Starting Early: Jason Garber

Jason Garber Only 21, with one company already under his belt, computer whiz Jason Garber has learned lessons about mentors, personal limits and the public role of business.
Photo by Jim Bishop

As a child Jason Garber liked to “play business.” By his mid-teens he owned one.

Now 21, the enterprising college senior has racked up more business savvy than some people twice his age.

Garber was six when his family got their first computer, an IBM PS2. “I jumped on it pretty early,” he says. While other children were still learning to read, he pretended he was in business and made signs with desktop publishing.

He was a natural with computers. Word of his expertise got around his home town of Hutchinson, Kan. In his teens he was spending so much time helping people he decided to start charging.

“I picked a rate pretty well at random, $15 an hour,” says Garber. “I thought that was big money then.”

As he got busier he kept bumping it up. At $50 an hour he was still “as busy as I could tolerate.”

By 15 he was president of his own company, Next Step Systems, which handled two lines of computer hardware, installed and configured networks and did web design.

Being so young in business had its perils. One day in high school he received a pink excuse slip that said “emergency.” He rushed to the school office, fearing a family crisis. Relief washed over him when he learned it was a call from a client who urgently needed help with a computer system Garber had installed the previous weekend.

Since he was too young to drive, his father had to leave work to take him to the client, 22 miles away.

“I was learning how to keep customers satisfied a great deal faster than I had anticipated,” Garber recalls.

When a national computer magazine profiled this midwestern wunderkind the editor had to ask for clarification: “Who or what,” he queried, “is 16 years old