ALI SIPHER, 21, MELANIE SHAUL, 22
Wauw, an L.A. shopping and fashion app developer
Financials: Pre-revenue, raised $75,000 to date
What led you to start your own business?
Sipher: My dad has always been an entrepreneur, so I’ve always grown up with an entrepreneurial spirit. I find it really interesting when there is an idea or a concept and someone is, like, “Oh, that’s not possible.” Then to me it’s a sign that it is possible. I believe that most things are possible and we just haven’t come up with a way to do it yet.
Where did you get the startup money?
Sipher: As part of the Viterbi program, we get $50,000. (Wauw started in the Viterbi Startup Garage, a USC incubator. Shaul attends USC, Sipher attends Northwestern University.)
Shaul: And $25,000 came from friends and family.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Shaul: Being in school is kind of crazy. It’s not an ideal situation to build a company, but we managed.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
Shaul: To take every piece of advice and piece of opinion you get with a grain of salt. You can’t get caught up in someone else’s excitement and pivot every time. If we did that every single time, we’d have 50 different companies.
How many hours a day do you put in?
Shaul: When we were in the incubator full time we worked about 13 hours a day. While in school, we averaged about 20 hours per week.
Has your youth led to any awkward situations, such as when you supervise employees who are older than you?
Sipher: I remember this one time when Melanie and I were called to meet a mentor. The guy just sat down and didn’t say anything; he didn’t realize we were running the company. But when we told him about our majors – I’m chemistry and Melanie is computer science – he was impressed. He was impressed with our ability to make eye contact with him because he said a lot of women in the sciences are not capable of that.
Would you start another company?
Sipher: I would want something in the sciences. I can already tell when I go to work on Wauw full time I am going to miss the sciences.
Could you ever work for someone else?
Shaul: I don’t think that the draw of the startup is that I won’t have to work for someone. I would definitely work for someone else as long as it was important and I was making a contribution.
What do you do to unwind?
Shaul: I listen to music to unwind.
Sipher: I recently got into squash. It’s kind of a strange sport, but they have it in a gym on campus. I became kind of obsessed with it.
– Garrett Reim
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