Dan Shipper is 20 years old and he just finished a gruelling week of college finals at the University of Pennsylvania where he’s a philosophy major.His week of finals were made even harder when a startup, Y Combinator’s 42Floors, made him a job offer that went viral.
Jason Freedman, 42Floors’ founder, wrote a post titled Consider this a job offer to work at 42Floors and poured his heart out to Shipper:
You’re only a sophomore in college, but you’ve already started several companies. You’ve taught yourself to code, and you are a maker at heart…It would be an honour to have you join us here at 42Floors…This offer has no expiration.”
When the Princeton, New Jersey native learned of Freedman’s offer, he had to take a walk.
It’s not the first time he’s been asked to drop out of school and join a startup. The one startup that did reject Shipper for an internship has since written its regrets.
But the young developer and philosophy major wants to stay in school.
We caught up with Shipper and learned how he is catching startups’ attention and why he’s such a hot commodity.
Here’s the (lightly edited) conversation:
Business Insider (BI): How did you deal with “going viral” during college finals?
Dan Shipper (DS): I basically didn’t sleep. I had two days where I had to shut off my Internet connection and just work on my stuff. So everything worked out, but it was definitely tough, but a lot of fun.
BI: What’s your background?
DS: I do a lot of coding. I started learning to code when I was in fifth grade because the only way you can build a viable business as a 10-year-old is to know how to code. Last summer I interned at [New York startup] Artsicle. I’m a philosophy major.
AS: And did you build a viable business as a 10-year-old?
DS: I really wanted to make an operating system. I started buying books and reading up and then I realised that it’s really, really tough to build an operating system. So I lowered my expectation and I spent a couple years coding different things, not really building any businesses.
In high school I started developing Blackberry apps right before the iPhone came out in 2006. No one really knew what an app was so I started doing BlackBerry software development. The first app I made was called FindIt. I kept losing my BlackBerry in my house, and it would be on silent so I couldn’t call it. FindIt made it so, if I lost my BlackBerry in my house, I could just email it and it would ring even if it was on silent.
I eventually iterated that into a full-fledged web interface where you could completely control your Blackberry from the Internet. You could track it, you could make it call you, you could lock it, you could make it display a message and you could back it up completely.
It was actually tested by the U.S. Army for use on Army Blackberries. So I had a bunch of other apps like that for Blackberry and Phone.
BI: What have you worked on in college?
DS: When I first got to college I stopped doing mobile app stuff and started doing web development. And I guess the first successful website I did was with two friends called WhereMyFriendsBe. It took all of your Facebook friends and plotted them on a map.
That has about 40,000 sign-ups right now. I took freshman year as a way to learn how to take an idea and get it out on the web as quickly as possible. And I did probably 10-15 apps during freshman year. Over last summer I built a website, DomainPolish, and sold it in February.
BI: How are tech companies catching wind of you?
In terms of Jason Freedman, I tweeted him about six months ago and said, “I want to talk, I’d love to get some advice.” We are both frequent readers of Hacker News. It has generated 150,000 uniques for my blog in the past year. I admired Jason because of his writing style and the popularity of his posts so I wanted to get advice about blogging and entrepreneurship in general.
He called me while I was in class and we ended up talking for a long time. He’s been a really great resource for me and he’s just a really good guy.
BI: Have you gotten job offers from other tech companies too?
DS: Yeah, I have gotten other offers. It’s a fun position to be in.
BI: From any big fish like Facebook?
DS: No, I haven’t gotten any offers from a really, really big company like that, just from well-known startups.
BI: What keeps you in school? Is there any company that could lure you away?
DS: I don’t think so. I’m not in school as a resume-builder. I’m not in school so I can get a job after I’m done. I’m a philosophy major.
I’m in school because I enjoy it, and I think it’s important and I think I’m learning things that are important in it. I’m taking my time in school to a) learn things but b) take the time to productively prepare myself for when I’m out of school — essentially to set myself up to work for myself when I’m done.
AS: So you’ll work for your own startup when you graduate?
DS: I’m trying to learn to run a sustainable business because I think in the environment right now, it’s very easy to raise money—I guess it’s not super easy, but it’s relatively easy to raise money. I don’t think the environment is going to be that way in two years.
So my interest is in building businesses the way they’ve traditionally been built: they make money. You can build that kind of a business in any investment climate, and I think the beauty of software is that it allows you to build businesses where the only cost is your time.
To me, the only thing I’ve ever done right is to doggedly pursue the things i’m interested in. That’s what I want to continue to be able to do when I get out, so I’m preparing myself.
Right now, I’m full time just working on my company, Airtime for Email (we’ve rented an office in Philly for the summer).
BI: What’s is Airtime for Email?DS: It allows you to market products in an email signature. It gives you a lot of granularity and control over how your marketing message is being seen and by whom.
I’m working on it with Patrick and Justin, who are Wharton students.
[See a picture of the founders below]
BI: Is school actually teaching you about entrepreneurship or are YOU teaching yourself about entrepreneurship?
DS: I look at the stuff that I’m doing as my entrepreneurial education. In terms of personal education and enriching my view on life, which is why I study philosophy, school has helped me develop a framework. That’s how I look at school. And it also happens to be a great place to have a good time.
BI: Finally, what was your reaction when 42Floors wrote that big, long, flattering post about you?
DS: It was incredible. I didn’t know what to do for the first five minutes. I was just kind of sitting there in shock. It was really humbling. I don’t even think of myself that way. I don’t look at myself as an unbelievable coder that should be getting a job offer like that, so it was incredible for him to do.
I just emailed him and said, “Hey, thank you so much”—and this was after thinking about it, obviously—”I can’t do it this summer, but I really appreciate it.”
That was my reaction. I had to go out and take a long walk after I saw it to calm down a little bit and take a deep breath.
BI: It’s amazing that you’re already a name in the tech world. And you’re only 19? 20? Can you drink?
DS: I’m 20. Almost.