R.J. Singh, Treven Stoddard and Ammeen Nader sat in a west Cary Starbucks trying to figure out new ways to meet potential investors.
With no space to call their own, the coffee shop provided them with an ideal environment for developing FavR, a social platform that allows its users to trade goods or services in an accountable way.
Singh, Stoddard and Nader have incorporated their company, FavR Inc. They crafted a business plan and seem to have the youthful energy needed to see it through.
What they don’t have is money, and they recognize that they’ll need to work harder than most startups to gain support.
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After all, they’re 18-year-old seniors at Panther Creek High School.
“If we weren’t serious, we would have outsourced the development,” Singh said. “But we’ve done it all in-house with our own money and know-how.”
Only a few days before spring break, the trio was more concerned with meeting local venture capitalists than finding spots on the beach. They say they say their app is ready, but they need $50,000 to launch it. They’ve marketed themselves at local innovation seminars, including a recent Entrepreneurs’ Series event in Durham.
The longtime friends hope to pitch FavR this May at TechCrunch Disrupt, a major technology conference in New York City.
The teens say they got the idea for FavR one night last summer after talking about the risks of Craigslist. What started as a conversation about crimes facilitated through the classified ads database evolved into a discussion about protecting and rewarding users.
FavR is like Craigslist in that it provides users with a messaging platform so they don’t have to disclose their full name or personal contact information.
Unlike Craigslist, FavR users are asked to go by their first name, upload a profile photo, and rate users they interact with on a five-star scale. The setup is similar to how eBay and Couchsurfing.com users build credibility.
Users can build good reputations by negotiating in good faith and showing up to meetings on time. FavR users are encouraged to give poor ratings to those who bail on deals at the last second or who are generally hard to deal with.
“We all know someone who was trying to buy or sell something on Craigslist but wasted their time because the other guy didn’t show up,” Singh said.
“Now if you had a bad experience with someone, you could give them one star,” Nader added.
Users have the chance to instantly boost their reputation by verifying themselves through a $5 FavR background check, Nader said.
“We’d use the same technology Uber uses,” he said, referring to the online taxi service.
FavR also encourages its users to trade, buy or sell goods and, yes, favors. Users can browse by category for goods such as cars and pets or for services like tutoring.
“We want to bring back value to certain skills and services,” Singh said. “We don’t want to be known as just another database like Craigslist.”
And they don’t want to be dismissed because of their ages.
The friends have distinctly different personalities and interests but have committed most of their spare time to “building an empire,” as they once tweeted.
Stoddard is FavR’s quiet tech specialist. Nader, who’s in charge of marketing, drops one-liners like he’s in a Zach Galifianakis movie, and Singh is their polished frontman who leads business meetings and presentations. They’ve known each other for years.
Over spring break, the teens met with local entrepreneurs Ryan O’Donnell and Jeff Stocks of EmployUS, a Raleigh startup that connects employers to the workers who are best-suited for their jobs.
O’Donnell, a graduating senior at N.C. State University, said the teens endear themselves to audiences because they’re organized, ambitious and have a self-deprecating sense of humor.
“I was so impressed,” said O’Donnell, who is 22. “I never would have thought they were 18 years old when I first met them. They were polished and well-rehearsed. I’ve seen a lot of pitches, and they’re very talented.”
Singh, Stoddard and Nader work hard because they believe not only in their product but in the value of real-world business experience.
“Standardized education can only take you to a certain point,” Singh said.
The teens, who live in the Cary area, will soon move out of their parents’ homes and start their college careers.
Singh plans to study finance at the New York Institute of Technology in Manhattan. Nader is headed to Appalachian State University to study business marketing. Stoddard hopes to study computer science at one of three universities: Clemson University, Georgia Tech or N.C. State University.
They say their diverging college careers won’t interfere with their entrepreneurial ambitions.
Stoddard said the trio has a system that should work in college too: “We’ve worked on FavR at home individually and then met to talk about it.”
With the right amount of money, they could buy the digital infrastructure they need to launch FavR in an area like the Triangle by this time next year, he said.
“I’m hoping that we become the next Uber or something,” Stoddard said.