Not even the bright lights of Tokyo and a solid internship in finance could keep Mike from his dreams of starting a business. After learning to code in our Web Development Immersive, he started Bookmarq, an app that allows you to find book recommendations from peers and thought leaders.
Check out Mike’s app, Bookmarq.
What were you doing before our Web Development Immersive (WDI)?
I graduated from UC Davis 6 months before entering GA with an economics degree. I founded a fun-but-failed e-commerce startup as a 3rd year. After graduation, I shipped myself off to Tokyo to be a summer analyst with Citi. While it was an amazing opportunity to learn more about Sales & Trading, I realized it wasn’t for me.
Having a finance background, what brought on the career transition?
While at Citi, I learned that a lot of jobs were being automated away, observed some desks were crippled by the cyclical nature of the markets, and I was just too small of a cog in a big wheel. Or, I couldn’t handle the Japanese work culture… Puppies are my spirit animal, and I can’t sit in front of a desk for more than 30 minutes without needing a quick break. My co-workers probably thought I had bladder issues.
Have you always wanted to start a business?
It seems like I have. When I was younger, I would buy and sell magic cards and Jordan sneakers. I wanted to open a taco truck in Tokyo instead of going to college. Ideas are consistently incubated while showering, then steps to build an MVP are fired off to various friends while drying off. I’ve offset that water usage by eating less almonds though.
Your app, Bookmarq, makes it simple for readers to find book recommendations from peers and thought leaders. What inspired your to start this type of business?
I realized the impact that books had on my life after reading The Lean Startup. I invested a few hours, and now all of a sudden I had a framework to approach an idea and turn it into a business. Powerful stuff. Wheels started turning as I searched for my next book. I realized that if I wanted to be like Elon Musk, I should probably read the books he reads. I found that there was no easy way to see the books that Elon read. So I found a local hackathon, did my due diligence, recruited a team, and all of a sudden we won third place and had a side project a week later.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself over the past year?
As a founder, I was surprised by the incredible ROI that meetups and networking events have. I’d make sure to attend 2-3 a week when I was in WDI. Some may scoff at the word “networking,” but take advantage of the free drinks, and that attitude will change very quickly (just kidding!… sort of).
You’d be surprised at how willing people are to help each other out. Even if the person you’re talking to can’t offer you that seed investment you’re looking for, they may introduce you to their VC brother in law. It is important to understand and find the right events, which can be a hit or miss process. Even though there are times I can’t offer too much to a 10-year tech veteran, I always ask myself how I can help the other person I’m speaking with, and what we may have in common. If it’s not some sort of professional exchange, maybe you’ll find yourself surfing with them a few weeks later! That’s what’s really important in life right?
Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
One piece of advice from my ex-boss regarding early stage startups (paraphrased). Instead of thinking about how to get your first 100,000 users out of the gate, it’s more important to grab your first 10 real users. Then figure out how to reach 100. 150. 200. 500. 750. 1,000. 2,00. 5,000. You get the idea, take it step-by-step. It’s very similar to the piece of advice from PG (Paul Graham) “Do things that don’t scale.”
Oh yes, definitely read Paul Graham’s blog posts. Contrary to what I posted above in terms of suggestions having an expiration date, the advice from PG is timeless. Pieces he wrote in the late 90’s are still relevant today.
Who’s your favorite teacher and why?
You’re asking me to play favorites?! How about my fellow classmates? I learned a lot from lightning talks and, “hey can I ask you a quick question?” Which, of course, turns into a mini-lesson. Shoutout to of all instructors, TA’s, and FRONTLINES at WDI 10/11.
Melanie Albert oversees programming & communication for General Assembly’s alumni. Her favorite part of this role is hearing the inspiring success stories that come out of our community.