Nuggets of wisdom from Silicon Valley’s top teens in tech

Teens in Tech, an annual conference in Silicon Valley, celebrates the elite and high-powered designers and programmers in the industry that are too young to swig a beer.

They may be college dropouts with dimples, and they certainly say the word “awesome” a lot, but these teens are a force to be reckoned with. At an age where most of us are still taking AP classes, these kids were hustling products, snagging meetings with investors, and teaching themselves to build mobile apps.

We’re at Xerox PARC, a famed research and innovation hub a stone’s throw from Sand Hill Road, and these teen mavericks have some wisdom to pass on. Listen up, kids.

Gumroad’s founder and CEO, 19-year-old Sahil Lavingia

On startups: “Before you start something, ask yourself: Could you see yourself working on this ten years from now?”

On raising funding: “Raise money when you don’t need to. I put my first million dollars in the bank, moved to San Francisco and got a loft. Use the money to build things that are difficult and valuable, and help you build focus.” 

On building companies: I think products keep me alive. Ask yourself “why” before you starting something? My “why”? I want to build products. I think a song is a product. A product is a way to outlive yourself. 

Kiip’s 20-year-old head product designer, Adam Debreczeni

On networking: Even if you’re 16-years-old, go out and email people. I would never have had opportunities if I hadn’t. Just reach out to talented people, especially if they’re not famous yet. Talk to me now! I don’t have an entourage. But have your parents spell-check your emails first!

On startups or school?: For the four years you’re in school, your job is to become a better person. Don’t rob yourself of that experience.

Read more here about Peter Thiel’s $100,000 fellowship for talented teens to drop out of school. 

On playing tough: It is weird being on the phone with the VP of Marketing at Disney when you’re 19-years-old. There are benefits though. This girl I was crushing on in college was into One Direction. So I got some props from her when I did some design work for them.

On delegating and designing: People are going to criticize you, so stop googling yourself! Instead, if you’re really stoked about your work, make sure you show it off. Put your work on Dribbble, it will push you to become a better designer.

Alexander Bass, lead designer, ONE inc. / teen star of “That’s so Raven” 

On snagging opportunities: I met my cofounders going down in the elevator, and we talked about design. Cory and Michael said, we like you. … Go home, check your email, and we’ll make you an offer. It was that easy.”

On Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley: Acting … it’s not a burning love like I have for design and products. But if you’re on TV, they’ll listen to you more. I have learned to accept rejection, be humble, and work with people. In design, you also have to remove yourself from the process and do what’s necessary. I don’t get mad or take something personally. I think the creative process is similar. 

Mark Daniel, 18-year-old CEO of GoalHawk 

On making the move to Silicon Valley from Nashville: I always had this incredible ambition and wanted to make products that impact people on a real level. I also hope that one day I won’t have to worry about money. Growing up, my dad has always had a six-figure corporate job, but we were over-extended and in 2009, we lost everything.  

The collegiate route or the startup?: I’m going to Babson College. It makes sense for me to do both, unless my startup takes off. If it doesn’t work out, I really don’t want to be left in a vulnerable spot.

Advice to fellow entrepreneurs: If you try to do everything, you’re destined for nothing. Stay humble. There’s an infinite amount to learn from every single person. 

Images courtesy of Michael O’Donnell (@Photo) 

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