If you think you’ve done a lot in your life, think again. On Friday evening, a boy of 14 got up and presented his idea and business during the Cape Town Entrepreneurship Week (CTEW), and immediately raised the bar for what people of his age should have accomplished by their time.
Jacques Blom is from the Cape and currently attends high school, but that didn’t stop him from spotting a gap in a market and going for it. He was busy on Facebook, trying out a colour changer app that would make his profile look different and exciting – but the app was a hoax and asked him to complete a survey. This got him going on iStyla, a profile theme changer for Facebook. And he’s built it all by himself.
I was quite impressed by the site and how the business model works. New users sign up via Facebook and install free or premium themes. The code for the theme or style is injected into Facebook on the user’s side, through the browser plugin, but such that if one iStyla user visits another iStyla user’s profile page, their Facebook design will temporarily change to that person’s design. Where I got impressed was that Blom’s user base helps create the product – designers can design new styles, and the cherry on the top: an affiliate program which allows users to earn money based on how many new people they refer to iStyla. In fact, a user might just receive a commission for having their current style viewed by someone else! These last two points make me believe this can go far.
Right now, the site already has over 3,000 users and over a thousand Likes on it’s Facebook page. Blom’s profiles on StackOverFlow, StartupLi.st, Crunchbase and VentureBeat prove what the youngster has put into this so far, all on his own. It would seem the site uses a freemium model, with no charge for anything as of yet. And right now, with Facebook covering a billion users a little while ago, all he’ll need is traction.
And traction is exactly what he’s getting at the CTEW. Famed investor Permjot Valia tweeted during the presentation that he thought he had found his next investment, and then, a little later: “Well – made the offer to him and his parents. Big decision for them. Would be my first investment in a 14 yr old!”
Great 14 yr old entrepreneur presenting at start up weekend Cape Town.istyla.com Think I have found my next investment
— Permjot Valia (@permjotvalia) November 16, 2012
This was followed today by another tweet from Valia to confirm the acceptance of the deal by Blom and his family:
I contacted Blom to ask him a few questions, and here is what he said:
JG: How do you fit in the work on iStyla with your studies?
JB: It is tough, because I am the only person working on iStyla. While I do have some free time, I sometimes end up becoming overwhelmed with schoolwork and then I still have to develop iStyla too. I suppose I just work as hard as I can and try to keep a good balance between my studies and iStyla.
JG: Will you be making more websites and opening more businesses in the future?
JB: Definitely! I cannot wait, because I have so many other ideas that I want to release to the world. That is the great thing about an online business… there is usually very little upfront investment, so you have little risk when setting up your company.
JG: How did you manage to code the entire website/plugin on your own – what resources did you use?
JB: I started programming at a very young age. Probably when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I have always used Adobe Dreamweaver as a “code editor”, but now that I have a Mac, I am using MacRabbit’s Espresso app. The internet is and will always be a great resource for me. If I have a question, I would Google it and if I couldn’t find an answer I would ask a question on stackoverflow.com, where there are many programmers waiting to answer your questions.
JG: What advice can you give other people in school who want to start their own business?
JB: Keep everything as simple as possible. Keep your business plan simple and keep your user interface simple (if it is hardware/software). Make your entire customer experience as easy for the user as possible. Basically, … never give up and as Steve Jobs once said, “Always ‘think different’ “.
JG: What has been the most difficult thing you had to overcome in getting your idea off the ground?
JB: Getting users for iStyla.com has been quite a struggle to me. I had very slow user growth to begin with. Then I started doing some Facebook ads and started an iStyla Facebook page. People started sharing iStyla on Facebook and my users are growing exponentially and organically. I spend about R10 a day on ads and I try to post to my Facebook page at least once per day.
JG: What or who was the biggest support or help in making iStyla a reality?
JB: My biggest asset, apart from the internet was without a doubt my parents and my family. They were always there to support me and give me their creative input. My father is also a programmer and my mother is a creative director, so I suppose I have a good mix of logic and creativity.
JG: Are there any other young entrepreneurs like yourself that you know of?
JB: Not personally, no… but I have read of other young entrepreneurs like Nick D’Aloisio (the guy that started Summly). I think it’s great that younger people are starting to innovate and think different. No offense to older people, but from experience I have learnt the younger you are, the more you think of new possibilities.
I particularly like that last quote, and in many ways it’s true.
It isn’t about whether his website/plugin achieves financial success, more than it is about him taking an idea and making it a reality, and entering the entrepreneurship scene in Cape Town, all at such a young age. While I myself was dabbling in selling cookies and other small business endeavors at school, I simply wish I’d had the chance to do something in the technology space back then. Blom has grasped this opportunity with both hands.
Currently, Blom is relatively unknown, his Google, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts are sparse. But mark my words – all that is about to change.
About the author: Jess Green is a digital entrepreneur, passionate about tech, web and mobile. Follow him on Twitter on @jessello.