As part of an occasional series on young business owners, meet 24-year-old Jonathan Jernigan of APEX Web Solutions.
This article is part of an occasional series featuring some of the youngest business owners in Northwest Florida.
DESTIN — It was through a two-sided window inside a Fort Walton Beach cyber cafe in the early 2000s that local businessman Jonathan Jernigan found his life's calling, sort of.
Jernigan, now a 24-year-old Niceville resident, would sit at a video game computer for hours with his friends on summer afternoons, often peering over the screen to study the handiwork of technicians repairing computers in the glassed room next door.
"I was always peeking into the window and one of the workers eventually noticed and asked if I wanted to shadow him," Jernigan said. "I spent an entire summer doing an internship with them and learned everything I could. I went back the next summer for an entry level job."
Jernigan said his passion for computers, however, started long before the cyber cafe. His mom purchased a computer from a garage sale, and, as a young boy, instead of using it, Jernigan took it apart.
"My two brothers were older than I was, so they weren't home a lot, and so I found myself tinkering with computers," he said. "I couldn't put that computer back together, so from that day on I was determined to figure it out and learn everything I could about it. I ended up starting to build my own computers and websites. After working at the computer repair shop through high school, I planned to go to (the University of West Florida) for their computer engineering program."
His plans would change, though, after the computer repair shop offered Jernigan a full-time position as a technician.
"I graduated with a two-year associate's degree through Collegiate High School," Jernigan said. "Then I worked for them for about two years. I left the company after that and, of course, thought I could do it better on my own."
Without a penny to his name, Jernigan began his own IT company, which eventually would be known as APEX Web Solutions.
"My mom, reading this now, will probably say, 'Oh, no!' because I, of course, told her I had enough money to quit my job and start this business," Jernigan said. "It was a heck of a lot harder than I thought. It took me a long time to get my footing.
"What I found out is everyone had an IT guy, but everyone asked me if I did websites and social media marketing. I kept saying 'No. No. No,' because I wanted to work on the IT side of things. Eventually, I came to the realization that, why am I turning down work that I can do? So I slowly took on projects until the website side of the business totally overtook the computer side."
Since the end of 2015, Jernigan said he hasn't done anything except website design and social media marketing. Although he's now a businessman who will soon hire an entire agency of website designers, writers and developers, Jernigan is still a normal 24-year-old with his own set of hobbies.
One of his passions, besides his girlfriend and son, is Formula 1 racing.
"I hate to again use the word 'tinkering,' but I love adding new parts and changing things and car maintenance," he said. "I wake up early in the morning, really early, to watch the races because most of them are in Europe.
"I still like working on my own computer and helping friends with projects, but not so much on the business side."
As for his future, Jernigan said it's his goal to be the best website design company around town. He manages 40 websites, with two of his largest clients being Harmony Beach Vacations and Emerald Coast Title Services.
Just two years into the website side of the business, Jernigan said he's proud of what he's built.
"If someone would have told me I'd be where I am today five years ago, I would have told them that that was a stretch," Jernigan said. "I still have a long way to go, but I feel very confident I can do it."