Luke Li: Teen Entrepreneur Interview

Luke Li is a 19 year old computer science major at Princeton.

Alex Sahai: Luke, could you tell me a little bit about your background and your experience with entrepreneurship?

Luke Li: Sure! I'm a rising sophomore majoring in computer science at Princeton, and I'm currently 19 years old. I started and fell in love with programming since 7th grade, and have a similar entrepreneurial interest that thrived with that. I'm very interested in finding and solving tough, practical problems and building a viable business while doing so. In high school, I built HypedMusic, a website, iOS, and Android app that let people create and listen to music playlists for free and in unlimited quantities. Last year, I had 1 million unique visitors (around 15,000 unique visitors a day) and my iOS app was #1 in top Music apps in France. This past winter, I was forced to shut down by the RIAA, a story I detailed in http://blog.appgrounds.com/the-riaa-forced-me-to-shut-down/ that reached #1 on HackerNews.

My site aggregated music files posted by other people on Tumblr, Souncloud, etc. and acted as a conduit to stream those files, but didn't host any music files. While building HypedMusic from scratch, I learned HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, Mysql, Apache, Android and iOS development necessary for the frontend, backend, and the app development for HypedMusic.

Last summer, I interned at a startup called Refresh in Palo Alto. Currently I'm working at a startup called Yext in New York City. I am also a member of the Young Entrepreneurs Program of Foundation Capital, which enables me to connect promising Princeton startups to Foundation Capital. Outside of programming and entrepreneurship, I played varsity golf for four years in high school, and have been involved with leadership, as class president my first three years in high school, student body president my senior, and a member of Freshman Class Council at Princeton.

AS: That is phenomenal Luke! I have a few questions about your perspective on entrepreneurship. My first question is, how did you go about learning about coding?

LL: I started coding in 7th grade. During my whole life, I have loved playing video games and in the summer before 7th grade, I told my mom, “it is great to play these games, but it would be even cooler if I could make them myself,” so she signed me up for some programming classes. I ended up taking Introduction to C programming, which is much lower level language compared to those that are used to create video games, but nevertheless I was hooked on programming in general ever since that summer. My experiences with programming exploded in high school when I realized that I could build websites. Basically that I can make something, publish it on the Internet and anyone can use it immediately. One of my first projects in high school stemmed from the fact that I always loved math, so I created a website where people could send me emails with their math questions, and I would post the answers on the website (they probably didn’t know that I was in 9th grade). Ever since then, I have realized how great it is to build something that people use every day and enjoy.

AS: What is the hardest challenge about being a teen entrepreneur?

LL: I believe that the answer to this question is twofold. One aspect is that resources are more limited for teenagers and another aspect is a lack of mentorship. I have a quick story with lacking resources when I was building my iOS and Android app for HypedMusic. I had to pay money in order to get a Mac developers license, I had to buy a Mac, and I had to pay for an Android developers license. I didn’t feel comfortable asking my parents for the money, so I spent my entire junior year summer working on the app while working 16 hours a week at KFC to supplement my programming interest. Another aspect is that as a teen entrepreneur the Internet is starting to level the playing field in terms of access to resources, now there are tons of free courses, programs, and tons of open source platforms for coding. I think that the web has started to level the playing field at least with technology and computer science. For the most part I barely knew anyone that was interested in entrepreneurship, and even if I did it was hard to connect with them or to find good mentors.

AS: Well that is what we are trying to solve with Planet of the Kids! I have one last question and it is what advice would you give to other teen entrepreneurs?

LL: If you have an idea, try to bring it to life. Shipping your product is so important and the only true test of your idea. Even though it is kind of scary to put out a product or service that you have been working so hard on with the possibility of it failing, that is the risk of being an entrepreneur. Seeing how this applies to more general sides of entrepreneurship. So in that, one of the most important skills is being able to building a product and not being afraid to release it into the wild even if its not perfect. Once you release your product, you start to see and hear opinions, then using that feedback, you iterate rapidly to adapt to the needs of your customers.

Disclosure: I met Luke through my summer internship at Foundation Capital and interviewed him following our introduction regarding his experiences with teenage entrepreneurship.

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