Greg's silicon valley success story
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HE’S rubbed shoulders with Hollywood stars and former vice-presidents, fired questions at the founder of Facebook and watched thousands mourn the death of his hero, technology pioneer Steve Jobs.
That’s all part of a few weeks in the life of Moray web designer Greg Cooper, who co-owns his own internet development company in San Francisco, where he lives next to the offices of web giants like Google, Ebay and Twitter.
‘The Northern Scot’ recently revealed how Greg (21), who is originally from Dufftown, won a place on a computer business boot camp in California after the project management product he designed impressed company bosses.
A year ago, the former Speyside High pupil was jobless and struggling to gain freelance work, but after a whirlwind few months he has overcome his setbacks to carve out a bright future in the States.
On a trip back home to spend time with his mother, Karen Earsman, and nine-year-old brother Jack, another computer wizard in the family, Greg told ‘The Scot’ he is loving life in Silicon Valley and pleased with the way his product is developing.
“Hopefully by the end of our raising round (it) should be worth $4.2million, which ultimately will allow us to move to a profitable company,” said Greg, who along with business partner Simon Fletcher owns 40% of his firm.
“In terms of the business, we have raised a little more money, with some more expected in the future,” he said. “We’ve substantially reduced our wished valuation from the $10million mark down to roughly $5million since we realised that we were in the lucky percentage which could build the business with the money we already had.
“This means we plan to roll out paid plans on our product, Interstate, and start making revenue instead of focusing on raising any more money.”
Greg’s idea, which manages business projects by ‘roadmapping’ them online, was snapped up by Y Combinator, an institute regarded as the Harvard of start-up web projects in Silicon Valley.
Successful YC applicants like Greg and Simon get invaluable advice from industry leaders, and are given the opportunity to pitch their products and ideas to major investors.
Hollywood movie actor Ashton Kutcher, star of US sitcom ‘Two and a Half Men’ and blockbuster films like ‘What Happens in Vegas’, is one such investor, and along with his equally famous wife, actress Demi Moore, he is a regular visitor to the YC offices.
Greg said: “Ashton and Demi turned up, and they watched me present my company at one of the events.
“He’s more interested in social enterprise, like Facebook apps, whereas we are project management which is not what he’s looking for. But there was a huge crowd around him, people just wanting to speak to him.”
One of the YC dinners had former American vice-president Al Gore as a VIP guest, while Greg got the chance to see one of his heroes, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on a visit to the institute.
“Celebrities have never been a big thing for me. It’s people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg who are the biggest people on the planet.
“To me, Mark is the most famous person ever, but you couldn’t have picked him out in the room if you tried. He turned up in his Toyota Corolla with no entourage whatsoever, wearing a t-shirt, jeans and flip-flops. He was just like every other developer there.
Zuckerberg, whose success story was turned into a major movie The Social Network, spoke at YC and answered questions fired at him from the crowd.
“He ended up right beside me and I got to ask him a question. I asked him what was his least favourite part about Facebook, and it was the only one where he said ‘good question’, but then unfortunately he ran out of time and never got to answer it. Maybe it was too good a question.”
But while the death of Steve Jobs last month made headlines across the world, it had no greater impact than on the city of San Francisco where his Apple company was idolised.
The windows of its Apple stores were covered in tributes, and for Greg it was an emotional occasion in respect of his hero.
“I was in tears when I found out, and so was Simon, who is not emotional. The whole day on TV, channels were taken over by the news of his death, and I don’t remember seeing any other news.
“Steve Jobs symbolised Silicon Valley so when you’re in that environment, whatever he did made an impact.
“Only in San Francisco have I ever had someone ask me if I wanted to go out for Steve Jobs Day. Anywhere else it would just be Saturday.”
While Greg’s web ideas bear fruit in America, he also has a notion that his young brother Jack, a pupil at Elgin’s Bishopmill Primary, could follow him into the industry.
“He had to do a project at school about an animal living in the rainforest, and ended up doing it on a Powerpoint presentation in front of his class.
“My mum sent me a text saying ‘we might have another founder in the house!’.
“He’s very intelligent for his age, and mum says she hopes he grows up to be a web developer as well so I can just hire him.”