Today, I spoke with both a high school entrepreneur (Mark Bao) and a college entrepreneur (Jessica Mah) about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur, while still going to class. I interviewed both of them because I wanted to show you that you don’t have to go traditional routes even at a young age. If you have a big idea or special talent, just run with it! Of course, there are great challenges as a young entrepreneur, like being taken seriously. Mark and Jessica give us some insight into their world and I bet we see a lot of great things out of them in the future.
What opposition have you encountered as a college/high school entrepreneur? What did you do to overcome these challenges?
Mark Bao: I learned how to reduce distractions, manage time, and work efficiently both in high school work and my own work.
Jessica Mah: Honestly, I haven’t found any social challenges to being a college-aged entrepreneur. If anything, being in college has helped me in achieving my goals. I found my co-founders in school, I found my top advisers and technical resources at Berkeley, and the press seems to enjoy the fact that I’m still 18. My main difficulty is in finding enough time to work on my business. Every student procrastinates — there’s no denying that. But instead of just hanging out with friends and complaining about having so much work to do, my friends and I dedicate that procrastination time towards working on our entrepreneurial projects instead.
Did you feel that college/high school was so easy that you had to challenge yourself by starting your own business?
Mark Bao: Not quite. High school is challenging, especially when one has many other extracurricular responsibilities while taking difficult classes. I just didn’t find that high school taught me anything that I was interested in a career in, so I looked into business.
Jessica Mah: Haha, not at all. I started my first business in 8th grade, when homework took no more than an hour to do each night. Since going to college, my work load has dramatically increased. I decided to start another business in college for two reasons: To help solve a tangible problem in the world, and to fill my life with something more than just typical school work. Sure, this involves me losing my sanity, but what the heck!
How do you get older generations to take you seriously and what tips do you have for other people your age?
Mark Bao: Act professional 24/7 when you’re supposed to. Being unprofessional will make people have to ‘cut you slack’ for being young, which shouldn’t need to happen.
Jessica Mah: For the most part, I haven’t had trouble having older generations take me seriously. Starting a company at age 13 and going to college at age 16 both helped me gain validity in the industry and among adults. My tip to other people my age: Start a project, company, and/or blog. Impress people with what you do rather than with what you say. Going to college and getting good grades is no longer good enough: getting involved in research, side projects, and/or business will help you later on, even if you have no interest in entrepreneurship.
Will you go to graduate school or work full-time running your business instead? Why?
Mark Bao: I’m thinking about going to college, yes. It depends on how fast technology is expanding and how lucrative (in both meaning and value) opportunities I have are at decision time.
Jessica Mah: I’ve put a lot of thought into going to graduate school, and I think I’m set on running a business immediately after school. Instead of going straight into graduate school to study computer science, I think it’d make more sense to apply my undergraduate learning to the real world first. Same goes with business school — it makes most sense to learn about business by actually doing business. Worst comes to shove, my next few businesses fail, and I still have the chance to go to graduate school.
Who influenced you growing up?
Mark Bao: I was influenced by the technology leaders out of college, Gates, Jobs, Brin, Page, Yang, and the like. My first reasoning for entrepreneurship was to be financially secure and to make a lot of money, but later realized that the real essence of entrepreneurship lies in providing meaning and value to the world.
Jessica Mah: My parents were both incredibly influential to my personal growth. As an engineer, my dad always pushed me to explore my technical interests. As an entrepreneur, my mom always encouraged me to start my own business. Without their incredible encouragement, I might not be doing what I love doing.
What is in your future as an entrepreneur?
Mark Bao: I plan to expand my network and keep expanding my experience in business, and then start to offer more than web applications and start on my social consumer electronics vision!
Jessica Mah: That remains yet to be seen! I’ve always loved the idea of “creating something new.” I want to be involved with a project that transforms lives, and it just so happens that entrepreneurship is my primary method for achieving my goals. I’ll work on internshipIN.com throughout the school year, and when the time comes, I’ll gladly move onto solving a different problem.
Mark Bao is a 16-year-old student and web, software and advertising entrepreneur, and is the President & CEO of Avecora. He also works at DebateWare.com, a software consultancy firm, that offers its main product DebateNet, a debate organization and event management system. Mark is also the Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at TickrTalk, a stealth consumer web startup founded in 2008. He also is the owner of AdSocial.
Jessica Mah is a junior at UC Berkeley. In high school, she ran her own enterprise web solutions company before attending Simon’s Rock, the Early College. While she’s not pulling all-nighters to finish her computer science projects, she works on the PBwiki.com website, codes for internshipIN.com, and writes on her blog.