Jason is a student entrepreneur at the University of Chicago. He enjoys making videos, trying new foods, and building tools that are meaningful to improving society.
How did you find yourself on Shark Tank? What was the Shark Tank experience like?
This is actually a really funny story. My first company, IReTron, began as a school project that got out of hand. We buy back used electronics, refurbish them, and resell or donate to schools or hospitals. We built web software that scraped the internet to find all websites for cellphones, and their buying price points. We set our price at 95% so that we beat out 95% of our competitors but at the same time, if we cannot sell a phone, we can sell it to a competitor and not lose money. We built this technology for phones and tablets.
Then, I made a Youtube video for a funding competition. IReTron in its entirety was funded by award money from competitions. The SharkTank producers found this video on Youtube and contacted me, asking if we would want to be on Shark Tank. I don’t watch TV, because I’ve never owned a TV, so I assumed this was some spam email asking me to swim in a tank of sharks! But after looking it up, it looked legit. I said yes and things started rolling— my dad and I were watching videos and preparing; however, before we signed the contract, I realized that IReTron was not making enough money to be on the show. We would have been laughed at. So, I told the producer “Sorry, I can’t do it this time.” The next year, the Shark Tank producer called me again and at that point, I agreed to be on the show. It was senior year, why not?
Shark Tank flew me to LA on a first class plane (the only time I’ve taken a first class flight!). After arriving, I went through my 2-minute pitch with the producers. They told me, “You’re a kid! You’re not excited enough! You sound too adult-like!” So that night, I worked endlessly revamping the pitch for TV standards. As for wardrobe, my khakis weren’t cool enough. The fashion directors took me to Forever 21 and there, I bought a pair of jeans. You can see them in the show! But anyways, the day of filming, I was the sixth person to go on the show that day. The doors open, you walk, and then stand there in front of the Sharks. One take. All the way through. I was in there for about 50 minutes however it was cut down to 8 minutes of TV footage.
For me, the most stressful part of the experience was the pitch. To prepare for the questions and answers, I watched every episode of the show and formulated answers to every question. By the time I went on the show, everything was premeditated so that I was never caught on the spot. To prepare, I also did practice pitches with startups and spoke with many professors.
Ultimately, I got a deal with Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban: $100,000 for 10% of the company. The episode was filmed in September, the deal closed in October, and the episode aired in March. With Barbara and Mark’s assistance, IReTron is now growing and self-sustainable. We have high school students and actual employees working with the company. Now, the focus is helping high school students with getting business experience and making money. I’m thankful for Mark and Barbara because they have assisted with both IReTron and UProspie!
What problem does UProspie solve?
The summer before college started, I was very scared to come to UChicago. Rumors claimed that the school was very rigorous… And that the kids were really weird. I wasn’t sure if I would fit in, or if this was the place where fun comes to die! Many stereotypes are inaccurate and UProspie seeks to break these stereotypes by conducting one on one conversations between college and high school students. UProspie has a web platform, and channels and feeds so that each prospective student can have an individualized experience with getting to know the school. While the Admissions Office does a great job, it can be challenging to individualize the experience. What if you want to go out? With UProspie, the prospective student can find a host. This makes the overnight experience safer. With $15/hour, the knowledge about the school grows exponentially. If you are an undergraduate, you can make money on your own time simply by sharing your opinions and experiences.
UProspie does not want to just help the rich kids who can afford such luxuries therefore we try to connect students who have similar academic interests and socioeconomic backgrounds. From my involvement inMoneythink, I have been exposed to many charter school students. In these schools, there are many smart students who don’t have the right resources: guidance counselors are stretched too thin and cannot assist in navigating through financial aid or scholarships. With UProspie, college students can lend knowledge to someone who is in a similar position. In Texas, LA, and NYC, we offer subsidized tours for students who cannot afford the services.
More recently, we have been matching international high school students with international college students. With UProspie, the information is tailored to your needs to help you understand the experience more directly.
While we are not endorsed by admissions offices, there is a 95% commitment rate: Of the students who use UProspie, 95% of them will commit to the school they prospied at. Since launching on Halloween, we have spread to 80 universities with over 5,000 hosts.
What’s your advice to students starting companies while they’re in school? What resources did you take advantage of that you would recommend to others?
School is the best time to start a business but it can also be the worst. While in school, it is very important to prioritize your classes, your GPA and your academic record. Definitely. However, once you become a real person (aka exit the college bubble) you have SO many real obligations. Mortgage, a partner, kids… As a student, you don’t have any of that. Instead, your school is like an incubator. With UProspie, for example, my co-founder lives on the floor above me. The promo video maker lives across the hall. College is great because there are always people around who will have the technical skills that can assist you in creating a company. From computer science and video making to marketing and advertising, whatever it is, you have a team. To build something, you just need friends. I would highly recommend all students to embark on an entrepreneurial endeavor while in college. Every moment you are in college, you are spending money. Money is just flying out of your pocket every second. That motivates me. I could either watch Netflix or work on my business. If I am going to spend money to be surrounded by brilliant people, I want to take advantage of that.
There are many great resources on campus. At UChicago specifically, I utilize connections through Career Advancement and UCIE (UChicago Careers in Entrepreneurship). Advisors can provide great advice, and also direct you to other entrepreneurs or financial resources. Last quarter, I traveled to over a dozen pitch competitions across the United States and UChicago was very supportive in funding our travels.
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