Chances are, when you were 18, you were probably stressing over finals, trying to enjoy your "senior week," and maybe getting ready to embark on a new adventure in college. Diane Keng is on her third business and signing $100,000 investment deals.
Keng, 18, is the co-founder of MyWEBoo, a service that helps teenagers manage their online personas -- a normally frustrating task, as anyone with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Flickr and other social media accounts knows. If you want to make a status update or share photos or video on one site and offer the same information on another site, you have to jump through the same hoops to get it up there, twice. MyWEBoo aims to make Internet use a little easier and more efficient.
The high school Keng just graduated from, located in Silicon Valley, encourages entrepreneurship. In fact, at least 10 of her classmates also started businesses before graduation -- and we're not talking kids with lemonade stands or selling baseball cards on eBay.
We caught up with Keng during her last "free" summer, before things get really busy. This fall, she begins classes at Santa Clara University with a full-tuition scholarship -- while still running what she hopes will be Web 2.0's next big success story.
You're working on your third business. Your parents must be doing something right.
My parents have both been very supportive and encouraging. While my father has given me a lot advice, in a way, my mom got me started on this. When I was a freshman in high school, my mom gave me $15 a week for an allowance, and [chuckling] I said, "I don't think that's fair." So my mom said, "Well, if you don't think it's fair, you should either get a job or find a way to make some money." And that got me thinking.
So what were these businesses that you started?
The first was a business where I designed and printed T-shirts. I knew all of the clubs at my school might need T-shirts. So I started going to all of the classes and clubs and told them about the business. I pointed out that I'm a local, that they know me, that they could trust me with their money and with this job. And I got a lot of business. But unfortunately, I only focused on the cost of the T-shirt. I didn't take in the cost of the manual labor. I spent hours designing and printing the shirts. I only made about a dollar extra on the shirts -- not a very good profit -- and after a couple months, I said, "This isn't going to work."
My second business specialized in helping companies figure out how to market to teenagers. We were studying the principles of marketing at school, and I had read how marketers were looking for trendsetters, and I thought, 'We're teenagers, we're in contact with teenagers, and we know what's cool and what's coming up. Why can't we do a better job in market research than the adults?'" And we came up with some great market research questions, and I think it was a cool idea that could have gone places, but then I started getting busy with the SAT, the ACT, finals, and it just kind of fell apart after that.
MyWEBoo has turned into a much more serious venture. You initially targeted other teenagers. Is that still true?
We were originally focused on teens and young adults. However, now we are aiming toward Internet users between 18 and 30, but it is not limited to just this target market. Anyone who uses more than three social platforms, or likes music, games or shopping, can all find MyWEBoo useful. We're creating drives that will be able to include shopping catalogs, full games, music and many others. This all started because my brother is a big fan of video games, and he wanted to have a place on the Web where all his video games could be in one place, and I chimed in, saying that nobody considers this a huge problem, but it is -- we all have four or five social media sites, and it would be nice to have one place to go where you could sign into them in one place, and then he came up with the idea of adding other Web services.
So is that when your dad became involved? He's a venture capitalist who invested $100,000 in your business?
Well, we presented our idea to him, to see what he thought, and he said, "Nice try, guys. But go back and rethink this and come back to me in a couple days." He liked the idea, but he saw a ton of holes in what we were doing, and so he wanted us to really think about our business model. But one day, he finally said, "This could make money. I will actually fund you now." And I know it's a lot of money, but when you think about it, $100,000 is college tuition right there. If I hadn't gotten a full ride at Santa Clara, that money would have been for college. And he had a lot of tough questions. He would ask things that only a businessperson would ask, like, "When will I get to see my money?" But he also wanted to know if we could handle the stress of running a business.
What do your friends say about you running a business? And I imagine your teachers were floored.
My friends? I've known most of them for years. We've been close since sixth, seventh grade. They still invite me to different events, and a lot of times, I can't make it, but I go out when I can. I think they're basically used to my business interests, and I don't think they're too irked by it, either. I just go out when I have time, and they're typically a lot more free than I am, so whenever I'm free, I give them a call. And my school was very supportive. My business teacher would send a mass e-mailing to all of the teachers, every time something big happened, so they'd know. And I'm a hard worker, 110 percent focused. I turned in my homework on time, and I was very good at scheduling times to make up tests. If I knew I'd miss a test, I'd make sure I was able to make it up, and I think my teachers were willing to let me because of the stuff I was doing.
You mean like going to the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, to network with venture capitalists?
And how did people treat you there? Were they amazed? I mean, here you are, a high schooler...
I don't think anyone knew I was in high school until a TV crew came in and started filming. I was blown away when The Wall Street Journal said they wanted to do a story on me, and thought, "Whoa, cool!" But apparently they're media partners with ABC7, because they called, and said, "We're going to be there in two hours. Get your team ready." And I thought, "Oh, my goodness -- OK." And then the camera came, and people got really excited. There was a huge traffic jam at our booth, and I think the event coordinator was a little upset about that. But that's when people started asking about us and when people heard I was in high school. I try not to give off that high-school vibe, because you never know what people are going to think. They might think, "great," but they might also wonder if I have the capabilities to handle this position.
And what advice would you give parents who want their kids to grow up to be entrepreneurs?
Well, my parents were very big on time management. They let me learn how to manage my time when I was little. My mom would try reverse psychology, and say things like, "If you don't have time to practice piano, I'm going to have to cut it off." I loved playing piano, so I'd say, "No, don't cut it off," and I'd manage to get everything done, and go have fun. I think a lot of it is not to pressure your kids. My parents never pressured me to go into business, and they didn't pressure me when I haven't done well. They've just been very supportive. Even with my badminton games in school -- I was on the varsity team. My mother went to every game. And she never says anything like, "You missed that shot." She just keeps clapping.
Name: Diane Keng
Location: Cupertino, Calif.
2010 Projected Revenue: Undisclosed, but projections show the company reaching profitability in 2011
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 7/7/10.