Imagine that you’re a high school student with a brilliant idea. How do you turn that idea into a reality?
MySocialCloud is a web application that allows users to store their website login information in an online cloud. It aims to reinvent the online experience and help users manage their online lives.
Pretty smart concept, right? With hard work, innovation, and a key investment from a very impressive entrepreneur, the MySocialCloud team has developed a formidable presence in less than a year. I had the opportunity to talk with Ferreira, 19, about the company’s exciting journey, as well as her advice for other student startups.
Info Space: What was the inspiration behind MySocialCloud?
Stacey Ferreira: My brother and I had been programming for a little while and we’d been working on a few projects. We’d been storing all of our usernames and passwords on Excel spreadsheets on our computers, and one day, my brother’s computer crashed and he lost all of that information. That’s what spurred the idea for us to build a website where all of our usernames and passwords would be on the cloud.
IS: From that moment, how long did it take to get the company up and running?
SF: About a year. After that point, we knew we needed to find a team, and we needed to find someone that can handle the security aspect. We knew that while putting everything on the Internet was a cool concept, we had to make sure that it was 100 percent secure.
IS: You have a pretty incredible investment story. Can you talk about the experience?
SF: A lot of it attributes to Twitter. I saw a tweet from Sir Richard Branson (Founder of Virgin Group) that said “donate $2,000 to charity and come meet me in Miami for cocktails,” and he gave an email address. I sent an email right away saying, “I’m not old enough to drink, but I would love to come meet you,” and told them about the company. I stayed up all night, because the people who responded lived in London. They said they wanted meet us. My brother and I had two days to pull together the money to be able to do this. So we called our parents and asked for a loan. We told them it was a great opportunity and that it would be worth it. Our parents loaned us the money and two days later, we went to Miami.
IS: What happened while you were there?
SF: There were two nights of parties, and we made sure to stay close to Richard Branson and learn as much as we could from him, and see who he was talking to. We got to talk to him throughout those nights, and got his contact info. When we flew back to California, we were more psyched than ever to work on our business because we had just met one of the best entrepreneurs in the world. Over the next few weeks, we emailed him and kept him up to date on everything we were doing, and he introduced us to Jerry Murdock (Managing Director and Co-Founder of Insight Venture Partners).
IS: How did Jerry get involved?
SF: We had a few long conversations with Jerry, and we came to the conclusion that he would fly out to California and meet with us, and see what we were up to. He really drilled us on everything we were doing. He said he was impressed, and then he went back to Colorado and a few weeks later, he said that he and Richard would both be interested in investing. They invested just under one million dollars last August. A couple months later, they introduced us to Alex Welch, who was the CEO and founder of Photobucket, who also recently invested.
IS: What suggestions do you have for other students seeking funding for their startups?
SF: Find key influencers; people that can introduce you to a lot of people. We found Jerry and Alex through Richard Branson. I know that’s an extreme example, but if you’re looking for funding, it’s good to know a lot of key influencers. But if you find one person that really believes in what you’re doing and they have a lot of connections to other people, you’d be surprised how much can come from just knowing that one person. Be smart about networking, and make sure that the people that you’re reaching out to are excited about what you’re doing.
IS: You attended New York University for a year, and decided to take a leave of absence to build the company. How did you arrive at that decision?
SF: I was debating whether or not to even go to NYU for my freshman year, because we received our investment in August and I was getting ready to go to school a month later. I decided that I really wanted a year of experience meeting people there and representing the business on another coast.
IS: What differences did you notice between the startup scenes in New York and California?
SF: New York is so condensed so you can go and meet anyone you want. Los Angeles is kind of the same way, but it’s harder to get around because it’s so spread out. For a lot of startups, it’s good to be secluded because you won’t get distracted by all the people you want to meet or all the events you want to go to. But on the other hand, New York is a hub, and chances are, anyone you want to meet will be there sometime throughout the year, so it’s easy to reach out and meet whoever you want.
IS: What were some challenges you faced as a student entrepreneur?
SF: While I was going to school, the biggest challenge for me was trying to balance everything. I was taking 18 credits of classes, I was running a business, and I was on the executive board of four entrepreneurship clubs and doing a lot of networking and speaking events. That’s a big reason why I decided to take a leave of absence.
IS: To what extent did your education influence your work with MySocialCloud?
SF: I feel like there are some things in entrepreneurship that even if a teacher tried, they’ll never be able to fully prepare you for. You really have to experience it for yourself. I feel that school definitely prepares you from a foundational point. A lot of my writing classes have probably been the most beneficial to me, and I only took two writing classes and I’m not an English major. They helped me learn how to speak to people via email, or write articles for press.
IS: MySocialCloud has already launched on a number of colleges campuses. How did you decided on that launch strategy?
SF: We thought about who we wanted to target. We realized that for us and a lot of the students we went to school with, we all had way too many usernames and passwords. These are the kids that are required, socially, to be on Facebook and all of these social networks. Professionally, they want to create LinkedIn accounts. For fun, they play a lot of games online, so there’s such an influx of websites, and we thought that they would be a great target to use our site.
IS: What advice can you offer other students trying to build companies?
SF: Just go out and network and meet people. A lot of the things that have happened for MySocialCloud have been because of people we met. Although you definitely need to get work done and seclude yourself from everyone from time to time, it’s beneficial to talk to people about who you are, what your idea is, ask them about themselves, and try to help each other along the way.
MySocialCloud has already launched at the University of Southern California and New York University, and is expanding quickly. Plans are in the works for launches at several other University of California campuses, as well as the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, and St. John’s University, among others. Register for MySocialCloud here and follow the company on Twitter for updates!