Find a need and fill it. We hear that mantra over and over as advice on how to start a business. And that's exactly what Ben Lang of MySchoolHelp.com has done. Much like a lot of household name companies of today, such as eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook, Ben's company started out as an idea that wasn't intended to become big. He just wanted to help out his fellow students and himself with note sharing for their high school classes.
At just 17, this young entrepreneur's vision and insight into what it takes to make it as a young business owner is an inspiration, and we know you'll get a lot out of his story and his advice. Enjoy the interview, and remember to leave your thoughts in the comments below.
MySchoolHelp.com is a great concept to help high school students with home study. For those of our readers who aren't familiar with the company, can you give us a quick overview?
Sure, MySchoolHelp is a note sharing site for high schoolers. Once a student arrives on the site he or she can search for their school, if it's not there they can easily submit it. Afterwards they can access their school page and can find the notes they're looking for and see a leader-board with the top contributors. Once they find the notes they're looking for there are plenty of features to make it more engaging, in particular the ability to interact with other students via Facebook comments.
How did the idea for the MySchoolHelp come about?
Two years ago I started a note sharing site with my friend, just for our school. It immediately took off, and at this point about 70% of the school uses it regularly. A few months ago I decided to make a similar site for all high schools to use. Without the original site, I never would have passed high school, so I want other students to have the same opportunity that I had.
What is your future vision for the business, and how will you make it happen?
The vision for MySchoolHelp is to impact as many high schools as possible. Eventually our goal is to expand to other age groups. To get the word out we're reaching out to high school teachers, administrators, education technology blogs, student governments and influential students. It's been very effective so far and we're looking to grow.
As a teenage entrepreneur, have you faced any age-related challenges? How do you get more seasoned business people to take you seriously?
Fortunately, with the internet, age doesn't affect business much. Over the years I've had the opportunity to build up my brand name which has helped tremendously. The only frustrating aspect is that I've been unable to legally sign documents until September when I turn 18.
What has been the biggest business challenge you've had to face, and how did you overcome it?
One of the biggest business challenges is building a team. It's always difficult to find the right people, and I've learned how crucial it is to be absolutely certain that everyone is a good match. One of the greatest pieces of advice I've ever received was in this domain. I was told that you should trust everyone you hire enough that you'd be willing to let them hire ten more people without consulting you.
What three pieces of advice do you have for young entrepreneurs interested in starting their first business?
Patience and persistence: I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've failed and made mistakes. It's certainly a long learning process but it's important to keep trying.
Team: Again I can't stress enough how important it is to build the perfect team.
Networking: In my opinion it's all about the people you know. Start building your network as early as possible and it'll pay off tenfold in the future. Even if you meet someone who can't help you now, one day they may very well be in a position to assist you, so it's important to stay in touch.
How do you personally define success?
I set goals ahead of time, and if I reach them I consider it a success. There are many different ways to define success; what's most important is your own definition and that you always strive for it.