteer administrators and moderators who made sure the forums were organized and all posts obeyed the site's rules. ZuneBoards now has more than 70 people working on it.

"The great thing was I had so much freedom," Yoon said. "I only spent 30 minutes online a day on ZuneBoards."

Yoon decided to sell ZuneBoards to spend more time on his studies. He is a sophomore in high school and plans to try out for the football team. Also, he wanted to give some financial support to his family.

"Thirdly, I felt that I wasn't doing my best to really make ZuneBoards grow to its full capabilities," he added. "I felt a new ownership would really bring in fresh leaders that were really motivated and focused on the growth of ZuneBoards."

He said he will continue as a site administrator.

Sabnani said young entrepreneurs who are going to school or working full time and running forums on the side have a tough time.

"They don't get the respect of advertisers. The bigger you are, the higher the advertisers will pay for the same advertising inventory," he said.

Yoon, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, describes himself as a normal American teenager.

"I love sports. I love to hang out. I love to game. I've played lacrosse and baseball in the past. This will be my fourth year playing football as a running back," he said. "To be honest, only a few of my close friends even know I do this."

He has not yet planned out a future of entrepreneurial ventures.

"It's kind of hard to see into my future right now, but I can definitely imagine myself working for my church, starting a nonprofit organization or even being a youth pastor," he said. "I can't imagine myself grown up sitting behind a computer all day making money while there are hundreds of millions of people who are starving and never felt God's love."

"He's a great kid and a valuable member of our church," said Matthew Lee of Sarang Community Church in Anaheim, Calif. "Han is doing some Web site work for our high school ministry."

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