Entrepreneur

Teen developer funds startup by auctioning 10% of her future income (interview)

Above: Sarah Hanson

Image Credit: 32auctions

sold auctionWho wants to go to college if you can start earning money right away?

That’s one of the questions that Sarah Hanson, a 19-year-old developer and entrepreneur, asked herself. Especially since she knows exactly what she wants to do with her life already.

Last year, Hanson helped her grandmother find a assisted living home. It was time-consuming, tedious, and a horrible experience — exactly the kind of problem that an aspiring entrepreneur loves to find.

Because, of course, solving problems is the core of any business.


UPDATE: Sarah Hanson may not exist, may be a hoax


Sarah Hanson

Above: Sarah Hanson

Image Credit: 32auctions

So she funded a startup to make finding care homes for the elderly easier and better. She built a functioning first version of the product, and she’s looking for funding in an innovative source: her own future income. This past week she successfully raised $125,000 in seed money by auctioning off 10 percent of her future income for 10 years.

Hanson talks about her experience, why she auctioned off her future income, and how she plans to build the business:

VentureBeat: You sold 10 percent of your future earnings for 10 years. Does that make you feel free? Or burdened?

Sarah Hanson: I’ll say this. Is this the most ideal path? No but it’s a path that gives me freedom of time, and that’s the most valuable asset I have.

VentureBeat: What made you decide to do this?

Hanson: The idea of sitting in classes, taking tests, writing papers, et cetera, for the next three years, learning a lot of things that won’t be applicable to my career, seems pointless to me. A lot of people go to college to figure out what they want to do. I know. I started playing around with code when I was 12. So for me, it doesn’t make sense to spend the time and money that it would take to get a degree.

Everything I need to learn to be the best I can be is available online at no cost. Some people need the structure of a class to learn. I learn best through doing, through creating which I can do for free.

When you want something you get creative. I want to fully devoted to Senior Living Map to see what I can make up it.

This money is my runway. It gives me a 1-2 year window of time to put all my effort behind growing Senior Living Map into hopefully something that can provide income for me for the indefinite future.

It’s an opportunity to never be an employee, never work a job I hate, never have a boss. It’s an opportunity to invest all my time in something I love, creating something hopefully other people love.

All reasons that will keep me highly motivated.

Senior Living Map

VentureBeat: Who bought your 10 percent of your future income?

Hanson: I’ve exchanged a couple emails with the winning bidder. She’s asked that I keep her name confidential.

She lives in San Francisco. I’ll be flying down there next week to meet with her.

She’s a pretty accomplished person in the tech world. I’m not sure if there’s any point in mentioning that. I’m sorry; I can’t get more specific. The last thing I want to do is piss her off :)

VentureBeat: You only got three bids, but it turned out to be enough. How many requests or inquiries did you make?

Hanson: I emailed 1,000 investors I found on angel.co to make them aware of the auction. It was quite a tedious process, but I figured I’ve got one shot at this, I’ve got to try my best to get myself the best shot of getting bids.

VentureBeat: You’re planning to start a company, Senior Living Map. Is this an underserved market?

Hanson: It’s started; the site exists at www.seniorlivingmap.org.

Is it an underserved market? Based on my experience of going through the process of finding a senior living home for my grandmother, I would definitely say yes.

My definition of being an underserved market is the lack of a solution that provides the maximum amount of value with the minimum amount of complexity … a line that I have to give credit to Aaron Levie for. …

Currently, the dominant model for finding a senior home for your parent, relative, or other loved one is to use a “Care Adviser,” who would take into account the type of home and care you are seeking and then provide some recommended options at no cost to you.

Sounds great, right?

But how does the Care Adviser make money if they are not charging you for their services? Well, when you choose one of the locations they recommend, that facility will pay them a “placement fee,” which is often thousands of dollars.

Hmmm … is it just me or does that seem like a conflict of interest? Are people really getting recommendations for the best matches, or rather the homes that the Care Adviser stands to profit from the most?

There may be a home that is a perfect match for your parent or relative; however, if your Care Adviser doesn’t have a contract with them, there’s no motivation for them to even mention it to you.

That’s why I created Senior Living Map. I wanted to create a resource that lists all senior and assisted living facilities available so that people can be equipped with information to determine what senior homes are the best match.

I view Care Advisers like travel agents. Before Expedia,  you had to book travel through a travel agent. They controlled all the information. Travel sites like Expedia came along and gave all the power to people and made travel agents irrelevant. They provided people will all the information they needed to make travel decisions on their own.

That’s what I want to do with senior housing. I want to provide a super-simple resource for people that provides them with a robust amount of information so that they can make a decision on their own without the need to go through a third party.

It’s really shocking to me that no site exists that does that but I’m excited that I have the chance to be that site. It’s probably because senior homes aren’t a very sexy or glamorous thing so it doesn’t get much attention :)

VentureBeat: What’s your monetization plan for the site?

Hanson: That’s something that’s to be determined. There aren’t any ads or anything on the site currently to generate money.

I feel like the site will evolve over the next year, and I feel like if I make a decision on how the site will make money today it will steer me away from creating the best user experience because it may conflict with how the site will generate money.

It’s like companies that are being disrupted by the Internet. They are so use to making money a certain way that they have a hard time going away from what made them as powerful as they are.

The problem with that is you’re fighting against an inevitable force that will slowly take the company to its grave.

My number one focus is on creating the best experience possible for users. Once I feel like I’ve reached that point, I’ll figure out a way to layer some business model over that experience that makes the most sense.

VentureBeat: Does the 10 percent of future earnings include anything you make from Senior Living Map?

Hanson: Yeah. The 10 percent includes any income I receive from any source for the next 10 years.

VentureBeat: Are you a developer or programmer?

I coded the site myself. I’m an army of one. :)

VentureBeat: What kind of features do you want to add to the Senior Living Map? Reviews? Testimonials? Inside camera shots?

Hanson: The site is pretty bare-bones right now. Long term, I’d like to make it much more robust with all the things you mentioned and more. Also, additional filters so that just like booking a hotel or flight on a travel site, you can narrow down your options to something very specific. Like a home that only accepts women or a home that speaks a certain language.

It’s quite an undertaking to collect all that data but that’s the long term goal of the site.

VentureBeat: Why’d you choose 32auctions to run the sale?

Hanson: 32auctions doesn’t have any closing fees like eBay and other auctions site do.

VentureBeat: And how is your grandmother doing in her home?

Hanson: She’s doing good :) It was a bit of a process, but we ended up finding a great place for her where she seems to be happy.

She says they take good care of her :)

Image credit: ShutterStock/Sold at auction


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