A Discussion with a Technology Entrepreneur

Last week, I shared a story about a young man who left his corporate job, packed up and moved to San Francisco to start his own company—with the support of his family—on the fly.

In other words, he decided to live his dream.

I received a number of emails and texts from those who read this story wanting to know more about him and his personal journey.

Here you go.

Brian Clark, 23, who graduated from the University of Michigan in 2011 with a Computer Science Engineering degree, admits he has “…been a technology kid in some respect my entire life…”

At 11, Clark started with DAPCEP, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization that provides both in-school and out-of-school time educational experiences to Detroit-area youth. Since then, he continued to work with technology-based platforms creating websites in high school and held internships at major corporate and consulting firms across the Detroit-area.

Please describe your first attempt in becoming an entrepreneur and how did you end up in San Francisco?

My first attempt at the technical world to make money on my own was a video game named Radia for iOS. Began talks with my brother and the other co-founders about starting a business and after a few sub-par ideas I came up with AnnoTree (http://annotree.com) to solve my own problems with collaborating with clients and other developers and designers when building apps.

From there I won the NewME Pitch competition in Detroit, sending me out to San Francisco to accelerate the process of growing my business.

After you graduated from U-M, you had a great job at a major corporation. What was your responsibility and why did you decide to leave?

I joined General Electric (GE) where they had a 2-year program giving you the option to try a new job every 6 months to get a larger understanding of IT at GE. My responsibility varied from job to job, from implementing systems to roll out apps to all 300,000+ employees to researching the latest and greatest in technology.

I realized this wasn’t for me, I really enjoy creating new experiences with technology, and while I can do that a little bit at GE, I can’t chase my grander vision of really creating world changing technology.

You recently decided to start your own business. Tell us about your company.

Our company is named Silith.IO. Initially we came up with the product AnnoTree, a mobile collaboration tool to help people that are building web and mobile apps to collaborate better. I came up with this by solving my own problem of working with clients and managing developers around the world, as well as working in our small 5 person distributed team. We didn’t see a platform in the market that really worked as simply as we liked and the other solutions didn’t work directly from in our mobile device or application as we wanted. On top of that, a lot of the similar solutions weren’t as design and user focused as I like, and I want to bring the great design of a lot of popular web 2.0 apps like twitter and evernote to the application development space.
But in the long term, I plan to use the success of AnnoTree as a stepping stone to solidifying Silith.IO as one of the most innovative companies in tech that also gives back to the community.

You’re from Detroit and relocated to the West Coast. Why did you decide to move to San Francisco?

This was literally an over-night decision. Our original plan was to work on this part time until we felt the time was right to quit our jobs and base this completely in Detroit.

When NewME came to Detroit and had their 3-day pitch competition which I won that completely changed everything. Offering a chance to come out to the west for their 3 month program (with free housing) and have a new experience was, and has proven to be, priceless in my mind from a networking and self-enjoyment perspective.

Some will read this and wonder why you didn’t start your business in the Detroit-area. Thoughts?

Our business is actually currently headquartered in Detroit, but that term is sort of loosely used as our team is scattered across the entire US (Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, and San Francisco).  But from an opportunity perspective, and I would say I didn’t learn this as well until I was out here, but the sheer amount of people working on new technology out here and the number of people I have been able to ask questions to and learn from is far larger than exists in Detroit.

Now saying that I really do want to bring my company back to Detroit as I think they absolutely need the jobs. But for the time being, the amount of customers that could use my product and I can interface with face to face is so much larger out here that the opportunity for networking is going to help out much more in the long run than if I stayed in Detroit.

What advice would you give to young, aspiring entrepreneurs?

Start doing something today. I say this over and over again. What I hear very often from people is “I’m going to start my business after my MBA” or “I’m going to learn to code once summer rolls around” and if you keep saying that you’re never going to make true progress. Set down the computer as soon as you’re done reading this and go do something today.

Access to capital is a challenge for business owners. How were you able to secure funding?

We technically haven’t received any funding yet and are a combination of running our businesses off some of the prize packs NewME accelerator offers as well as bootstrapping (running off our bank accounts). And truthfully I’m not at all afraid of living off my savings and taking a 100% risk to go after this. If you’re not all in you really aren’t going to make it big.

For the sake of discussion, if this doesn’t work out, will you go back into corporate or do you see yourself becoming a serial entrepreneur? How much time are you giving yourself?

I definitely can’t see myself back in corporate for a long time. The ability to create a business from scratch, working on what you want to work on, and being able to chase your dream is priceless. For now, I plan to work on my own company until the bank account hits $0. And at that point I’d probably look for a job with another startup that is very early stage and help them grow.

This Detroit young man is a testament to the importance of youth in our future society. While he’s in San Francisco, his Detroit roots have taught him well and I hope others find his story a true inspiration.

A job well done, Brian!