How This Teen Made More Than $100,000 Before He Turned 16

Sahil Lavingia GumroadSahil Lavingia was one of the first employees at Pinterest. He left that behind for his own startup, Gumroad.

Photo: Shl via Twitter

Sahil Lavingia is 19 years old. He was one of Pinterest’s first employees and now he has his own startup backed by $1.1 million in venture funding, Gumroad.Lavingia has been making money by creating things for a long time.

By age 15 he was financially independent — he had more than $100,000 in his savings account. It was all self-made; it didn’t come from his parents.

Lavingia tells us how he did it.

Business Insider: What’s your story? Why aren’t you in school right now?

Sahil Lavingia: I started as a designer when my middle school gave all of the students a Photoshop licence for free. I started messing around with it because I realised I had access to thousands of dollars of software and I might as well give it a shot.

I googled Photoshop tutorials and made really weird things for fun and kind of got hooked. I started designing websites because that’s where the money was.

When I was 14 and I was like, “I’m tired of this, I want to build my own products.”

I had all these random ideas for little things I wanted to build so I would design them every weekend. I would get home from school on Friday, pick one of my gazillion ideas to design and contract out all of the back-end work. I’d launch the app by emailing every tech blog I knew. Inevitably one of the five would write about it and then I would sell it on some marketplace.

What ideas did you create and sell?

I built a to-do list app. I built this thing that let you create Facebook walls but for Twitter before Twitter had any kind of conversation aspect. I built this tool that let users send automatic, customised direct messages on Twitter.

How many apps did you build and sell?

I built about 20. I think I sold all of them.

Whom did you sell them to and for how much?

There was this marketplace — it’s called Flippa now. I couldn’t sell them for much — maybe $1,000+.

How much did you pay to contract them out? Because you were just the idea guy, you didn’t code them yourself.

Yah that was frustrating because I do not like paying people money. You know, maybe that’s why my investors like me.  But I probably payed $50 per app.

People would make an app for $50? Where did you find them?

Yeah, I mean for two hours of work for a guy who is also in high school but lives somewhere else in the world. I found them by Googling developer forums. I never went to an e-Lance or anything like that. I just went to forums and tried to get someone reputable to them. I built relationships and would go to the same people every time.

I was also frustrated that I was paying people to build what I couldn’t.  So I started learning HTML, CSS, PHP, then the iPhone came out and I learned iOS development. One of the iPhone apps I made was on the home page of Apple.

It’s not easy to learn to code. How did you teach yourself?

PHP was a failure. It took me two months of trying to build my own little app and I just hated it. I gave up and figured back-end development was not for me.

But then the iPhone came out and I learned that stuff really fast. I learned iPhone development in 2 weeks. I downloaded Stanford videos and those became my whole life. So I learned iOS development when I was 16.

I was financially independent when I was 15. I never really tell anyone that because it doesn’t feel relevant, but looking back I think, Oh, starting a company might have actually made sense. I have been doing OK for a while. My bank account when I was 15 or 16 was over $100,000.

To read the full interview with Sahil Lavingia, check out The Most Interesting Teenager In Silicon Valley >

Meet Sahil at Business Insider’s Startup 2012 conference on May 3, 2012 in NYC!

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