Create something that solves a problem. Once you do that, whatever you created will grow on its own.
Mike Scudder, 24, is the President and Co-Founder of BrowseU, the search engine that helps its users pay down their student loans by sharing the advertising revenue generated by the website.
Growing up right outside of Chicago, Scudder has always had a passion for entrepreneurship. He’s launched a couple of different websites over the years, but this is his first startup that he feels really solves a problem. There are over 40 million Americans with at least one student loan bringing the total debt to over $1.3 Trillion. He hopes BrowseU can be a vital tool in tackling that debt.
Scudder studied Economics and Business at Colorado State University while also studying the major ski resorts of the close by mountains. Scudder has been working professionally in web development for over four years and has had a passion for anything related to computers for as long as he can remember.
Where did the idea for BrowseU come from?
BrowseU was a product of the pressure I was feeling from my student loans. I’m always coming up with different business ideas, but this time I wanted to think of something that could not only help me pay off my student loans down the road, but that could also help other people pay off theirs at the same time. I knew what I wanted to accomplish, just not what the core of the business would be. Not only did I want this to help eliminate the student loan problem in the United States, but I wanted it to be free and effortless. That’s when a search engine came to mind. This was a free tool that almost everyone uses on a daily basis without even thinking. It’s also a great tool for generating advertising revenue which would be the main source of money to help pay off the student loans of our users. Despite being a highly dominated market, BrowseU, the search engine that helps pay your student loans was born.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My partner and I just launched BrowseU about three months ago. We’re still a very new startup. So at this time our days both consist of a regular 9-5 on top of working on BrowseU. This definitely adds a difficulty factor to what we do, but I don’t believe this is limiting us from being productive. You just have to be willing to make some sacrifices. I’ll wake up an extra hour early or so each day and answer emails, knock out a quick task, or set a game plan. Many times during our lunch hour at work we’ll also be doing various tasks to keep up with our daily BrowseU activities. Then of course right after work, you come home and… work. BrowseU was built, lives, and thrives from late night hours and weekends.
As much as I’d like to make BrowseU my 9-5, I think it’s very important to keep your day job as long as possible. Our goal right now isn’t to pull a salary out of this. The goal is to build a successful platform that can really make a difference. Even though it’s taking away time I can be focusing on BrowseU, I personally believe it’s more detrimental to the company to bleed it dry of any money during such an early and crucial stage. Build your platform. Put your users first. They’ll both return the favor.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Being a web developer has allowed me to not only think of an idea, but have the ability to actually build it. I try to learn as much as I can from anything I get into. I’ve started a few businesses and websites in the past. Although some have worked out better than others, I’ve always walked away with something. Whether that was experience with web development, design, marketing, business development, business relations, etc. It was always something. Each of those experiences has provided more and more tools to bring other ideas to life.
Another huge part of bringing an idea to life is my business partner. This is especially true for BrowseU. This isn’t our first time working on a project together. Before I had even dipped my toes into anything related to websites he was far ahead of the game, and still is. When I need to bring an idea to life, that’s usually one of the first places I start.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
At this moment I’m really into Virtual Reality. These new headsets coming out really amaze me. There is so much undiscovered potential that this new technology has to offer and we don’t even know it yet. I really think it’s going to disrupt the way that a lot of things work across many different industries. I’m really excited to watch the development, evolution, and path that this technology takes.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Reading. Although I don’t always have as much time to do it as I’d like, I find it very important to read. I know that’s a simple and cliché answer, but I’m very serious. I’ve found inspiration, ideas, ways of thinking, advice, and so much more from many different books. These authors have things to say for a reason. Maybe they’ve gone down a similar path, maybe they’ve come from a similar background, and maybe they’re not like you at all. But I can guarantee you there is something to take away from each and every one of them. I believe that having this knowledge no matter how big or how small makes you more productive in the end.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
While I was in between jobs I took a position at a thrift store as part of their truck crew. The hours weren’t ideal and the pay wasn’t any better. My job was to drive around to various homes and pick up donations for the shop. This could have been a bag of clothes or the world’s heaviest desk. I think I learned two things from this job. First of all, physical labor is definitely not for me. Secondly, I learned my value. I knew that I had more to offer for my time. I like to think this was the job that pushed me to strive for more. That if I wanted things to change, I needed to go out and make it happen on my own.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I wanted to say, I would have not gone to college. However, I think what I really mean is, I wish I would have known more prior to going. Student debt has been one of the biggest burdens on my life. I really regret not being aware of the debt I was accumulating at the time. Also, not being aware of the many options there were to soften the blow. I’m the oldest child in my family, so you really just kind of go with the flow. There’s nobody to base it off of, and college is a lot different now that it was for our parents. At the time, racking up $30,000/year didn’t even register in my head. I was young and college was just the next step after high school to me.
I do think college was a great experience though. It’s different for everyone, but I got more out of the experience than the education. Going out on your own for the first time, 1000 miles away from home, really puts you in a position to grow. During those years I learned a lot about myself, about life, and about what I wanted to do. You learn to survive in this world and I think that was very important. I don’t regret going to college, but I wish I would have taken a smarter approach to it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Try. You never know if you don’t try. I hear other people come up with ideas all the time, but they never go out and try to make it happen. It might sound hard or cost a little bit of money to get going, but as I mentioned earlier, you’ll always get something out of it. It will never be for nothing.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Create something that solves a problem. Once you do that, whatever you created will grow on its own. Our growth has been so amazing only because we have amazing users who love our platform, what we’re doing, and want to share it with others. It’s that simple. Build an audience and they’ll help you with the rest.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I think my clothing company coming to an end was a pretty big one. This was something that I had been involved with for a very long time starting at a young age. It just never got to the point we wanted it to and we weren’t seeing any profits down the road. It was very hard to let go, but I overcame it by taking my mistakes and learning from them. This seems to be the theme of this interview, but even though I failed, I learned so many things from this experience that have stuck with me over the years. I think it’s important to look at your failures and figure out why they failed. That way you don’t make the same mistakes moving forward.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’m interested in Bitcoin and its ever changing value. I find it time consuming to click into an app or the internet browser and look for the current price. It would be extremely convenient to create an app that displays the price in real time on your cell phone lock screen. Thus making it just as easy as checking the time. I can’t be the only one who feels this way.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently had a nice bouquet of chocolate covered fruit delivered to my girlfriends work last week as a surprise. I’m a huge advocate of a work/life balance. It’s extremely hard to keep that balance when you’re starting a company and still work a regular 9-5. It’s important to me that I let everyone in my personal life know that I care and that they’re always important.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
The two main services we currently use at BrowseU are Asana and Hipchat. These two platforms are free and allow us to efficiently communicate and keep on track. Our team works remotely so it’s important to have the ability to easily bounce ideas back and forth, leave notes or reminders, or set tasks to keep our projects on track. I highly recommend these services to companies that don’t always operate under the same roof.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals. I read this book right as we were building BrowseU and instantly handed it over to my partner to do the same. This book provided inspiration and a very unique view on business. It’s a, “must read” according to Mark Cuban and also recommended by Seth Godin. That alone should be enough. Jason and David provide so many great ideas and views on how to build your business based on their experience from their own successful ventures, like Basecamp. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in starting a business or interested in entrepreneurship in general. Even if that’s not the case this book still provides great insight and viewpoints that are beneficial to almost anyone.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
To continue off the last question, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the founders of 37signals have very much influenced my way of thinking. I think they’ll do the same for you, and you won’t regret it.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.