The amazing thing about being an entrepreneur is that neither age nor experience are required to be successful. Sure they come in handy, but this high school student and successful tech-startup founder proves that creating a company while balancing high school homework before he can legally drive is absolutely possible. So if you think creating a startup is too hard, you should read what this brilliant kid has to say.
Eddy Zhong is a 16-year-old high school junior at the Bromfield School in Harvard, Massachusetts. Three years ago, while attending Startup Weekend in New York by accident, not knowing it was primarily for adults, Eddy fell in love with the idea of starting a new business and Blanc was born, a tech-startup that makes the Spark smart-watch, a watch that tracks your movement and wakes you if it detects you are asleep. Since then, Eddy has found inspiration from several other successful entrepreneurs and the drive to succeed from a past experience.
Eddy first thought of the idea for Blanc’s Spark smart-watch as something that could have helped his older brother. While attending the top private high school in China where the education system is notoriously difficult, Eddy’s brother impressively found himself in the top 10% of his class. However, the night before his college placement exam known as the Gao Kao, a much harder version of the SATs, a family emergency prevented him sleeping. During the exam, he succumbed to fatigue and wasn’t able to finish the exam in time. Had he had a watch like the Spark, perhaps he would have been able to stay awake and succeed.
“As an add-on to my inspiration, I’m starting my own company in hopes that I will be able to help my brother and give him funding for his dream of becoming a social entrepreneur when I am successful.”
We had the pleasure of interviewing Eddy over email where we found out exactly how a young entrepreneur balanced high school and growing a startup, how he built his team, and the single most important trait he believes that every entrepreneur, young or old, needs to be successful.
Who have been your greatest influences and mentors in starting your venture?
“The book “Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki has served as my bible for starting Blanc. It would be a complete lie to say that I don’t quote Steve Jobs every single day on some occasion; I love him for being of the few real perfectionists in the entrepreneurial world. Patricio Feder, who was a judge I met at a NECINA business competition, is a serial entrepreneur and adviser and really inspired me to build the brand of what Blanc is today. And lastly, there is Frank Pobutkiewicz, who personally pushed me to do something in the very beginning. He made me understand that an idea is nothing unless you execute it. Even though Frank is not a big shot or some famous entrepreneur, he has been by far the greatest influence on me.”
Tell us how you developed your prototype without any initial funding.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned in six months, it’s that you don’t necessarily need funding for any startup at all. Perhaps the three most important words I’ve heard are “use your connections.” To build a prototype, we consulted a team member’s father who was an electrical engineer. He helped us build the basics. For the design of the watch, we turned to a mechanical engineer that I met at startup weekend, using some money that we won from a business competition, about $1500, to pay him. Throughout this entire process, Frank Pobutkiewicz, our mentor and adviser, played an extremely important role. We met through Venture Café and he has helped us make very important business decisions and has assisted with our legal formation, patent filing, and branding. I set up a manufacturing line in Taiwan myself.”
How did you put your team together?
“My team is composed of high school students around Cambridge, Wellesley, Harvard, and Acton. I met them through NECINA (New England Chinese Information and Networking Association) entrepreneurship events and through personal connections. We have Adam Lorenz-Kruk, Executive Vice President, Mirko Predny, head of product design, Jessie Ying, our website developer, and Wendy Li, our CFO. Everyone on the team has a specialization and is really serious about running a successful business and establishing a timeless brand.”
What would you say has been your biggest challenge so far?
“This is a tough question since there have been so many obstacles that I can’t even remember all of them. If I had to pick, I would have to say that running on four to five hours of sleep a day is ridiculously tough, especially since I also have to alleviate my parent’s concerns about my health every day as well. It’s a good thing that I have the watch to keep me awake!”
Walk us through a typical day as an entrepreneur in high school.
“On the good days, I get out at 3:00 p.m. and travel to the Cambridge Innovation Center to do work until 9:00. I get home, do my homework (however long that takes) and then hopefully I get to go to sleep.
On the bad days, I get out at 5:00 after track practice. Then, I take a nap until 8:00 and wake up to call manufacturers in Taiwan; I have to do this because of the time zone difference. Sometimes, this takes until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. Then I take another small nap before school.”
Have people in the business world treated you differently because you are so young?
“No one takes you seriously. It was really tough trying to find mentors and advisers, so I am extremely grateful for my main advisers, Frank and Patricio.”
What do your parents think about your entrepreneurial venture?
“My parents are really supportive of what I want to do. They used to be entrepreneurs themselves as well, so they understand my thought process.”
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned as a young entrepreneur?
“If there’s one lesson that I’ve learned from starting Blanc, it’s that there’s only one attribute that determines success- ambition. People talk about talent, intelligence, personality, popularity, etc., all the time. However, none of that truly matters if you are a hard worker. There is no way to hide from the obstacles and competition that stands in your way. The only way to be successful is to be part of the 1% that is willing to overcome those obstacles. Put bluntly, and I say this to my team a lot, always be ready to work 25 hours a day to accomplish your goals. There is no other way.”
Where do you plan to go from here and what about college?
“I’m definitely still looking to go to college for the opportunities that it yields, but not necessarily for four years. I’m looking towards Harvard Business School, Babson, or Baylor. Regarding Blanc, my team and I are definitely seeking to develop a brand and continue with the company for as long as possible. We won’t consider acquisition because we don’t believe that selling our dream company to a bigger corporation is something we want. Looking towards the future, we want to get our product into retail stores such as Brookstone, Radio Shack, and The Sharper Image. After that, we want our own sleek retail line in New England.”
You can check out Blanc and pre-order the Spark watch on their website.