Shaun Newsum is a Brooklyn-native who sold his first company before graduating high school.
Since then, he’s founded, advised and consulted for numerous other companies. Shaun’s latest venture, ICO Watchdog, is a financial information service and trusted community for cryptocurrency and ICO investors, backed by notable L.A. incubator, Science Inc.
I spoke with Shaun from his current headquarters in Santa Monica to learn more about how he got his start, how he continues to innovate, and advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Here’s what he had to say.
When did you first discover your entrepreneurial spirit?
I started off in eighth grade in Brooklyn. There was a finance class I took every day, and then I became captain of my team for a city-wide stock trading competition. That was my first introduction to stocks and understanding the fundamentals of business. I got an idea of how it is that people make money and I realized that I didn’t want to keep asking my parents for money.
When I got to high school, a good friend taught me how to code. So, by 15, I had the entrepreneurial bug and was interested in software development.
The first company I started in high school was called PC Planet. My friends and I would build computers and then sell them on eBay. I made money and I decided I wanted to invest it. This was during the height of the dot-com bubble and IPOs were launching every week. So, every day after school, I would run home and try to catch an IPO to buy into. You had to be logged in at exactly the right time, and I would often miss them. So after missing the opportunity a few times, I wrote a little script that would analyze the page and send me an alert whenever a company had an IPO. Then, I figured I could send the alert to anyone who wanted it and that’s what became IPO Watchdog. My partner at the time and I decided to charge $10 a month for this service. We ended up selling the business later that year to a finance company.
What is your process for conceptualizing a new business idea?
One way I come up with new business ideas is by addressing my own pain point. I started playing around with the cryptocurrency market but didn’t have time to track all the different currencies and news. So, I created alerts to help me become a better trader. Again, it made sense to me that I’m not the only person who has this problem and that’s where it started. Months later, the company is backed with an investment from Science Inc.
I’ll also think about entering a new business venture if someone comes to me with a unique concept. That’s how I got involved with JavaMoji and Audioshot. In both instances, close friends of mine told me they had an idea but needed someone to think about it from a product engineering perspective.
What motivates you to keep innovating?
Success. Growing up, I was motivated to become a successful and competitive person. My parents didn’t want me watching TV in my spare time, so I could either study or go outside and play. I’m hard-wired to be active.
I also like to be on the cutting-edge of things.
So, how do you measure success?
I measure success by the level of customer satisfaction. That’s the core of a business. As long as your customers have a certain level of satisfaction, everything else will work itself out.
For example, if your customers are happy but you don’t have the money for payroll, you’ll be able to figure that out because you’re doing a good job servicing customers.
We often see the glamorous parts surrounding entrepreneurship. What are some of the challenging aspects?
No. 1 - You are going to have to sacrifice personal relationships if you want your business to be successful.
No.. 2 - You have to learn to take feedback without being defensive and abrasive. Young entrepreneurs need to be malleable to the fact that business conditions change all that time. You have to be fluid and accept feedback from others.
What other words of wisdom would you impart on a young entrepreneur just starting out?
Trust the experts with everything. Don’t try and do everything yourself. If you’re not a software developer, don’t try to code and build your own app. Instead, bring in a contractor who can do that for you. Doing it yourself is just going to slow you down.
If you’re able to tap an expert to help with even one facet of executing a piece of your business plan, do it. Incentivize them with equity in your company.