Ever had a million dollar idea?
Scott and Stacey Ferreira were just 20 and 18-years-old, respectively, when they began their startup MySocialCloud, an online service aimed at storing passwords and bookmarks.
When logging onto MySocialCloud, you can view your "streams" or "lists." Lists are bookmarks from around the web, which are displayed as picture icons. For example, you may have a list of "Art I Want," with bookmarks of artwork you found on the internet. Streams are subscriptions to other people's lists. The streaming function also allows users to link their Facebook and Twitter profiles to the site, providing real-time updates.
What's most unique about their startup experience is how these young entrepreneurs were able to secure just under $1 million from bigwig capitalists Sir Richard Branson, Jerry Murdock and Alex Welsh -- thanks to Twitter. These impressive connections then assisted the brother-sister duo by kickstarting their idea into the growing social media platform it is today.
The Ferreiras recently answered some questions from HuffPost and explained how Twitter helped them reach out to top-notch business moguls, what's it's like to split a tiny apartment in Los Angeles, California, where their year-old company is based, and how being a young entrepreneur simply means following those passions and producing a product people love.
What was the thought process behind MySocialCloud's inception?
Scott: My computer hard drive crashed just before the end of my freshman year in college. After Apple told me they wouldn’t be able to recover any of my information, I thought through the most important things I had lost. Among the files I lost was my Excel [document] with usernames and passwords. While I had backups, I hadn’t done a backup in a while and thus lost a lot of the recent logins I had created for school. Not to mention, I lost all the bookmarks I had stored for various research projects. This, as anyone can imagine, was a huge pain and I decided there had to be a better way of storing this stuff “in the cloud."
Stacey, you're currently 19 and Scott, you're 21. Are you both in college or did you have to take time off for the start up?
Stacey: I attended my freshman year at NYU’s Steinhardt school last year, but have recently signed my leave of absence paperwork to take time off for MySocialCloud.
Scott: This coming year will be my second year of leave from the University of Southern California.
Do you ever feel like because of the startup that you're missing out on what other people your age are doing? Why or why not?
Stacey: Not particularly. I absolutely love thinking about the way technology can change the way people live. And even more than thinking about it, my passion is acting on it and working everyday to build something that helps people and makes them happy. So while other kids immerse themselves in their passions (music, sports, their majors in school, etc.), I’m doing the same.
A lot of younger people are now starting tech businesses. What's your advice for them?
Scott: I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with great mentors and a dedicated and passionate team. If you have those things, the rest will come when needed.
What's one of the greatest challenges of being a young entrepreneur?
Stacey: The hardest challenge was trying to balance MySocialCloud and a full load at NYU. Luckily we have a great team that was always supportive, so it made it easier to do both. But balance and time management was definitely something I needed to get acquainted with at a young age.
Scott: I think that the hardest challenge is gaining people’s respect. I know it is something that comes with time, but I feel that a lot of people just write off some of [our] ideas because of how young we are.
Do you have any great "young-and-broke-entrepreneurs" stories?
Scott: When we were in our first apartment [in the] summer of 2011, we had a very small place but still couldn’t afford it on our own. So a friend of mine moved in with us and split the rent. It was a crazy four months of microwavable food, sleeping on our couch or air mattress with no sheets, and best of all, the Korean church next door that rang bells and started music at 7am every morning except Saturdays.
Besides funding, what was one of the greatest challenges of starting a company?
Scott: All too often people say it’s funding or hiring. I think it’s getting others to believe why they should buy into what you can offer them. Everyone is super busy and has limited time so convincing them to give you some of it is really hard.
So what's the story behind how you used Twitter to get funding? I believe that you met Sir Richard Branson in person?
Scott: It’s an amazing story in my opinion, and truly shows the power of modern day social networks! My sister, [Chief Technology Officer] Shiv, and I were just wrapping up a meeting in our apartment. Stacey was looking through some recent tweets when she came upon one by Branson. It read something like “Meet me in Miami for intimate cocktails to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Virgin Atlantic.” After a short debate Stacey and I decided to reach out to the email he had in the tweet.
We stayed up all night waiting for a response and finally got one that explained the opportunity in more detail. It was going to require a $2,000 donation from each of us and being broke, young entrepreneurs we had no idea where this would come from. Fortunately, our parents were able to loan us the money (and rest assured, it was a loan -- my sister has paid back her portion but I’m still working on mine!). Anyway, we had to book everything and be in Miami within 48 hours so it all felt very rushed. When we finally got to the Versace mansion, it wasn’t more than 10 to 15 minutes before Branson walked in and introduced himself to me and my sister.
What happened next? How did you go from meeting Branson to fundraising nearly a million dollars?
Scott: Branson was so intrigued with my sister and I that night that he put us in touch with his friend Jerry Murdock, who has done a lot of tech investments. Jerry came out to LA soon after and worked with us for about a month before he and Branson put up the first seed round of funding. Alex came in a little later, and all have been great to work with!
Did they give you any great advice for your startup?
Scott: They have given more advice and insight than I can fit in this interview. I think the most important thing is to think about what you are working on and how you can focus on it so acutely and design it so simply that people fall in love with the experience of your product. Let me be the first to tell you though, much easier said than done.
What do your parents think about their daughter-son duo starting a company? Were they able to help you out at all in the beginning stages?
Scott: They can appreciate it because they instilled within us a desire to work hard and learn from every opportunity we have. While we come from a "well-to-do family," financially there wasn’t much help. There were only two times: One was to help us purchase our first set of servers ($1,000) and the second was the $4,000 for Miami to meet Branson. And keep in mind, we are paying back the $4K loan. I think it’s good though because I have a few friends whose parents put up all the money for their startup and I don’t always think they take it as seriously as they should simply because they didn’t have to work too hard to get started.
What keeps you motivated?
Stacey: We have a “Chat Us” button at the bottom of the MySocialCloud page. From time to time I’ll login to chat with users who are online and have questions about the product. Every once in awhile, someone will message me and say how much they love MySocialCloud. We also get daily emails and tweets from people who are ecstatic about MySocialCloud. It's those moments, [it's the] emails and tweets that keep me motivated.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.