Miles Ahead

By Beacon Staff

Traditionally, if you wanted to succeed as a businessman, you worked your way up the company ladder or earned a college degree. Or, you created a comprehensive business plan and built enough credit for a starter loan.

Instead, 10-year-old Miles Friedman began watching a few YouTube videos and asked his mom if he could borrow $35.

Within two years, Friedman had sold more than 350 homemade fingerboards, or miniature skateboards that can be maneuvered with your hands. By 13, his interests had turned to clothing and he was negotiating contracts via the Internet with a dozen fabric and textile factories in China. He sealed business deals for two separate clothing companies, including his latest line of street wear – M.Elihu – before stepping foot in Glacier High School.

Finally this year, after establishing trust and reliability as a business partner, Friedman broke the news to his overseas manufacturers that he was only 15 years old.

“They were shocked,” he said recently during lunch break at Glacier High. “Right off the bat, if I said how old I was they probably would have said they wouldn’t do it.”

To get a glimpse of the 21st century entrepreneur, look no further than Friedman. The motivated, tech-savvy high school freshman has become an international businessman through the modern avenues of his Apple computer and iPhone. He’s already owned and operated four separate startups and is expanding the scope of his latest endeavor, all before having a driver’s license. He has also been contracted by retailers who need help maneuvering the e-commerce maze, like following U.S. Customs regulations and finding trustworthy overseas manufacturers.

His latest clothing line has grown 10-fold in the last 12 months and sales are on pace to triple in the next quarter, Friedman said. Just last week he spent all night online finalizing the largest order he’s ever handled. He preferred not to give an exact shipment size, but for an idea of how large his shipments can run, just a few months ago he received 1,000 embroidered hats in the mail.

“It’s been a fun road to take,” he said. “I think the knowledge that I’ve learned from doing all this in the last five to six years really is not something you learn in the classroom necessarily. You learn it firsthand and in the field. Definitely, at least at my age, it would be very hard to open a store at 11 years old in Whitefish or Kalispell. So without the Internet this would not be happening.”

As business booms, Friedman plans to fly to China for the first time this summer and meet his associates face-to-face as opposed to Skype or email. These same partners shower Friedman with birthday and Christmas gifts as a sign of their appreciation.

“Multiple times, I should have probably gotten on a plane and gone over there. But it’s hard to miss school and it’s expensive,” he said.

In fifth grade, Friedman was thrown into the typical mix of youth sports. But, as he says, “I knew I wasn’t going to go pro like everybody hopes to one day, and I wanted to do something outside the box.”

He had always been motivated. He also enjoyed the excitement of selling things, whether it was lemonade on the street corner or his dad’s bike on eBay. One day he saw a video on YouTube of fingerboards and a light bulb flashed. He asked his mom for a loan and ordered some wood off the Internet and began building tiny skateboards. The first ones, admittedly, got horrible reviews. But he used his early shortcomings to fuel his fire, kept researching and honed his skills. He constantly put new models for sale online, and two years later on Black Friday after Thanksgiving, he woke up to find over 300 receipts in his inbox.

The fingerboards satisfied his entrepreneurial spirit, but his true passion was for clothing. He was fascinated by styles and clothing lines evolving with the times, and closely followed businesses like J. Crew and Quicksilver. He studied other entrepreneurs such as Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos.com, an online shoe and clothing retailer, who “really transformed the way online e-commerce is done,” Friedman said.

Some of Miles Friedman’s designs – including a shirt, hat and vest – are seen branded with his recognizable M.Elihu Clothing Company logo.
Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

The teenager designed his latest brand, called M.Elihu, after his middle name, and began researching manufacturers. He spent 18 months wading through the online marketplace. Not only did he secure trusted partners overseas, but he also learned the ins and outs of a complex business discipline. New or small businesses often don’t have the resources to do the same leg work, and that has made Friedman a valuable tool.

His clothing line, which includes shirts, hats, coats and more, follows a few of Friedman’s principles. The clothing is the quality he demands and everything is guaranteed for life. The styles and designs are based on a simple formula – would Friedman and his friends wear them?

“I have probably 5,000 fabric samples at my house,” he said.

Despite his early successes, he stays devoted to his formal education. In fact, he often finds himself in the spotlight of his introductory business class.

“I’m able to use Miles and his entrepreneurship as examples with the class,” said Cindy Jones, who teaches business courses at Glacier. “One day, a student in class actually had on a product of Miles’.”

Jones often asks Miles to speak to other students about his business endeavors. He explains how his online presence and hard work have allowed him to create an untraditional lifestyle for a 15-year-old.

“He’s so bright and he’s such a gentleman,” Jones said. “He’s getting a nice foundation of what it is to have a business and also the other things to go with it. I foresee him to be very successful.”

His goal is to keep growing it, keep improving his skills and online sales. But he’s also thinking about opening an old-fashioned business, with a store in the valley where he can sell his clothing in person.

His parents, Andrea and Richard, continue to back their son in many ways, including running to the post office for shipments or offering another loan if he ever needs one.

“They have been very supportive, but I’ve said, ‘Let me do this on my own at this point in the game.’ The joke is that I can buy them a nice sports car one day,” Friedman said. “Really the sky is the limit. It just comes down to my hard work and determination.”

For more information, visit www.m-elihu.com.

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