[quote style=”boxed”]I realize that when you have an idea, there are thousands of people who have the exact same idea. It’s a matter of saying, “Okay, this is a good idea, and I’m going to make it happen,” and then, just doing it. No excuses, just doing.[/quote]
Sean Thorne is an undergraduate student at the University of Oregon and the founder of Hallspot, a new network for college students. Originally from San Francisco, CA, Sean built his first website, Welcome College Freshman, at the age of 18 and it received 3 million views.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently building Hallspot, a better network for college students. Our goal is to make college one of the best times of our lives even better. We have a modern and refreshing feature set that isn’t out there today. We’re angel backed from the Silicon Valley and have eight fulltime employees as well as five interns. We will be launching September 27 at our first school: the University of Oregon.
Where did the idea for Hallspot come from?
I was sitting in a marketing class last November when I decided to check my Facebook and Twitter. After scrolling through my newsfeed, I was frustrated in what I saw. The content pictures of my grandma’s cookies and posts related to kids still in high school was irrelevant to me. Further, I felt bored with the basic circa 2004 social media features. As a college student, the two most important things in my life are my college friends and my university campus. That’s when I realized there wasn’t a place online just for students. I began sketching out what I’d want in a network for myself right there in class and those sketches have been the core of Hallspot.
How do you make money?
Hallspot is a free website and iPhone app for college students. Our strategy is to get a large number of college students using our product and then worry about making revenue (like Snapchat or Instagram).
What does your typical day look like?
Wake up at 6 a.m., reply to overnight emails right there in bed, go on a run, workout, eat breakfast, head into the office by 8 a.m., facilitate a standup meeting with the team to go over what everyone is doing for that day, go to meetings (anywhere from 4 to 10 daily, both within our team and with third parties), make product decisions within our development, design, and marketing teams, deal with lawyers, meet with our mentors, investor relations, clean the office, interview new candidates, and anything else that pops up. After the workday is wrapped up, I go hangout with friends and be a normal college student.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I realize that when you have an idea, there are thousands of people who have the exact same idea. It’s a matter of saying, “Okay, this is a good idea, and I’m going to make it happen,” and then, just doing it. No excuses, just doing.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The fact that Twitter and LinkedIn both recently announced they are launching college features. They don’t compete with us, but the fact that they are giants and are wanting to move into the college market is exciting for us as it showcases the market we’re focused on.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Back in high school, I worked customer service for Safeway. In addition to dealing with angry customers attempting to return empty packages, I was in charge of the store balance sheets, cash flow and had access to every piece of the store’s analytic data. The store manager would delegate his tasks to me because he trusted me. However, I was paid $8.25 hourly to handle all of that responsibility. I felt like I wasn’t paid enough to honestly care and become invested in the wellbeing of Safeway. My manager was making 50k while giving me a large chunk of his work. I felt unappreciated and underpaid. I spoke to my manager and explained how much work I was doing and how it was easily double my pay grade but he brushed it aside as if I didn’t matter. So, I gave my two weeks notice on the spot.
I learned that people are the most important thing you can have in a business. Treat your team right! At Hallspot, we allocate 5% of our budget toward employee happiness. If you are paying someone x amount, it’s well worth another 1/20 of x over the course of a year to go above and beyond to make your employee happy. This increased happiness will more than likely lead to higher productivity.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would write out a complete plan from day one. While it’s true nothing goes according to plan, I think in hindsight, I’d set a formal layout for Hallspot. That way, I could look back and say, “Wow, six months ago we said we were going to do this and here we are.” Two of my closest mentors, Sabrina Parsons and Caroline Cummings, are from Palo Alto Software, a business planning company. They’ve taught me the importance of stepping out of the fast lane for a minute and planning out the future trajectory you will then follow.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I have two.
Taking a deep breath, a step back, a swig of water, and then diving back in. Problems are going to come up, but realize they aren’t problems they’re opportunities to improve.
Surrounding yourself with team members and mentors who are smarter than yourself. You’re going to need a ton of help to get where you want to go. You need team members who know twice as much as you. Just as importantly, you need mentors who genuinely care about you and can help you in areas you’re lacking in. The ability to realize where you need help and to actually ask for help is one of the most important skills you can have.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The best way for me to answer this question is to rephrase it a bit. Breaking up your day into hundreds of pieces, you’re going to fail multiple times. When creating an innovative product, you have to move fast. You have to be prepared to mess up here and there. At Hallspot, we have the core of what we want to do, but are constantly asking ourselves, how are we actually going to do it? Our answer is in the form of millions of decisions. In formulating our answer, we fail everyday, but it’s okay! Failure means we explored an option, learned from it, and are that much closer to finding the right answer.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I leased a car for Hallspot with the intention of wrapping it and turning it into our marketing vehicle. I knew exactly what car we wanted and the deal on it. Within ten seconds of meeting the dealer, I told him to start the paperwork. Three hours later, I was driving off with our car.
Companies and many wealthy individuals know exactly what they want. Even to the average buyer asking questions and negotiating, the process still sucks. Dealers are not trusted and have to go back and ask their manager what quote they can do, half of dealerships have no basic water for customers, and in general it’s a pain in the behind to spend three hours there. It’s time for innovative car dealerships that put customers first.
Think Zappos of car dealerships meets “you’ll drive off in your new car in less time than it takes to buy a sandwich.”
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I’d take all of the patent trolls and put them into a box and blast them to Mars to become the planet’s first colonists. That way, they can fight over patent rights a planet away, and wait for Mars to become more inhabited to again attack entrepreneurs.
But seriously, I’d stamp out patent trolls for good. I don’t know how, but they are dirty, unethical, greedy people. Recent legislation is a great start, but more needs to be done.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I’m pretty transparent. I met one of my exgirlfriends on Facebook? (embarrassing).
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
A) Live Plan. Simplistic software that makes it incredibly easy to create a business plan, pitch it to investors, and then plan your budget to know when exactly you’re going to run out of money. It simplifies the process for entrepreneurs, essentially buying you more time something that is priceless.
B) Google Docs. Standard, yes. But it works and the ability to share documents and files is easy.
C) Base Camp. For specific projects and teams, Base Camp is the best. Allows you to segment your team for more productive, direct communication and collaboration.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Start With Why by Simon Sinek. If you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, why do it at all? Also, Venture Deals by Brad Feld is a must read.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
Edward Aten, Founder of CopThis. A personal friend and someone who tweets witty funny yet intelligent content.
Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software. Sabrina is one of my closest mentors, and a perfect example of a real world individual mom of three and wife who has great business savvy.
Caroline Cummings, VP of Business Development at Palo Alto Software. Caroline is also a very close mentor of mine, and as genuine of an individual as they get who simply “gets it” business wise.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Last night I informed our new marketing and pr manager hire of her first day schedule. It’s a training day in which we’re teaching her how to fail quickly (and that it’s ok) by having her attempt to solve the rubik cube, juggle six tennis balls, paint a picture, mold clay into beautiful China cups, and sing Call Me Maybe in front of the entire team (all of which she has no expertise at). Upon realizing she will have to sing she replied with a meme which I can’t possibly describe here, but she was essentially saying, “Oh my gosh, noo!” in a funny way. The little things like that keep everything fun and help you to realize that if you surround yourself with talented people who you want to be around, you’re going to end up heading in the right direction.
Who is your hero, and why?
Jack Dorsey. He had an idea for a real time information platform, moved fast, and turned it into Twitter. Several years later he had an idea for a mobile payments system, moved even faster, and turned it into Square. The manner in which he is so singularly focused on one goal is motivating, and I aspire to follow in his footsteps.
Do you like working at Hallspot?
I absolutely love it. We have an open culture where we empower our team, there’s no micromanaging, and there’s a tremendous level of trust. It’s so rewarding to hand someone something, tell them this is really important, and that you’re relying on them and have them give it back to you two hours later with the perfect solution.
Whenever we make a new hire, we’re extremely cautious to ensure that our new hire is going to fit right into our culture because it’s not only about talent, it’s about having an insync team that truly likes working together.
What is it like to balance being a college student and an entrepreneur at the same time?
It’s insane sometimes. Luckily we built Hallspot over this summer, but I have no clue how I’ll balance both once school starts. I work at least sixty hours a week, and with what spare time I have I hangout with friends and try to be as much of a normal college student as I can. There really is no time to mix school into the equation as well, so we’ll see.
Sean Thorne on Twitter – seanthorne5
Sean Thorne’s Email: [email protected]
Sean Thorne on LinkedIn: