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Although she is an emerging businesswoman, Meredith Charlson still encounters a few problems not common for the successful entrepreneur.
“One issue is because I am 16, I don’t have a driver’s license,” Meredith said. “Transportation can be a big issue. One event, we actually had to hire a driver.”
However, age is the least of Meredith’s worries, considering that at age 16, she has already become a nationally recognized success.
Meredith, who is heading into her senior campaign at in San Mateo, is the recipient of the 2011 Girls Going Places Entrepreneurship Award for her business, City Servers. The national award is presented by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America and considers thousands of teenage girls each year, ages 12 to 18, all of whom have the entrepreneurial spirit.
For her accomplishments, Meredith will be awarded $10,000.
City Servers, which was founded by Meredith in 2009 at age 14, is a company that provides set-up and cleanup services for weddings, dinner parties, bar mitzvahs, and several other events.
And in the two years since Meredith began the company, which sprouted from her elder sister Doria’s catering company, she has trained upwards of 20 employees and serviced hundreds of events.
“The business kind of branched out of my sister’s business,” Meredith explained. “My sister ran a catering company for about three years when she was in high school. She’s three years older than me, so when I was 11, I would work for her as a food server.”
“When I was 14 and Doria was 17, the economy crashed and I noticed that she was getting a lot of requests from clients to not cook and just provide food service,” Meredith said. “Just because people didn’t have that much extra money anymore.”
Doria decided not to shift the focus of her business from catering to serving, and instead, Meredith began to fill the service requests of Doria’s clients.
To this day, Meredith gives a large amount of credit to her mother and sister for giving her a head-start, credit that Doria would rather Meredith give to herself.
“Really, she’s created a very successful business for herself,” said Doria, 20. “It means a lot that she chose what she’s doing based off the work of my company, but she doesn’t give herself enough credit.”
Meredith explains that her mother, Elizabeth, began her business career at an even earlier age, which prompted Meredith to get her start as a teenager.
“When I turned 14, my mom came up to me and said, ‘I started my own business when I was nine,” Meredith said with a laugh. “You’re 14. You’re five years late.’”
“There was an expectation for me to run my own business.”
For more than two decades, Elizabeth Charlson, along with her sister and brother, founded and operated Pals Swim School in San Mateo. She got her start at age nine, setting precedence for both Doria and Meredith to begin their careers at a young age as well.
“There was an expectation for me that my kids knew what work was,” Elizabeth said. “Even though it might not have been a necessity that they work, I wanted them to know the value of work. I wanted them to understand how to control their own finances and be financially independent.”
Elizabeth’s key motivation for pushing her daughters to work at a young age was just that: independence.
“My kids know that through their own creativity and understanding of how business works, they don’t have to wait for somebody to offer them a job,” Elizabeth said. “They can create their own. And I wanted them to know that from a very early age.”
Meredith’s business model for City Servers is simple yet effective. She avoids overhead and costs remain low, if present at all. City Servers works on site, so there is no need for her to maintain her own equipment, and she pays her staff hourly and they are hired on a basis of need.
In addition, Meredith says that by hiring a staff that consists namely of her friends, she avoids missing out on several social activities.
“I don’t think that really happens for me,” said Meredith when asked if the responsibility ever becomes overwhelming. “I think I do kind of consider working as a social activity because the staff that I hire are my friends.”
However, the fact that Meredith is allowed to fraternize with friends on the job, working for City Servers is by no means an easy task.
“She’s put in a tremendous amount of work,” Elizabeth said. “The kind of business that she’s in, it’s hard physical labor, as well as having to deal with working at events that could be the most important day of someone’s life, such as a wedding or bar mitzvah. There’s a lot of pressure to do a really good job.”
Regardless of the pressure accompanied with maintaining the company, Meredith has reached success that many 16-year olds can only imagine, and her next step is to study at a four-year university.
Possibly making that transition a bit easier is her $10,000 award, an amount of money that would burn through the pocket of a normal 16-year old.
Meredith however, fits the bill of an adult in a teenager’s body.
“It’s unbelievable to me,” Meredith said of the cash award. “It doesn’t even seem real. I’m just going to save it for my college living expenses.”