“Most girls ask for a pony when they’re little, but I asked for a domain name,” Kelsey Falter told the audience at TechStars Demo Day last week.
There she presented her startup, PopTip, to hundreds of investors and journalists.
Hearing her opening remarks, it’s not surprising Falter ended up a finalist in TechStars NY. More than 1,600 startups applied to the accelerator program and only 14 were accepted, making TechStars harder to get into than Harvard.
But the 22-year-old has startups in her blood, and she left college a few credit shy of a degree to pursue her passion.
Falter grew up in an entrepreneurial home; she stuffed envelopers for her mother’s business from an early age, charging one cent per piece. After 1,000 were stuffed and she had earned $10, she’d head to the salon for a manicure.
At age eight, Falter got her first domain name. She launched Spicyirish3.com and pestered her family with links to her stories. She quickly grew bored by the site’s lack of colours and creative tools; Falter, then 9, taught herself to code.
At Notre Dame, Falter found herself drawn to startups. She spent a lot of time working with DormBooks.com and actually ran out of a final to fix the college textbook site when it crashed. The site wasn’t even hers to fix.
“I was sacrificing a test for this site and realised I should be working on something I’m really passionate about,” says Falter. “I didn’t even care about textbooks!”
Poptip’s predecessor, Markover.com was born—a site that allowed creative people to collaborate on projects in real time. Falter ended up snagging prize money from BetaBeat’s “The Pitch” competition. Then she secured $640,000 in funding from Lerer Ventures and SoftBank. TechStars’ David Tisch took notice.
When TechStars was taking applications, Falter was still at Notre Dame. She says she had no desire to submit an application because she deemed TechStars too “flashy” and “buzz-wordy.”
“I didn’t want to apply to TechStars at all but David Tisch kept reaching out to me,” recalls Falter. “Other people who knew Tisch would reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, you really should apply.'”
A usually hard-to-impress Tisch saw something special in Falter.
“Kelsey is a standout entrepreneur. She has an amazing product mind and an incredible passion for making beautiful products,” Tisch says. “I have incredible expectations for what she is going to do throughout her career, whether with PopTip or the next two, three, four companies she starts.”
It took Falter visiting TechStars to realise the experience was valuable. She submitted an application on the day of the deadline at midnight. As soon as she was accepted, she put her Notre Dame degree on hold.
With the help of mentors and Tisch, Falter realised she needed to tweak her original concept to provide a service for a broader audience. She pivoted Markover into PopTip, a program that provides instantaneous feedback for businesses through polls conducted on social networks like Twitter.
Looking back, Falter is happy she participated in TechStars.
“It was definitely worth it. It was one of the best possible things I could have done,” Falter says.
For more about Kelsey’s startup, check out: TechStars Demo Day: Meet The 13 Most Highly Anticipated Startups In New York >
Here’s a demo video of PopTip, Falter’s startup: