Have you ever wondered how some of the most successful entrepreneurs got their start? We all know Mark Zuckerburg’s story, of course, but what about other founders?
We asked some of our conference speakers how they got started, and the answers are as full of personality as they are. From following a boy into startups to literally being promoted from the mail room of Sprint, these entrepreneurs have some great stories.
If it wasn’t for an entry-level job at AOL ~15 years ago, I wouldn’t have realized that building companies on the Internet was possible for me.
I got my start by writing a programming textbook when I was a freshman at Washington University. The book got published and they asked me to write a second book, which became a bestseller. By the time I was a sophomore, I had an undeservedly good reputation in the Engineering school, so I added a computer science degree to my studies. Upon graduation, I worked briefly for IBM and then started a software company, Mira.
I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, so I had the bug when I was a kid! Started my first ‘REAL’ company when I was in college with my dad.
I got my start in tech purely by accident. I was working as an executive assistant when I was 18 and figured out that I enjoyed going to lunch with the programmers rather than the other office girls. They talked about more interesting things and usually took a longer lunch (I never got in trouble because no one wants to make the IT team mad). When my boss, the VP of Operations, announced he was leaving the company to run an upstart competitor, the lead developer, who I had started dating, said he wanted to start a company that would build the scheduling software for him. So at 19, I quit and jumped on the roller coaster ride. I was in school at the time and switched majors because we didn’t need another technical person (originally wanted to study astrophysics), so I moved to finance.
Funny how these things happen.
I got started in tech pretty serendipitously. In my early 20’s I was working in the mailroom at Sprints world headquarters in the late nineties, and this was right before they sold all of their legacy fiber business and became wireless only.
Delivering mail I got to know some of the sales managers for the enterprise 500 group. They liked me and offered me a chance to sell large data pipes to global company CIO’s. I did well selling over the phone and the rest was history.
This led to stints at small SEO companies, small App Sec firms as a business guy, then finally at Gartner and then the Kauffman Foundation in more senior roles.
I left my manager role at Kauffman to start AgLocal
Since childhood, I’ve created things and built businesses (in the loosest definition of the word). I managed gum ball machines, sold handmade video game cheat books for 50 cents a piece, created a joke website, and resold merchandise on eBay. My motivation came from a desire to create something from nothing, largely influenced by my entrepreneurial father.
Ultimately, those experiences and my passion for tech and startups, led me to an internship at a video game company during my senior year in college. My unpaid marketing role transitioned to a full-time paid position and soon I moved into product management. Serendipitously, I landed in San Francisco, surrounded by startups and amazing talent, to join an early stage startup that grew from 10 to over 100 before I left to pursue something new.
As my friend Nathan Bashaw says, “When you look back at yourself six months from today and don’t feel embarrassed by your naiveté, there’s a problem. That means you’re not learning, growing.” I’ve learned a ton and have infinite room to grow. Passion to create and learn, and guidance from many generous mentors/friends, is what got me here. I’m not sure I would call myself a success but I’m happy with where I’m heading.
Scott got started in entrepreneurship by running a production company in New York City in college. He soon made lots of money, landing gigs on huge budget productions. With little experience, though, he also quickly lost all that money.
With graduation on the horizon and his last $700, Scott started Sizzle It, a much simpler business than the one he’d run in college. After plenty of hard knocks, Scott wanted to help other young entrepreneurs ignore some of the pitfalls he’d encountered. YEC was born from there.
I started my first real estate company because I hated typical student housing arrangements and wanted to live in a house rather than the typical crammed student housing. I went to 33 banks and the 34 bank gave a loan mostly because of a friends personal connection. I flipped that house and bought two more than built a small real estate company from there. Influence & Co. started because Brent Beshore, Kelsey Meyer, and myself saw a need for entrepreneurs and small businesses to build their influence by getting authentically engaging with their audience. We started by doing it for ourselves. Once we saw some traction, it really picked up and we had a company on our hands.