Ibby is a true force of nature. In high-school, he founded two startups on top of a job at Apple and all AP and IB classes. He is now in the Harvard Class of 2018 studying Applied Maths, Business, and Computer Science.
Hi Ibby, really excited to meet you. What's one of the most shocking thing that's happened to you?
So, one really funny one that I like to tell is about the time I found out I was on the no-fly list. I’m about 15 years old, traveling alone for the first time in my life. I’m on a flight back from Dubai, landed in Chicago and proceeded to make my way through US Customs. At the gate, the guy looks at my passport, looks at me, looks at his computer, and then looks back. He then goes “Um, sir, you need to come with me.”
Next time you fly into Chicago’s airport and go through customs, check out the mirrored wall to your left. That’s where they ask you questions about where you went, what you did, who you saw. They also (very nicely, if you’re 15) go through your stuff.
Eventually, they let me go. On my way out, I asked the gentleman: “sir, I’m obviously a skinny, non-terrorist 15 year old. Why’d you stop me?”
His response: *chuckles* “Son, you share the unfortunate privilege of having the same name as the second-in-command of Hezbollah. Your name’s on the no-fly list”.
So your first company Vivay - what was it and how'd you start it?
Started Vivay when I was a junior in high school and it’s a micro financing company that takes the concept of microlending and takes it one step further – by investing a small portion of our funds into for profit companies, we can account for our losses in the non-profit sector.
I'd love to know more about your second startup, ETI (also made while in high school!)
Yeah, ETI was created when I first stole a recycled tablet from the big-box electronics store I worked at. It ran an old version of Android OS, which I re-programmed to only run e-book reading software. I put open-source ebooks on it, and started a pilot program for these tablets at a partner school in Ghana. You can fit over a hundred of the open-source textbooks on a single SD card, and it allows for cheap and consistent updates to the platform.
WOW! Where/how did you learn what you needed?
A lot of Google. Really, a lot. Also, podcasts and good books. Listening to startup podcasts, tech podcasts (I recommend Tim Ferriss, and Marketplace). Reading good books like Thinking, Fast and Slow and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (this book isn’t what you think it is, and has really good morals). Also Freakonomics, but less so.
Working on anything right now?
I'm working on an online travel booking platform.
Any challenges you're currently facing?
We're facing the chicken and egg problem – I can’t distribute rewards to customers unless they buy, but they won’t buy if I don’t have rewards to give.
What's your solution?
LOANS. Using debt financing to give initial rewards to customers.
Are you working with partners? What's that experience like?
Yeah, I started it with a friend of mine, Bruce, in Tokyo. He’s a great guy, and we don’t really have any disagreements. However, it’s a bit weird, since he just got his MBA from Stanford and he’s in a different stage of his life than I am. For instance, he’s probably going to get married and have kids soon, and he can’t afford to take as much risk with his life.
What's the most meaningful part of entrepreneurship to you?
It’s the idea that you’re changing the world somehow. Like, it’s yours. You made it. It’s like having a child that actually does something and makes you money instead of spending everything on baby food and diapers.
What does making your own money mean to you at this stage in life?
It means that I don’t have to rely on my parents for everything. Pretty much everyone that I talk to at Harvard has a $30000-limit credit card that their parents pay off every month, but every single bank account, credit card, and portfolio that I have is under my own name, completely apart from my mom and dad. It’s not much, but I’m proud of it.
OK how on earth did you balance everything in high school?
Honestly, I have no idea how I managed my life in high school. I somehow juggled a 29-hour a week job (Apple, everyday after school and weekends), a startup, a full IB and AP course-load, college apps, and tutoring. I somehow got 4 hours of sleep a night and still functioned. I also got a 4.0 GPA. It was pretty lit.
How does that compare to your schedule at Harvard?
I get about 8-9 of sleep a night. I only take four classes, they aren’t supposed to be that hard, but I definitely don’t have a 4.0 GPA. I’m also always really tired. Probably the old age, honestly. Don’t grow up, kids.
RE Harvard...How did you react as you read that acceptance letter?
You have to understand- with my family’s financial circumstances, it was either Harvard or the local state school. I’d also been rejected pretty consistently until I got my Harvard letter, so I cried. A lot.
What's the vibe for anyone aspiring to go there?
It’s cool, but different from what I expected. I hated it at first. I found the people too pretentious, not nice and not collaborative. It changed, but it’s definitely not as magical as it seems.
Word of advice to applicants?
You’re a unique person. Make sure you show it, and when you get in, don’t ever lose it.
Where'd you see yourself 15 years from now?
Er, I have no idea. Hopefully I have an office somewhere, but in 15 years I hope i’ve switched gears and gone into the public sector. I want to work in economic development long term, helping expand medical care and education in low income areas.
Hopefully i’ve also gotten my life together and married the love of my life, but don’t count on that one.
Awesome, thanks so much for sharing :)