Last fall, John Meyer made the difficult decision to drop out of a prestigious university computer-science program to work full time on his tech startup, Fresco News.
Eight months later, that decision is really working out for him.
His company has raised $US90,000 and, just a few months after the launch of an enterprise product, has already generated $US150,000 in revenue, he tells us, and has grown from three employees to 21 employees since the end of January.
“Fresco’s been pretty nuts,” he says.
Fresco News is the modern version of the Associated Press. It crowdsources breaking news and photos from Twitter, Instagram and other social media, verifies it, and gets the licence to publish relevant images.
It’s not just a news source for the masses. News organisations can hire Fresco to help with them find people on the ground to breaking news.
“We finished a trial at some great news companies, and in the next few days they’re coming in to sign our first big deal,” he says. “All of our newsroom tools will be used in 70 different newsrooms in U.S. We’ll be bringing in additional major revenue with first deal.”
Better still, Meyer just accomplished one of his personal dream goals: He landed one of 20 coveted spots in the prestigious and competitive Thiel Fellowship. The 20 new fellows were announced today.
That’s a controversial program founded by VC Peter Thiel that encourages young entrepreneurs to skip or leave school and work on their startups instead. Fellows are asked to move to the Bay Area in exchange for $US100,000 seed money to live on and develop their ideas.
More importantly they get access to the billionaire investor’s vast network of Valley connections and get to hang out with other brilliant kids all hoping to become the next Mark Zuckerberg.
It wasn’t as big a leap for the 20-year Meyer as it might have been for others.
Meyer’s tech career started during his freshman year in high school, when he taught himself to code shortly after created the uber popular iPhone 4 flashlight app Just Light.
He went on to write about 40 apps, mostly through his app company TapMedia, including another hit called Perfect Shot. Meyer was also doing a lot of custom app work for paying clients, earning enough money once he graduated high school to live alone in New York, pay tuition at NYU and bootstrap Fresco.
When he was just 16, before Apple officially launched a teen coder program, he got his dad to help him sneak into Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference, which had previously required all attendees to be 18 or older.
Naturally, Meyer caught Apple’s attention, which asked him to become one of its interns, he says. That’s a dream come true for most teens. But he turned the offer down because he had the idea for Fresco and wanted to work on that instead.
“I am, at heart, an entrepreneur,” he says. “I won’t be happy working for someone else.”
That includes, at least for now, Apple.
Last year, he applied for the Thiel Fellowship and made it all the way to the last round, one of 40 finalists flown into San Francisco for a meet-and-greet and last set of interviews. But he didn’t make the cut.
“By the time you make it to finalist round, where I got last year, everyone is so accomplished, there’s 50/50 chance you’ll be accepted,” he told Business Insider. “It’s so so difficult to choose 20 people.”
This year, he had a bigger edge.
“I have grown a huge amount as an individual and as a CEO,” he says. “And my company transformed quite a bit.”
Although things are going well for him at Fresco, which is based in New York, he’s looking at the fellowship to take him to the next level. This is partially because while working on Fresco, he hasn’t been able to earn much of an income. There’s not a lot of spare time to do that high-paying custom app development work.
“One of the big benefits is that it gives me a bit of a financial cushion,” he says. “They are giving you this money not to just fund your project/company, but to fund yourself while working company.”
Here’s the full list of 2015 Thiel Fellows, ages 17-22.
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