Vili Vaananen, 24
Title: Co-founder and chief executive, Highkey
Company: USC-headquartered Highkey is a social app for party planning. It will launch on six new campuses in August.
Employees: 4 full time; 18 ambassadors at new campuses
What led you to start this business?
One Friday I realized there’s a lot of parties happening, but I just don’t know what’s happening. My friends had the same problem. There’s no quick way to find out about events on our campus. My co-founder came up with an idea of a campus event platform which solved this problem. We decided to run with that idea.
How did you fund it, and how are you funding it going forward?
In the beginning I bought about 5,000 flyers, and I snuck into different buildings here at USC, and I passed those flyers everywhere. We got Amazon Web Service credits from various USC organizations. With that money, we were able to run our servers. With those few investments, we were able to get 12,000 students to use our app, and that led to our preseed round one month ago.
Are there advantages/disadvantages to starting a business in your 20s, and if so, what are they?
I see only advantages. When you’re this young, there are no other major responsibilities. I have all my time to work on my business. And when you’re this young, you have nothing to lose.
How much time/money do you spend on social media for your business?
We spend about 70% of our marketing budget on social media. Word of mouth is the No. 1 choice for us. It’s so cheap. And our app sells itself. To get those users involved in the beginning, we rely heavily on social media.
Do you feel that your business is particularly tailored to the Los Angeles market, or do you feel you could have launched it in another location?
It was in the beginning tailored to the L.A. schools and nightlife. Since we are expanding to six new campuses in the U.S., we have begun adjusting and adding parts to the app to fit new markets and year-round usage.
Do you encounter skepticism from investors because of your age, and if so, how do you handle it?
Not really. It’s not about my age. The right investors will focus on our metrics, our team and our vision, not on our age.
What do you do for fun?
I love working out in the morning, before I start work. I like reading, and I like hanging out with interesting people.
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