Interview by Chris Asroff
We’ve all heard the stories. Bill Gates dropping out of Harvard to start Microsoft. Steve Jobs quitting school to found Apple in a garage. These stories are easily brushed off as quirky tales about a couple of geniuses. However, there’s a deeper, much more universal lesson to be had: seizing opportunities. Giving up your chosen path, whatever it may be, to pursue something your heart and mind tell you to do.
Tech entrepreneur Chris Coleman, 22, is a prime reminder that Generation Yers can follow in the footsteps of tech legends. After half a dozen stops on the road to a degree, Coleman stepped off that path, taught himself to code, and seized an opportunity to pursue his ideas. Here, Coleman shares his experiences and prompts readers to follow their own voice.
Young People Do: You’re preparing to launch the tech company SavySwap. Tell our readers about it.
Chris Coleman: In a nutshell, Savyswap is a secure online experience to get what you want simply by trading.
I came up with the idea three years ago when I had to sell my couch and mattress when I was moving from Denver to DC. I couldn’t put these items on eBay so I went to Craigslist and it was a disaster. Half the people didn’t want to come to my house, because apparently I lived in a bad part of Denver, the other half didn’t want to get anywhere close to my neighborhood. Everyone else was just a spam and fakes. I got so frustrated that I gave my things to charity, which I don’t have a problem doing, I just wished I could have gotten something in return that I could use. I sat on the idea for a year before I actually acted on it.
The big issue when doing anything online is trust and finding people that have something you want while getting rid of something you don’t want. So we set out to build a site where users would feel safe swapping their items with other people based off of things they were interested in.
YPD: You had an interesting educational background, reminiscent of the old “drop out of college to start a tech company” story line. Can you talk a bit about your experiences?
CC: My college journey is not the normal one. I got recruited out of high school to run track and cross country in Denver, transferred to SUNY New Paltz in upstate New York for 13 days, then back to my original school in Denver, then to the University of Colorado Denver, then over to Howard University in DC, with a stop at a community college in Pennsylvania in between. I finally dropped out of a small college in San Diego. I’m out of breath just thinking about it.
I initially was a marketing major, but after taking two years of classes I realized I didn’t like it, so I changed to journalism because I love writing. While at Howard, I landed a position as a technology editor for an online magazine and that’s when my eyes were really opened to the possibilities. I had the pleasure of interviewing and covering some cool up-and-coming tech startups as well as product launches of a few Google and Motorola smartphones.
While talking with these entrepreneurs I realized they were doing three things. One, solving a problem with their own ideas. Two, working on something they were passionate about, and three, being compensated for their efforts.
After that I taught myself how to program, I built a few websites for some clients and came to a crossroad. I was learning more outside of the classroom than in it. After reading a blog post by Garrett Gee (founder of Scan) who I have a great ton of respect for, I knew what I had to do. So I told my parents I’m dropping out of school, moved to California and started Savyswap.
YPD: If you had to give a rapid fire pitch on why you think SavySwap is a good idea, what would it be?
CC: Rapid fire…good thing I’ve been practicing.
Bartering has been a part of our lives since the day we could communicate. You may remember going to school with an apple for lunch and wanting that double chocolate fudge pudding that your friend had. What did you do, did you stick with your apple in misery or did you try to work a deal to get what you wanted? The same concept can be applied to getting what we want from each other online.
YPD: Who do you expect your most frequent users to be? And what types of items do you expect to be traded the most?
CC: Fingers crossed everyone around the world, especially everyone reading this! But we expect our frequent users to be people that like to get the most value for their items, whether getting rid of or getting a new item, without spending tons of money. It’s like thrift shoppers. They aren’t cheap people, they just stretch the value of their dollar a lot further by buying slightly used clothes rather than new.
In terms of items, initially we were thinking smaller items such as a bike traded for a couch, but people that we’ve shared this idea with have talked about swapping yachts, commodities, cars, you name it. It still blows my mind when someone brings up the most random item they can’t wait to swap.
That’s the best part about this. The possibilities are endless and we’re up for the challenge.
YPD: What part of being a tech entrepreneur do you enjoy the most?
CC: It would have to be the freedom involved. And when I say freedom, I mean technology allows anyone and everyone to create whatever they want. There are no limits or gatekeepers, as say a job at a bank where at a certain point a higher up stops you from going any further. Or the music industry, where you have to know someone who knows someone who knows someone.
How far I want to go is honestly up to me and the effort that I put in. You can’t say that about most industries.
YPD: You are also involved in a few other projects including Good Villins and Champion Connections. What is their purpose, and what impact has each project had on yourself and the construction of Savyswap?
CC: Good Villins (GV) and Champion Connections are both passion projects of mine. GV was started with my two really close friends, Kenny Garnett and Bryton Hawthorne. We saw that our generation is only told the stories of people such as LeBron James, Jay Z, Mark Zuckerberg, and on. While that is all good and well, realistically some of us can’t achieve that level of success due to not possessing the talent to rap, natural gift to play basketball, or have the determination or desire to learn to code, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still be successful.
So we wanted to highlight the stories of cool, innovative and interesting people who are going against the grain of society and have found success (whatever success means to them) while chasing their dreams.
Champion Connections is along those similar lines, but is more about creating an online community designed to help people who are chasing their goals and dreams to be surrounded by positivity and collaborate with one another. [Collaboration] is the only reason I am where I am today. People have poured inspiration into me, some that I’ve met in person and others through YouTube videos, Twitter, Facebook posts, blogs, and more. They’re all my unofficial mentors.
My role as a content creator in these projects has allowed me to meet and connect with some pretty amazing people from around the world who I’ve become good friends with. You can’t do it alone and I realized that very quickly when building Savyswap. At the end of the day, it’s all about building a network and a team that can help and support you as you grow as a person and as your business or project grows.
YPD: Any words of inspiration for our readers?
CC: I would say it’s just to let everyone know that they are worth it. Your situation in life does not determine who you are and what you can become. I was placed into remedial classes going into high school, but ended up in honors classes by the end of high school and had a 3.7 before dropping out of college. Don’t let anyone put you into a box mentally because they haven’t or don’t know anyone who has done what you want to do. Just remember that you’re worth it, that’s what I want to stress.