Young and Entrepreneurial is a series of articles where I've decided to interview and write about young individuals disrupting the world, whether it's through entrepreneurship, research, non-profit work, intrapreneurship or singing, dancing, writing or by just doing something innovative that impacts the lives of many people.
These young individuals use their entrepreneurial mindset to get things done. These people strive to find ways to change the current equilibrium. By sharing the stories of these individuals, I hope to inspire youth from all over the world to follow their passions, to take the road less traveled and to disrupt the status quo. Dave is the fourth person to be featured in this series. You can view the first three here.
Hackathons are taking the world by storm, and at the forefront of this movement is former MHacks Organizer Dave Fontenot. Widely known in the hacker community as the guy who disrupted the hackathons scene by organizing the largest student run hackathon called MHacks, Dave Fontenot is continuing to blaze a trail in the hacker community through his startup HackMatch, which helps hackers find the right startup to join. When not working on his startup, Fontenot can be seen frequently posting on the High School Hackers group on Facebook and finding ways to grow the hacker community.
But where did this love for hacking start?
Fontenot explains, "When I got to Michigan, I had never coded before or anything. My first semester I just had an idea, and I saw that there was this "hacking" thing going on. It sounded cool so I just showed up anyway."
After this event, Dave and his friends got on a "hackathon" high. They would go on to spent the rest of the summer living life like a hackathon, just building non-stop and expanding their skillsets. Entering sophomore year, Fontenot and his friends wanted travel to as many hackathons as they could.
"Then we found out about this hackathon called PennApps. Then we just said, 'let's just show up'. We convinced 25 hackers to come with us. A lot of us weren't even majoring in Computer Science (CS). We go to PennApps blown away. There was just nothing done like this before. The energy was just insane. Everyone switched to CS when they went back. Everyone came back so pumped about hackathons. Then we said, 'hey we should do this in Michigan'."
Three months later, MHacks was born which has become one of the most successful and anticipated hackathons in the world. Given the success of MHacks, Fontenot started helping setup hackathons in other universities as well, while working on an idea that would lead him to drop out from college.
Fontenot speaking at PennApps (taken from the PennApps album)
"I wasn't dropping out because I didn't love school. I was just learning so much by building my startup. You just won't believe it. As soon as you start building your own thing, and you have users, you just start to learn so much. You don't have to guess anymore, people just tell you what you want."
He added, "We were just learning what we didn't learn in class. We were building a Craig's list for colleges that was completely mobile first. It was going well until the summer hit and all the students started going home. At that point, I realized that I wasn't really passionate about what we were solving."
So Fontenot decided to do an internship instead through the HackNY Fellowhsip in New York, which opened up his network to the myriad startups in New York. But he would end up deciding to go back to school.
"As I was coming back that year, a lot of my friends were graduating. They were telling me, 'hey Dave, I really want to work in a startup but don't know where to start working, but we know that you know a lot of startups'."
So Fontenot decided to start helping out his friends and introducing them to startups, which turned out really well. He expounded, "They started telling their friends and I had all these people who wanted me to help them find startups. And it came to a point where I either had to start turning down these requests or maybe this was something that was valuable and I had to scale up and find a way to help them all. And so I built Hackmatch, which helps hackers find the right startup to join."
Fontenot with the rest of the MHacks team (photo taken from Fontenot)
For Fontenot, the biggest thing he cares about is shifting the bell curve right. Fontenot believes in the power of hackathons and working in an early stage startup because of the amount of growth and learning one can receive. His advice to hackers is to, "Just maximize your personal growth. Just whatever you're doing, just put yourself around the smartest people you can. Just build things. Build things people want. Ask people what they want then build it."
Aside from being known as the founder of MHacks, Fontenot is also known as the guy who knows everybody in the hacker space, and helps connect everyone to each other. He explains, "The biggest reason I'm such a big connector all boils down to the fact that I just really love people. People are just so fascinating to me. Every person I meet, I find something interesting about him or her. I think that's crucial. Genuinely find the interesting thing about people. Don't just talk about the weather. Ask someone what they care about and talk to them about that."
Fontenot adds how he loves connecting people through Facebook. "You can just provide so much value for people's lives and it takes you 15 seconds to make an introduction via Facebook messenger that could potentially change the lives of the two people you put on the group chat. It's really easy but a lot of people aren't getting close to as many intros as they'd like."
Fontenot really believes in the hacker mentality, and envisions a world where people can just build awesome products and not need to worry about anything else. He explained, "This would be the hacker renaissance where people just build awesome things and nothing else matters. You won't have to worry about your laundry. You're not going to worry about anything. The market already has room for this hacker renaissance but nobody has connected the dots. The margins for engineers are huge. A lot of them don't really care about money. They care about freedom."
He ended, "Hackathons already allow you to do this for a weekend: build stuff and don't worry about anything else. I want people to be able to do that with their entire life."
David Ongchoco is a student entrepreneur, avid storyteller and crazy hustler from the Philippines studying at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in what he likes to call, LIFE. He is currently working on expanding his organization YouthHack and social impact startup ThirdEye. It's David's goal to make an impact in the lives of as many people possible while constantly learning new things every single day. If you have any interesting stories, feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org