Eight years ago in the 2005 edition of the Hauberk, Austin Hurst was named “Most likely to become the next Donald Trump.” This profile turned out to be more than just a commemorative “send-off” for the young entrepreneur. Austin and his twin brother Zach have proven this prediction was more accurate than they ever believed possible. Now at only 26-years-old, the successful entrepreneurs are knee-deep in their pursuit to purchase the well-known company Hostess Brands.Hostess Brands
, makers of the famous “Twinkie” cakes, received national attention in November when they filed for bankruptcy. Hostess attempted to receive aid in bailing out their company in January, with the hopes of preserving jobs and benefits for workers. Later that month, the company had to close its doors, cease production and begin the process of selling the company. On Jan. 31, Hostess Brands released a statement on their website informing the public what action would be taken regarding the sale of the company.“Hostess Brands has requested that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court authorize the company to proceed with an auction for the majority of the assets of the snack cake business on March 13,” Hostess Brands published on their website. “The Company will select the highest and best offer at the conclusion of the auction. The sale to the winning bidder requires court approval.”Potential bidders for the company began emerging, hoping to make opening bids on the Hostess Brand. One of these companies was founded by the Hurst brothers. Hurst Capital LLP
, their Private Equity fund, has been based out of Sarasota, Florida since 2009. Currently it holds interest in five different companies and is competitively working towards making Hostess Brands number six.
The Hursts admit that they had no idea what they were getting themselves into with the Hostess deal. Prior to Hostess, they had zero knowledge of the banking industry, and no experience in dealing with bankruptcy or liquidation. But what they did know was their potential as entrepreneurs.
“We really just jumped into it,” Austin said. “People say to me ‘Looks like you’ve got your feet wet in this hostess deal’ and I say ‘No, we just dove into the freaking ocean.’ But I knew that I was good enough to rally a team with the knowledge of those subjects, I knew if I could put that team together, then we had a fighting chance.”
Austin and his twin brother Zach began as entrepreneurs early in their teenage years. They began a business called Dominant Designing Group when they were only 15, that designed websites for other businesses in the Kansas City area. The brothers worked hard on finding other entrepreneurs to work with them as mentors, and build upon their network of contacts in the business world.
“I was able to network well, and get my foot in the door to a lot of companies early on,” Austin Hurst said. “It brings your agency a lot more credibility to have a portfolio that is constantly growing. People were willing to help me because they wanted to see me succeed because I was only 16-years-old.”
Austin offered East students 15 percent of the income from the project for introducing him to their parents. He used that technique to get the attention of several larger companies, including Sprint. From that point on his agency has grown and they now have over 30 Fortune 500 clients invested in their company.
On an average week in high school, Austin would be juggling school and 13-15 projects simultaneously. He recalled the times when he would sneak his flip-phone under his desk and correspond with paying customers via text. It was before cell phones had the enormous popularity they have today, so he could freely manage his business without worries of a teacher catching him with a phone.
“When you are that age all people in the business world care about is inspiring the future of entrepreneurship,” Austin said. “When they see someone at that age doing things that are radical and different, and trying to make a difference in the community, then they try to take a more parenting approach than a business approach.”
Sometimes he would even sneak off to the library for computer access to set up accounts for the new customers. Austin says that in the long run, getting an early start made all the difference. He could ask business people all the obvious questions and not have to worry about credentials like having a college degree, or a perfect portfolio.
“He was always coming in to get on the computer, and was always trying to do something new with his business,” Austin’s former marketing teacher Jennifer Hair said. “I knew he had a maturity level greater than that of other juniors and seniors. He was always so committed and motivated and driven; with those three characteristics you can do anything.”
In the winter of 2005, after leaving East, the Hurst brothers founded an Internet Company called 1Dawg.com. The website was a video downloading and sharing site, and eventually became ranked as the fifth most popular “Youtube-like” website. 1Dawg.com peaked at 6.4 million daily active users in it’s first four months, ultimately making it one of the fastest growing websites of all time.
In their next project, the brothers went on to create and patent a video transcoding engine, and contributed most of their base code to public use. Even companies as large as Google used the Hursts’ code, and continue to use it today.
Since then, things have progressed rapidly and successfully for the Hurst brothers. They now have national attention for the Hostess deal, drawing crucial investors towards their company. The brothers even have a professional profile in the Wall Street Business Journal, something that even someone as confident in their business as Austin finds it hard to believe. Regardless of how the Hostess deal turns out this March, the Hurst brothers are just content to have come so far as entrepreneurs. They credit all the people who helped them when they were just teenagers, giving them the tools to point them towards where they are now.
“Its not always about winning, It’s about how far you have come in the process, and this deal has created more value for me than I could have ever dreamt,” Austin said. “But I understand where I came from. I have plans of creating a foundation where we can go inspire the youth to build a business while still in school. I look back and see how many people helped me when I was just 16 and I think how can we do that for people today?”