“I am calling myself a Chief Everything Officer”!
After reading Stephen’s interview you will absolutely agree with that statement!
Sarah: Please tell me how you got started and where CEO Kids and parents can find out more info about you.
Let me tell you little about what I have made:
OneExtraLap – A social quizzing community that allows you to compete with friends on quizzes. http://oneextralap.com
iTunes Instant - A super fast iTunes search engine, considered a better alternative for native iTunes search. Made in 3 hours, literally. http://labs.stephenou.com/itunes
TwtRoulette – A mashup that let you share Twitter home timeline. It’s a great way to discover new content. Made in 7 days with Shervin Pishevar, an silicon valley investor. http://twtroulette.com
OhBoard – A $3.99 whiteboard application on Chrome Web Store. Many folks use it to replace their physical whiteboards. http://ohboard.com
Sarah: When did you start thinking about starting your own business and becoming an entrepreneur and why did you want to start?
Stephen: It was November of 2009, I’ve been following major tech blogs like TechCrunch and Mashable, I was fascinated by how technology changed the way we live and work. I thought why not gave it a try? So during Thanksgiving break of 2009, I started a web app called OneExtraLap as a total experiment.
Sarah: Where did you come up with your idea and what investigation did you do to help you know that this would be a great business?
Stephen: Let’s talk about OhBoard, my digital whiteboard software. I used to own a physical whiteboard, but I ran into many problems. First, I had to erase before adding new stuff. Second, I always lost my marker. Third, if I wanted to share it with friends, I literally had to take a picture and send via email. Fourth, it was freakin’ expensive, an OK whiteboard at Office Depot costs $10-$20.
OhBoard solves all of these problems. You can have unlimited drawings, and they are saved automatically as you draw! It doesn’t need a marker, just your mouse is enough. It has a one-click export and share feature, your drawing will be on your co-worker’s inbox in 5 seconds. It is just $3.99 which is five times cheaper than those physical whiteboards!
I asked many folks I am close with, since most of them had this exact pain point, I figured out many people will be interested in something like this. So, I made OhBoard!
Sarah: What do you think are the most important skills you have that help you in business?
Stephen: I honestly can’t judge which one is the most important. It’s a combination of many things. Determination is needed to keep trying when bad moments come, especially at the beginning. Creativity is needed to come up with things that set myself and my software apart. Responsibility is needed to recognize mistakes, share lessons after messing up, especially when my products are consumer driven. Nothing would work without the combination of them.
Sarah: What were the biggest obstacles, problems you had in getting started in business?
Stephen: Time! I only have 4-5 hours on every weekday to work, and I have many software to take care of. So I have to prioritize as much as I can. I have to do what matters the most to users, such as fixing bugs and marketing to find new customers. It sometimes can turn into a problem. I usually like setting deadlines and making promises, but some ended up really bad, when I didn’t deliver what was promised.
Sarah: Thanks for being honest about some of the challenges Stephen. Promising too much is often a hard thing for entrepreneurs. How old were you when you started and how old are you now? How does your age affect your business success?
Stephen: I was 14 when I initially started (end of 2009), and I am 16 now. My age actually has an advantage that I didn’t intend to have. People pay more attention to my apps because of the headline effect. I never want “xx-year-old” to be the attention grabber, but that’s how reporters write stories.
Sarah: So true! The media loves young entrepreneurs! What about college? Are you planning on going?
Stephen: I think so. I know a lot of people are criticizing the lack of curriculum renovation in college. While I totally agree, I think college can be a great place to meet like-minded folks. They can be
your life-long friends or business partners.
Sarah: What kind of expenses or start-up costs did you have when you started your business and where did you find the money or capital to start?
Stephen: I’m extremely conservative when it comes to spending money. I only spend money on things considered “required”, such as hosting and domains. And things that can make more money, such as $100 on AdWords that brings me $250 revenue. Since I do freelancing/consulting on the side, I can bootstrap whatever I’m doing. No need for any venture capital (I think that will just “force” people to spend money, instead of making money).
Sarah: What have been the best surprises that you found in starting your business?
Stephen: I found out recently, you don’t have to be big to be successful. The common notion is you are successful if you have a $xx millions company with #xxx employees. But that’s not true. I will totally consider myself successful if I can make $10k/month from a simple one-man lifestyle business.
Sarah: That is a great goal and I am sure you will get there really fast! Do you do EVERYTHING by yourself or do you have people on your team that work with you?
Stephen: I am pretty independent, so I do 95% of the stuff myself, I don’t want to manage people all day long. Another reason is I want to learn as much as I can from every aspect of a business- development, design, marketing, etc.
Sarah: What ideas and approaches do you use to market your business and what do you find works best for you in getting the word out about who you are and what you are doing?
Stephen: Make something wonderful enough that people will talk about. This is really powerful! When I made iTunes Instant, because people enjoyed it so much, they told their friends and blogged about it. From that kind of word of mouth, it became insanely popular.
Sarah: How do you balance it all? Do you find that you still have time to be a kid?
Stephen: Nothing needs to be balanced. I’m just doing what I love just like HS basketball players do what they love. I haven’t considered myself as a kid for a long time, I’m in high school and I’m very close to adulthood already, just few years away.
Sarah: That is so true Stephen and you can tell you are passionate about what you are doing and love it which helps to make life enjoyable even if it does get intense sometimes. What is the best advice or tips you would like to share with young entrepreneurs?
Stephen: Think small, start small. Many others say think big, start small. But I believe thinking big will give you unrealistic goals, and let you do unrealistic things. If you fail (likely to be the case if you think big), you will be discouraged. But if you do it stage by stage, hit easy-to-reach goals one-by-one, your time will be a lot easier. If you think about becoming the next Facebook or being acquired by Google, I recommend you to change into make your first $1000 or get your first 100 customers.