Nathan Ruff started his first business at the age of 12.
Now 21-years-old, he has two companies with multiple partnerships and contracts around the country.
Growing up in Bellevue, he said being home schooled made him realize the value of deep friendships and connections with people.
“I feel like a lot of kids who go to public school have a lot of friends in all these circles but they weren’t deep with anyone,” he said. “It was all surface level. I want to grow deep and build a network with everyone.”
Nathan said more than anything, he feels blessed that he knew what he wanted to do at a young age.
He said he learned early on not to listen to negativity. He insisted had he listened to everything people were telling him, he would not be where he is.
“It’s not a safe route for your son to say he wants to be an entrepreneur,” he said admitting to having disagreements with his own father. “I don’t have anything to lose at 21. I’m all in. And if I fail, I will get up and build it again.”
In 2012, Nathan went to work as a car salesman.
He worked through the Carnival Kia debacle in November of that year when owner and operator Chris Bostick was charged with domestic assault against his wife.
“I was hired a week before all that happened,” Nathan said. “I saw the power of bad media. I thought, ‘Wow, your reputation is huge,’ and I value you that more than anything. Now for all my ventures I ask myself what reputation am I going to leave by doing this?”
After leaving Kia, Nathan went to real estate school. There, he saw a need for realtor websites. He offered to create custom design websites and brands as his new incorporate company, Nathan Ruff, Inc.
“My company failed in the first year,” he said. “I had problems scaling. I had problems hiring. Trying to start a marketing agency at 18 was a very difficult matter.”
After the first year he really became motivated. He rebranded Nathan Ruff, Inc. to OneNine, added a developer and a designer to his team and started to see growth.
In the summer of last year, Nathan started Tiger, a social media marketing company. As a separate partnership, Nathan said he’s not exactly sure what’s going to become of Tiger and he may end up merging it with OneNine.
At the age of 12, Nathan starting watering plants to earn extra cash.
“Even still, today I think, how can I scale that business?” he said “From a 12-year-old’s perspective I learned timing. I learned how important it was, because their flowers died if I wasn’t there.”
Nathan said because of his experience at a young age, he has never been late to a meeting or to any event.
Two years later, at the age of 14, his next business venture was re-gripping golf clubs at a local golf course.
“Typically, it cost around $3 to replace the grip on a golf club using a solvent that includes gasoline and smells awful.”
He realized he didn’t exactly have the strength to re-grip the clubs with the solvent so he did some research and came across another way to do the same thing using an air compressor.
“All you needed was water and there wasn’t any solvent,” he said. “There wasn’t any smell and it worked a lot better. I’ve always hustled. That’s always been my mentality,” he said.
When he was 16, Nathan started a T-shirt logo business. The business did not work out but he was able to sell the domain to be profitable.
When he’s not trying to build a business empire, Nathan likes to play golf and meet new people. He’s said he very connected to his church, Brentwood Baptist, and is often out playing flag football or tossing a Frisbee in the park.
Today, OneNine is a company that builds websites and brands and works on multiple platforms. The name comes from a long research of domains. Nathan said, it was short and flowed and he just went with it.
He said he is actively transitioning OneNine into a broader media company. In the future, he plans on highlighting different artists, photographers and videographers for a week to showcase creatives in Nashville.
“Community is everything. A business with the community just fails,” he said.
Nathan runs ads on Facebook that advertise free business card designs. He said it’s about adding value to relationships with people in the community, which in turn helps grow businesses.
“If you have a terrible business card, I want to make it awesome,” he said. He is working on a book with the same topic that will be released within the next year. Entitled, Your Business Card Sucks, he said it’s meant to help people. The book will come with 50 custom designs and coupons for other services.
Nathan had one word to sum up the business economy in Nashville. “Amazing.”
“I love it,” he said. “We’re growing and to see that is awesome.”
For the last 10 months, Nathan, like a lot of start up businesses and organizations, works out of the Entrepreneur Center on Peabody St. He said he loves startups because of the high degree of passion in them.
“You come here with an idea and they’re able to help you make your idea a reality,” he said. “They’ve done everything right.”
He said Nashville does a good job of keeping businesses in town, but stressed fairness and simplicity across the line when it came to federal and local taxes. He said simplifying write-offs and streamlining tax brackets would be a good start.
“The thing is, smart people find their way around [tax loops],” he said. “In a perfect world I just wish we had a flat rate tax for everything we did.”
He said he would probably end up paying more but he’s okay with that.
Nathan eventually wants to build a Fortune 500 company and chase the America dream. He said he wants to achieve things in business very few people are able to do.
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