High School Memories, an application on Facebook, lets people share recollections of their teenage years. It might surprise those users to learn that the app’s creator isn’t old enough for high school himself.
Cyrus Pishevar, a 13-year-old from Palo Alto, developed High School Memories after seeing how popular it was for his friends to “tag” photos of one another on the social network.
“The big idea is to make memories a social thing to do,” said Cyrus, who learned entrepreneurship from his dad, the founder of five startups. “When you type in your memories, it speaks more than just pictures can, especially when your friends help you through.”
Cyrus is part of Silicon Valley’s second generation of Web innovators – teenagers who grew up with the Internet and witnessed the rapid ascent of Facebook Inc. and other nearby companies. Raised by technology workers and introduced to computers and business early on, many local youngsters have chosen to build their own apps or start whole companies in lieu of after-school sports or summer camps.
“I was surrounded by tech everyday for so long that I gained a natural interest for it,” said Daniel Brusilovsky, an 18-year-old from San Mateo, whose upbringing by a software-manager father and Oracle Corp. veteran mother led him to found two startups before he was old enough to vote.
Fewer skills needed
It’s easier for teens to become Web entrepreneurs these days because writing software is cheaper and simpler, said Daniel Gross, the 19-year-old founder of Internet-search startup Greplin Inc., based in San Francisco.
“The tools require less expert knowledge,” Gross said. “Building a Facebook app doesn’t require you to have four years of computer science.”
Mentoring programs also have sprung up to help young entrepreneurs build their companies. In September, Facebook investor Peter Thiel pledged to make 20 grants of as much as $100,000 apiece to teenagers with startup ideas. He says he wants teens to pursue their dreams, rather than college, because traditional education steers them away from entrepreneurship and into steady jobs.
“We need to encourage young Americans to take more risks,” Thiel, who co-founded PayPal Inc. and now runs the investment firm Clarium Capital Management, said at the time.
Such efforts have drawn criticism for encouraging students to drop out, in the same way that a dream of playing in the NBA might prevent some kids from staying in school.
Pursuing entrepreneurship shouldn’t come before an education, said Vivek Wadhwa, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s School of Information.
“These are Silicon Valley’s child soldiers,” he said. “The vast majority of them will fail miserably. Then they’ve screwed up their careers.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t drop out of Harvard until his company was gaining traction, when he was 20. That’s a model that young people should heed, Wadhwa said.
“If by any chance you happen to achieve the success that Zuckerberg did, then drop out of school,” he said. “But don’t screw up your education until you’ve done that.”
For Cyrus, who was present at his dad’s company meetings since he was a toddler, inspiration came well before he had to make decisions about college.
“He used to crawl between board members’ legs when I had meetings at home,” said Pishevar, who helped found Web development software maker WebOS Inc., mobile-app startup Social Gaming Network and three other companies, all since 1997.
By the time he was 6, Cyrus was learning how to use a computer and giving feedback to his dad on apps. Last year, Pishevar introduced him to Zuckerberg, now 26, at a movie screening in Palo Alto. Around that time, the preteen was coming up with his idea for a Facebook app.