If you were to think of several different ways to make money in college most of them would not come close to earning you anywhere close to half a million a year. Most college students would think of a job like working in their campus gym, becoming an RA, or working in a campus library, as a job they would come to expect. The idea that you just need a job to pay the bills is a bit much but unfortunately for majority that is the way the world works. The trouble with falling into that mindset is that you are always playing catch up with your bills and that there is nothing else out there, until you get a piece of paper that says you finished college, and then that is when you get to start making the big bucks. All wishful thinking.
Every year there is a report put out about the highest jobs in demand and three of those jobs don’t even need a college education as so many young app makers are discovering. There are so many app makers now that Apple and Google have had to open their developer’s conference to teens and kids; that is how many are creating apps everyday now. So how does someone go about making half a million a year while still in college? Or for some lucky 19 year old, make enough money to live on their own in NY, pay for NYU tuition in full, and still run a tech company on the side? Easy, they are entrepreneurs who know how to innovate and create.
Mitchell Hashimoto started his first company when he was just 12 years old. His first company provided cheats to certain video games and charged people a fee to access those cheats on a website that he built. His parent’s didn’t really know what he was up to until legal issues started happening, since offering cheats to beat their video games wasn’t exactly legal. He was breaking the law and was made to stop. After that his parent’s limited his time on the computer, so this meant he had to sneak around to continue learning how to code and create programs. (Not very helpful or smart parents).
He persevered and held to his interests. It wasn’t until college that he found another business idea that landed him the ability to live comfortably but also make a difference for others. At the time in college if you wanted to register for a certain course that was popular or needed for graduation you had stand in line for registration early in the morning.
He created a program that allowed students to register for the classes they wanted without the hassle if they paid him. He was putting in less than part-time hours per week for a job that brought in half a million a year. He coded everything himself and eventually sold the service. But guess what? His parents, especially his dad, didn’t care that he was making that much money, his dad held to the old way of thinking, that you are only successful when you are a lawyer, doctor, or work in an office with a regular work schedule with steady pay and benefits. Those days are long gone.
Making the Successful Leap
Mitchell Hasimoto created his own job when he found a need for students to register for the classes they needed without having to get up in time to register. Once he landed a job with a web development company then his dad was happy to let his son pursue a degree in computer science, which is now one of the most sought after degree programs in universities but one that is difficult to stay with. It was during college that Mitchell found his co-founder, Armon Dadger, for his company, HashiCorp, and since then they have been working together to create innovative programs that allow developers and companies to create software in any environment using their open-source programs they have developed.
Two of the top programs they have made are, Atlas and Vagrant, which provides flexibility when it comes to creation and deployment of software. Vagrant is free to use and easy to install and get started with. You can even watch Youtube videos on how to use Vagrant. You can get right into understanding why developers would use this program over others and why so many of his projects have turned out great.
How Success Came His Way
Mitchell is the kind of person who pays attention to the small things of how people use stuff. Maybe you have noticed that when people pour a glass of milk, the process in which they pour affects their craving for milk. Why not make a container that is easier to use than a gallon of milk that weights too much for an older person to hold.
Maybe if you create a container where the weight is distributed evenly by a special handle that would encourage more people to drink milk and prevent kids from dropping those heavy gallon containers that happen so often. Innovators look at the world in this way, and innovators who turn those insights into things we can use in our everyday life are called entrepreneurs. The leap from idea to prototype to production to mass use is not an easy process but a challenge that needs to be handled correctly.
Growing up Mitchell had the time to learn how to program. The only difference between learning as a child and learning in college is that as a kid you have to have the drive to learn with no one telling you otherwise. In college, you are paying an institution to keep you on track and make you learn something that a simple library card could have given you, except in a library no one would be grading your work and there are no study groups to help you with the material. College provides all that and in the end if you pass your work you get a piece of paper that basically says, “Good Job!” on it.
Mitchell had the drive and interest to create something that he knew other people wanted. He taught himself how to build a website, which was a long time ago so coding was harder to learn but still made of the same principles today. After that he provided a service online for anyone who searched for what he provided, which was a narrow market of gamers for certain types of games. It wasn’t anything big but it was a start.
College is no different, entrepreneurs who listen to students complain about their life find ideas worth pursing. If they start to hear the same concern over and over then that is when they get to work on building that idea. Business students run into this problem all the time but it gets harder for them when they do not have the background in programming. Mitchell had the business smarts and programming smarts to bring his idea to life without needing anyone’s help. A business student without programming skills will have to find someone in the computer science department that has the same interests, but selling that student on the idea of creating that program for them is difficult when both don’t have any money. It helped that Mitchell was able to create his idea and show it to others to see if that was something worth pursing a partnership with.
The hardest part entrepreneurs have to deal with is not raising money; it is convincing others that your idea is worth their time. If you have an idea, you need this skill in order to get people to understand how your idea really works, otherwise your great idea may go unnoticed.
A Few other Prodigies
App Maker since he was in High School
Meet John Meyer, a 19 year old who holds more than 40 apps to his name, has turned down Apple for a job, and got rejected by the Thiel fellowship and couldn’t be better. John is someone who pursued his interests early on. Freshmen year in high school he started creating his own apps which means that in middle school he was teaching himself how to code. Some of his 40 apps are very successful with millions of downloads. So how does he spend his time now?
He works on his companies, Fresco News and TapMedia. Fresco is all about pooling people’s social media data together as an event is happening to provide the public with real-time visual information. For example, let say someone takes a photo of a robbery at a bank while it is happening and then another person is driving by and they take a photo. Currently those photos have to be searched manually online to find who was in the area as it was happening and piece it all together. John wants to use the power of computing to find similar photos, based on geotags probably, and stitch the pictures together so people from anywhere else can see what all is happening through the lens of each person’s camera phone. Pretty cool idea.
An MIT Teen
Most 13 years are not thinking about college, let alone wanting to work in a research lab at one of the top universities in the world. That is why Thomas Sohmers is such a unique person because he started in electrical engineering at a young age out of his own personal interest. He spent his off time in MIT research labs where he would go on to find his co-founder and CTO for his company. It helps to live near major universities known for doing groundbreaking work but it also helps to have parents who allow their kids the freedom to explore what all is around them.
The amazing thing about MIT is that there are lots of young people there on campus all the time year-round. They encourage anyone to attend who wants to do unique things and is making a change. You can read my article, “What this kid did with MOOCS will amaze you,” to learn how MIT finds their prodigies. Thomas is now 17 and last year he created a superfast computer that requires less power than a regular computer. Thomas created this with his co-founder and CTO, Kurt Keville and together they are working on creating green-but-powerful computers.
Thomas was also aware of the Thiel fellowship and has applied several times. He didn’t get in until his third try but he first applied when he was just 14 years old. One of the rules is that you can not be enrolled in school so he had to drop out when he was a junior. His parents showed concern but when they learned more about Peter Thiel and his program they offered their support. He then moved to San Francisco to start on his new endeavors. He doesn’t have any plans to go back and finish high school now that he has proven what he is capable of creating with what he has learned on his own.
This Teen has 3.1 Million Users
Say Hello to Daniel Singer, a 14 year old who raised $200,000 for his company Backchat, which started from a website called YouTell. The idea behind his work was that his software lets you chat anonymously with your facebook and Google+ friends. It would give you clues as to who you were chatting with so you could figure it out or not at all. At his age he runs the whole order of operation for his company including his 2 full-time employees, 2 part-time employees, and him and his dad. He attends many developer conferences and has visited many famous silicon valley companies as shown by his Instagram account. You can see just how much this kid gets around.
Joining the Thiel Fellowship AFTER graduating Harvard
Not many people can say they finished college before turning 20 and getting into one of the hardest fellowship programs out there for young entrepreneurs. That is exactly what Zachery Hamed has done for himself when he graduated high school when he was 17 and then finished Harvard in 3 ½ years. He started a startup company that created a program that provides developers with all the tools they need in any environment. The set up is said to take only 30 seconds and easy to use. But what makes Hamed different from all the other Thiel fellows is that he had a college degree when he joined the program, something the fellowship actually discourages, which is the main reason for the program; to drop out and do something you feel passionate about.
He has since gone on to raise $1.5 million for his startup company, Bowery, and started a venture capital fund for Harvard students called, Rough Draft Ventures, which is a brand of General Catalyst Partners. He and his Harvard friend, Peter Boyce, have personally invested in 30 companies. Hamed continues to look for student companies worth investing in while working on his own company with his co-founders David Byrd and Steve Kaliski. If you want to learn more about Zachery you can visit his website.
This guy just cold emailed people until he hit the jackpot
It is not easy cold emailing because it takes time to find the right people and then you have to find their email address which is not easy most of the time. Ilya Semin made it a point to email sales executives and instead of emailing asking if they would invest in his idea he did the opposite of that and asked for feedback on his idea. In many stances he would contact companies that worked in the same field this way they understood the product he was making. His software had the power to search every website out there and tell you what software companies were using but not only that but could tell you when their contract would expire, how many employees the company had, and lots more. The idea was so amazing it caught the attention of Mark Cuban who ended up investing in his company. The name of his company is Datanyze which now works with many other companies.
How’s that for just emailing people at random? Those random emails lead to in-person meetings, which lead to his idea being floated around, which lead to IDG ventures and Google ventures along with Mr. Cuban investing in his company for 2 million in seed money.
1. Find a Problem
This is the part that most would-be entrepreneurs don’t pay enough attention to. They think that if they can come up with something completely original that it will make them MORE money in the end. The problem with that way of thinking is that you will also end up having to teach people what it Is and why they need it, so you will spend all your time educating and that is expensive on a mass scale. If you are having trouble understanding this concept here are two books to read and study carefully. Don’t worry about being original worry about solving a problem.
Steal like an Artist – Austin Kleon
Show Your Work – Austin Kleon
Listen to people complain because that will tell you exactly what you need to work on fixing. Mitchell saw a problem with how students registered for classes and provided a solution that solved a problem.
2. Build a Working Prototype
People want to see your solution in action so if you have the ability to build a working model of what it is you want to fix this will help people see how useful your idea is. Ilya Semin created his idea and refined it based on the feedback he got from all the emails he sent out, which amounted to only half responding back. With each email he got back that showed him how to improve his idea he made the changes right away. He got free help with how to make his product better to use each and every time.
Each new change improved his design and website. This meant that it was able to meet the needs of more businesses which made them want to sign up to use his service.
If you don’t know how to build software there are plenty of websites now that will teach you how to program it is just a matter of putting in the time to learn like all these guys did.
3. Find partners willing to work with you
This is key because it gets difficult to manage everything as your business grows. Mitchell, Thomas, Daniel, and Zachery all had partners to help build their company with. This helps spread out the work and make sure that each is working in an area that is their strong suit. Many solo entrepreneurs go that route because they don’t want to have to delegate anything and if they succeed in the end that means they make more money but the problem with that is the company takes longer to grow if they have to work another job to support their interest.
Partners help increase the work flow which means more tasks get finished. If you have to make 50 phone calls a week to find customers then that is time spent doing all that work instead of building the product. How can you call people if you do not have a working product? Your partners help decrease the workload in the beginning. Daniel had help from his dad so family can also be a great help.
4. Get your idea out there into as many hands as possible. (Network, Network, Network)
Your great idea won’t work if you don’t have anyone using it. Mitchell didn’t have to do much selling to get his idea out there because students could see how useful it was right away so they were willing to pay him for it. An idea like hardware design is harder to sell because not everyone keeps up with technology. In order to get your idea out there you need to attend conferences, learn how to become a speaker at a conference, get recommendations, and find people willing to listen to your idea.
Anytime there is a networking event that matches your audience find out how to attend and bring a special business card that is about your business. Make sure to talk to as many people who will listen to your idea and give them a card that tells them how to use your stuff. Try to include a feature that makes it easy for people to share it.
5. Let your passion drive you
It is hard to keep your drive going when you have people slowing you down. You have to keep selling and getting your idea out there. The key to all of this is talking to anyone that will listen or take an appointment with you. The other important thing to take from this is to never discourage a kid from what they are truly interested in, or any other entrepreneur you meet. All the people here profiled started when they were very young and continued with that passion because they were rewarded by the number of downloads or the achievements they were getting.
You have to set aside time everyday to work on what it is you like to do. When you do that the time will compound with your time networking and before you know it you will have made some pretty big connections to boost you to the next level.
6. Find at least Four Big Donors interested in your project
This part is hard if your contacts are not millionaires or VC firms or angel investors. The money you raise to help get your company going needs to be large enough to start buying equipment, paying salaries, and paying the bills. You will not be able to grow until you reach that level of support. The other part these donors provide is that they tell their friends about your business which helps it grow faster. The more rich people who know about your business the farther your name will travel. Once you can land those checks in the thousands then you will start to move faster. Just remember the amount of money you raise will have to be paid back if you raised the money through VC firms. The better option will be to hold a fundraiser so the money doesn’t have to be paid back.
The biggest lesson that Ilya Semin learned from cold emailing was that, “If you want advice, ask for money. But if you want money, ask for advice.” This is important when you are planning on raising money. You have to understand how to go about doing that so people will listen and offer help.