Matt Yourst began a high-tech company when he was 15.

“I’ve always had an inventive spirit, right from the beginning,” says Yourst, now 18, whose company, Laserstars Technologies, Inc., marketed an operating system he created for running IBM OS/2 applications in DOS and Windows.

“What surprised me was I was able to pull the whole thing off. Many times I was filled with doubt,” says this freshman, who also is a computer consultant for several companies.

Offering the software on the Internet, he was dealing worldwide. He had several international clients, including customers from the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

He plans to become an inventor and earn a PhD. His dream is to start a revolutionary new company, but nothing small. He wants to create something with the impact of the Internet, the telephone, or the television. “That’s my long-term goal,” he says, adding he also dreams about one day winning the Nobel Prize.

Instant success

Two days after he launched his business on the Internet, he got a customer from Singapore. “It was really a euphoric feeling. The quickness of the response really caught me by surprise. I couldn’t believe there was so much interest in what I had done so fast, especially from the international market.”

Among the challenges of running a business, he says, was dealing with customers who spoke no English and dealing with volatile foreign economies that affected some overseas customers’ ability to pay.

It was important to Yourst from the start that his corporation appear professional, right down to the stationery and business cards. “I didn’t want everyone to know I was only 15,” he says.

“The biggest challenge was making sure everything was professionally handled and that the customers were happy. I had a lot of anxiety about that because the customers did not know I was still in high school.”

Yourst ran the business from the basement of his family’s home in Vestal, New York, where he set up computers and a fax machine. His parents were his corporate officers.

He began the company with $2,500, half from his savings and half a loan from his father. After three years, the company wound up earning a substantial profit.

But he did not begin the company to get rich, he says. “Money didn’t matter to me. It’s more important that you do something to help the world.”

Moving on

The unfortunate thing was that three years into the business, IBM had phased out its OS/2 product line, which Yourst says virtually ended his business. “I had done a lot of work, so I felt disappointed, but it was a growing experience to realize that I had to move on.”

The fact that he had already started and ended a business by the time most of his peers had just graduated from high school gave him an edge in terms of life lessons, he says.

“Even though the company dissolved, I have grown and changed a lot. I’m not necessarily smarter, but I’m definitely wiser.”

He received a four out of five on the advanced computer science exam as an eighth grader before he ever took a course. Throughout high school, he took college courses at Binghamton University in New York, and one summer he conducted research at Cornell University.

In high school, he wrote a paper, Inside Java Class Files, which was published in Dr. Dobb’s Journal, a professional publication. It has been reprinted and cited in numerous national and international journals.

Yourst’s father is retired from IBM and his mother runs a home craft business. It is his paternal grandfather, he says, whom he strives to emulate. “He was a real inspiration to me.”

A prolific inventor, his grandfather developed the bifocal contact lens. “That’s the reason I feel I have to carry on this legacy of inventors in our family.”

As a child, he displayed his inventiveness by once taking apart a VCR. He has dreamed about starting a company since he was four. As a child, he often would set up a food stand in the living room. Taking food from the refrigerator, he’d set it on a table, and sell it back to his mother for a dime.

“Being a success is knowing you’ve done not only your best but knowing that you’re capable of doing more,” he says. “Someday I’ll start another company. You have to go beyond your best and grow.”