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Rising Stars: Computer Engineer Invents Real Estate Network
Jeremy Schneider thought he'd be a computer engineer, working for a company like Microsoft. He ended up starting his own apartment rental network business, and retired his resume after college.
School: University of Michigan
Major: Computer Engineering, Computer Science
Years out of college: 5
Company: RentLinx LLC
I've never had a real full-time job. I had four internships in college, the last two being for Microsoft. Microsoft was a great company to work for but it made me realize how much I didn't want to work for a big company. I couldn't deal with my contribution and compensation being so trivial and inflexible in the big scheme of things. I didn't like being just a programmer. I wanted to wear "many hats" and do a lot of different things, so a small company seemed better suited.
How did you get from a computer engineering major to this? What was your "big break"? What has been the most defining moment along your career path?
As I was finishing up my master's I had an offer in my hand from Microsoft for a full-time position. It was for a lot of money. I had been living on pasta and skimping on the sauce for 4 years and I could feel the urge in my gut to take that salary and run. But I was pretty sure that money alone wouldn't make for a happy life, so I turned it down and instead started a "custom software" company. I employed the "jump into the deep end" method of entrepreneurship, since I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was fairly incredulous that any business in their right mind would send a check to a punk kid who claimed to be starting a company. I found my first client through a family member, and the second was a referral from the first. Sure enough, the both sent me checks and apparently that's how you start a company. Or at least that's how I did.
What challenges did you face along the way?
My biggest challenge was lack of focus in the early days. I was basically living job to job and would take whatever work came my way. For the first couple years I was thrashing around with no clear direction or purpose. Eventually, we found our niche, canned all of our other business, built a product, changed the name of the company, and started more directed marketing efforts. We're much better off now that we have a clear focus!
Fast forward a few years and we have a booming site used by over 6,000 property management companies, we're getting nearly 2 million page views each month, have contracts with 2 state governments and over 60 other clients and partners across the US.
What happens in your typical day? What excites you most about your job right now? What are you doing that can inspire others?
We're still only a company of two and I'm the sole software developer. I still consider my main job to develop software for the business, but it probably only ends up taking about 1/3 of my time. The rest of the time is spent supporting clients, selling, marketing, wasting time on reddit.com, etc. It's really great to have a huge say in the direction of the business. My partner and I decide on a day-to-day basis what will be the best use of our time... There are no restrictions, we can do anything we want. However, if the company doesn't make money, we don't make money, so it's exciting to have that kind of direct feedback loop.
What do you want in your next job?
Well... I'm hoping to never have a real job with a boss again. I retired my resume in college. My task at hand is to keep growing my business. We are planning to hire a third and fourth employee in the next year and convert more of our valuable traffic into US currency. The market is huge and we've barely scratched the surface.
Did you ever think you'd end up there? Did you imagine that a Computer Engineering major could up doing this?
I actually was always hoping to be the "third" person into a hot new startup. It seemed like a good time to jump on. There's already an idea and some revenue, but still small enough where a new person can drastically effect the direction and success of the company. Plus, if it gets huge, you still get rich. However, I didn't find my perfect two person company to join, so I had to man up and start it myself. I paid the price in the first couple years of aimless entrepreneuring, but at least now I have sole discretion over the type of candy we stock in the office candy bowl.
What is the best advice you've heard so far? How did you hear it? What would you do differently next time? What advice would you give other students starting on a similar path?
I think the best piece of advice I got or could give is this: be persistent. I learned this great piece of wisdom via a quote on an away message on Eric Jankowsi's AIM account. It was from Calvin Coolidge and it goes like this:
"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race".
I think it's especially true when starting a company. Being good at what you do is nice, but can't even compare to the importance of being persistent. A young person starting a company seldom has any idea of the world of hurt they are in for. But if you push today, push tomorrow and keep pushing a little bit every day, you'll eventually succeed. It's tough to know that when you're pushing into the unknown with no guarantees, but I really believe it's true.
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