Portland: We Interview 15 Year Old Founder Jackson Gariety

Two weeks ago at one of the craziest Startup Weekends Yet, Startup Weekend #Portland, 15 year old Jackson Gariety made a big splash with his #startup HashTraffic. Gariety tells us that some of the judges were concerned that there wasn’t a sustainable business model yet, but overall there was buzz around this 15 year old and his abilities.

Startup founders are getting younger and younger. We heard the story over the weekend about a 13 year old who may have the secret recipe for a lollipop to stop hiccups. We also always hear stories about founders in their 20′s who had already become entrepreneurs in their teen years. 

Gariety is one of those entrepreneurs and founders. He took a short break from coding this past weekend to speak with nibletz.com here’s that interview:

So tell us briefly what is your #HashTraffic idea all about?
Well, the name isn’t set in stone, but to understand #HashTraffic you’ve first got to understand #hashtags. They originated on the popular networking website twitter.com when the very influential and now Google employee Chris Messina suggested that a ‘#’ pound symbol could be used to make the word #barcamp stand out in Twitter search. Barcamp is a lineup of free conferences where people give talks. In order to connect the people who go to #barcamp, Chris had the idea of making the word stand out in Twitter search. What he had done was create the first Twitter group. It took Twitter by storm and now Twitter has added support for hashtagged words by making them link directly to a Twitter search. By using the hsahtag #barcamp in a tweet, you’re putting yourself and your tweet in the barcamp ‘clique’. So if I see one tweet with #barcamp, I can click it and see a realtime list of what everyone on Twitter is saying about #barcamp also. It’s groups for Twitter, created by users themselves! Since then the protocol has extended to Instagram and Google+, but not really made its way onto content management systems or become very widely used, despite its popularity on Twitter.
#HashTraffic bridges the gap between #websites by utilizing hashtags. With our software, which comes in the form of a website script, WordPress plugin, Drupal plugin, etc. bloggers can use #hashtags in their posts just like they do on Twitter. I can write an article about my experience at Portland Barcamp, use the hashtag #pdxbarcamp in my post, and HashTraffic turns that word in my post into a clickable link that displays a realtime feed of other blog posts, forums, news articles, websites, or any other kind of media around the web that is hashtagged with #pdxbarcamp. It takes this booming web trend ready burst out of its cocoon and makes it an internet protocol to drive traffic around from blog to blog. Why would anyone want that? Because at the moment, our web experience is broken. We browse the web by searching Google, reading an article, then going back to Google again. It’s a fundamentally broken exercise. Why always go back to the hub when you could go from site to site. This is also an advantage to bloggers, since those who use the plugin on their site can drive traffic to it simply by using common tags. They can get more viewers on their blog or forum by putting themselves in a clique. Just like developers, designers and businessmen get attention in the startup world by attending events like #pdxbarcamp.
#HashTraffic bridges this gap on the web. It adds another dimension to the web experience.
Now tell us about you, we hear you’re still in high school but pretty talented
I’m currently attending Grant High School in northeast Portland. It’s a great place full of passionate teachers. Unfortunately we’re experiencing major budget cuts at the moment. Backing up a bit, I started with technology back in 2009 when I started writing a simple HTML site to host and sell my photography on. Then, the focus was first on the photos, second on the business, and third on the coding. Since then, my interests have done a complete 180 and I’m now coding every chance I get, trying to start a business around the technology, and I shoot photos for fun in my spare time. After I realized there’s no money in art itself (compare Justin Bieber to Miles Davis in terms of how much money they made), I tried to think of a way to make money off of a product where I could be artistic but also solve a problem in the world. I adopted the WordPress slogan “code is poetry” as my motto and trudged into the world of web development and entrepreneurship. The old photo site is gone, and in its place is http://jacksongariety.com/, a well-written chunk of HTML, CSS, JavaScript and PHP that shows my freelance web design, my web development blog and my photoblog.
More after the break

Is this your first startup idea? What other ideas have you had, what other things are you working on?
I try to constantly be doing something related to the internet. Part of that is always thinking of new ideas. Since Startup Weekend, I’ve worked with Colby Aley, the other 15 year old who pitched that weekend. We’re trying to put together a PHP tool that people can use to easily create an online scoreboard for sports events. It uses Twitter to crowdsource football games and basketball games and display score information in real time. It doesn’t really have any business potential, but it’s a really cool use of Twitter and #hashtags.
Do your parents support your endeavors?
For the most part, yes. They’re happy I can find something I love, do it well, and make money doing it, there’s no doubt about that. Though there’s always this worry, especially since I’ve gotten into the business aspect of technology, that I won’t finish high school or that my grades will slip. I value education far too much for that, but it’s hard to care about something/someone and not be concerned, so it makes sense to me when there’s a bit of tension during a talk about looking for investments to grow #HashTraffic.
Have you had any kind of formal training in computer science, coding, anything related to apps?
I have no formal training in computers at all. But not everyone needs it. Passion and artistic intuition drive success, so if you can get that in school, fantastic, but if it comes naturally to you, even better. Those who truly love business or photography or technology or anything at all will find themselves learning at every available opportunity. I’ve built apps of all kinds, from web apps to iPhone apps to mac apps. My strong point is most certainly the web, and I try to take it seriously. It’s easy to start coding and learn “pigeon code” just like any language, in or out of the computer world. I study programming by reading books and dissecting websites, and I strive to write the cleanest, most flexible and up-to-date code possible. This is important on the web, since everything is changing so fast.
At school I try to involve my passion with my teachers and peers as much as possible, but this has proven to be difficult. Grant has no classes that are geared towards understanding the internet or programming computers or design, and artistic classes such as music are being cut in favor of the more industrial classes like mathematics, science and english. I’m a firm believer that art of all forms is what drives success, and it saddens me to see how America’s education system, especially Portland, is getting the fuzzy end of the lollypop and having to cut classes rather then add them. The web is the fastest growing industry in the world, and students should be taught to use it and learn business in technology as it is invaluable to the future of America as a country.
Who are your tech world heroes?

Definitely Steve Jobs. He showed the world that technology was art, and I respect that more then anything. Also, Jack Dorsey. He straddles the fields of entrepreneur and developer so well it makes my head spin. Max Miedinger for creating the Helvetica font. Some people say it’s overused, I say it creates an elegant consistency throughout the world. After all, there’s a reason good designers don’t use a different font on every page of a book, that would be a high school yearbook. All of the Automattic team, pioneers of neue open source, creators of WordPress which powers something like 20% of the internet. Wieden+Kenney for creating a revolution in advertising. So many more inspirational people doing incredible things because they get that technology is art. Some of the earliest human technology was the trowel, used to dig ditches efficiently and grow crops. Someone had to invent that.
Did you enjoy participating in Portland’s Startupweekend?

What an incredible experience and community. The weekend was worth far more then its price-tag and an awesome staff of people put it together. I can only imagine how Startup Weekend will grow over the years as the Portland startup scene becomes more realistic.
Was it hard for you to stay up all weekend?
The weekend took a lot of energy out of me. It wasn’t so much the late hours as it was the constant communication with all sorts of people with incredible ideas to bring to the table. The weekend made me realize just how much effort it takes to organize all these ideas that people have, since so many want to contribute. People just passing buy our room saw developers sitting around tables and people talking about how to improve the pitch and they just want to stop in and help. I was either talking to someone or listening to someone for 54 hours straight trying to figure out which ideas were golden that could accelerate the project as fast as possible.
What was the judges feedback on HashTraffic?

The consensus was that we didn’t have a business model. We got a couple questions from the crowd and the judges, all were about revenue stream except for one question which showed our team that not everyone has a fundamental understanding of how Twitter works. But the business model question stuck, and we instantly got to work on a revenue model which we recently finished. It’s been a week, and over that time we think we’ve figured out how we can keep ads off of the product and still monetize it immediately.
How did you come up with this idea?

Browsing Facebook and watching as hundreds of high schoolers use #hashtags that don’t link anywhere. I realized that hashtags were more then a feature of Twitter. They were the natural pattern of how humans form groups and connect with each other. I saw visions of a new web protocol, one that doesn’t require an RSS reader app.
What are some of your other interests?
Aside from web development, business and photography, I participate in the Grant High School Ski Race Team during the winter. Part of my fascination with skiing ties into photography. I love being out in the mountains and discovering trails and skiing through quiet areas that aren’t constantly being bombarded with human activity. It’s magic up there in the mountains. SO I guess you could say my other interest is nature. I like to hollow out lightbulbs and plant small gardens inside of them and watch the plants grow out the bottom of the lightbulb. It’s that mixing of technology and nature that I find fascinating.
Are you continuing the development of Hashtraffic now that the contest is over?
Yes. I’m taking a break from coding right now to fill this out. There’s a lot I’d like to say about the development of the product that I won’t at this particular point in time, but we’re looking at rapid expansion of user base very soon and the rollout of a few new products in the lineup including a dashboard for web-masters and bloggers to analyze their hashtag use.
It’s hard for me since I’m in high school, but I work on the project after school and we’re looking for an investment to rent office space as well as developers.
What’s next on your plate?
Web, web, school, web, web, web, web… etc.
What’s your plan after high school?
After high school, depending on how far I can take HashTraffic in such a short period of time (I’m a sophomore now), I’d like to go to college for computer sciences in either the New York area of San Francisco Bay Area so I can be close to where tech startups are happening. And who knows where the next silicon valley will be. Things are moving from desktop computers and into the cloud and on mobile devices, so a new epicenter for startups could be anywhere in the next 15 years, who knows. If you want to know where I’ll be after high school, it’s wherever the next silicon valley is. Maybe that’s San Francisco, maybe it’s in another country, I’ll be there.
We installed the hash traffic plugin, see how it works by clicking any hashtag in our interview with HashTraffic founder Jackson Gariety
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