18 Year-Old Gets Investment from Richard Branson: On Dropping Out and Leaning In
I quickly realized that the best use of my time wasn’t in the classroom and that the “college experience” most people got from college apparently wasn’t in my life plans.
By Stacey Ferreira (Co-Founder & VP, MySocialCloud)
Just one day after I graduated high school, I packed my bags and moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Los Angeles, California. From a young age my parents taught me to save my money, but this summer – the summer before I would head off to college – I wanted to live a little: travel, make something and learn to be self-sufficient living on my own. So I went to the bank and got a debit card, and left home.
I moved into a small apartment in the middle of south central Los Angeles with my brother, Scott, who had been living in Los Angeles for the past two years for college. The two of us along with a friend of ours (Shiv Prakash) had been talking for a while about building a web-based product that allowed us to store our usernames and passwords and auto log us into sites so we wouldn’t have to remember usernames and passwords again. And once I moved to LA, the project began. My brother and I shared a room in our small two-bedroom apartment as we rented the other room to a USC student who could help us pay the rent.
We took turns sleeping on an air mattress and a used USC student’s couch that reeked of teenage boy B.O. We researched, planned and built our idea all day while gobbling a mixture of Doritos and Apples. And on a good night, we’d sit down at our duel monitors for a good old game of Age of Empires II – one of the games that made us interested in technology in the first place.
That summer on June 13, while I was in the midst of one of the best times in my life, a tweet changed everything in a way I could have never imagined. Eating cereal one morning, I checked my Twitter feed. A tweet from Sir Richard Branson popped on my screen when I clicked “6 More Tweets.”
It read: “Enjoy intimate cocktails plus two parities with me in Miami on June 15/16 – $2,000 to charity…” The next tweet followed with an email address to contact for more details.
Immediately I drafted an email – something to the tune of “Hello, I’m not old enough to drink cocktails legally, but I’d love to come meet Sir Richard Branson!” I received an email back later that night saying that I would be more than welcome once I donate the $2,000 – and that my brother would be welcome as well if he was willing to donate another $2,000. While Scott and I were super excited that we had the opportunity and green light to go, there were two problems: 1) we had almost $0 and 2) we had to be in Miami in less than 48 hours.
But that didn’t stop us. Right after I read the email, I called up my parents – the only people I knew who I thought might be generous enough to loan us $4,000 in the next 24 hours. My dad answered the call and I told him about the opportunity I had found through Twitter. Skeptical, he asked my brother and me to put together a proposal with more details about the event and the cost of travel, etc. Finally, he agreed – with the stipulation that we had to pay the $4,000 back in two months – no matter what.
Even though the thought of having to sell our computers and empty our less than stellar bank accounts to pay our dad back was daunting, my brother and I borrowed the money and hopped on an airplane. In Miami, we attended two parties and were fortunate enough to spend some one-on-one time with Sir Richard Branson. We told him about our project: how security is becoming more and more of a huge issue, how consumers have way too many usernames and passwords to remember online and how, consequently, they’re becoming less secure – having the same passwords for multiple accounts and being vulnerable to attacks online. He was interested in the idea and my brother and I were able to ask him for his contact details.
Flying back to LA with a new outlook on possibility and a new group of friends, we worked harder than ever to build our product and company, MySocialCloud.com. Finally, once we had a working site, we sent the link to a couple people, Sir Richard Branson included, asking what they thought.
Intrigued, he connected us with a prominent investor, Jerry Murdock, who flew out to LA to meet us the next week. After many long talks over the phone and one day full of talks in LA, Jerry took Scott, Shiv and me out to dinner and announced the news: he and Sir Richard Branson would both invest about $1 million in the company.
At this point our parents became worried. We asked to take a leave of absence from school to work fulltime on the project. And again, my parents came back with a compromise – one of us had to go to college. Being the youngest and never experiencing college, my parents encouraged me to be the one that continued. So I agreed that I would. I spent one year in New York City attending NYU’s Steinhardt school studying Music Business.
Again, I had the time of my life – juggling working on the business with schoolwork. But once the end of the school year rolled around, I decided I couldn’t juggle both anymore. I averaged 4 hours of sleep each night throughout the whole year, spending most nights in Bobst – the school library. And while I enjoyed NYC and NYU, I quickly realized that the best use of my time wasn’t in the classroom and that the “college experience” most people got from college apparently wasn’t in my life plans. So I signed my paperwork, announced the news to my parents and headed back to California.
Ever since, I’ve been working on MySocialCloud full time and challenging myself to continue to learn on my own, take risks and continue running MySocialCloud at the age of 20. While there have undoubtedly been a multitude of challenges and risks along the way, there has certainly been a great reward and I’m proud to say I’ve “Leaned In.”
About the guest blogger: Stacey Ferreira is a co-founder and Vice President at MySocialCloud. After getting investment, Stacey completed her freshman year at NYU while also working on MySocialCloud, then moved back to Los Angeles to work full time on MySocialCloud. She is a frequent speaker at events and was recently named one of Business Insiders “19 Ridiculously Successful People Who Didn’t Graduate From College.” Follow her on Twitter at @StaceyFerreira.