Moray web wizard has .com a long way
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A YOUNG Speyside entrepreneur’s dream of running his own web business has turned into a multi-million dollar opportunity in America’s Silicon Valley.
Self confessed “tech-geek” Greg Cooper (20) began dabbling with computers in his Dufftown home at a very young age, and now he is highly rated as a web developer in USA.
After years of hard work in the web industry, and numerous setbacks, he landed his golden ticket earlier this year when he won a place on a computer business boot camp in California run by an institute dubbed the Harvard of business start-up in the States.
Now his web development company BakedCode, which he co-founded and owns 40% of, is worth around $2.2 million and continues to grow. Along with 60 other companies, BakedCode will present their ideas to the most prominent investors in Silicon Valley and the most successful are expected to be worth many millions of dollars over the course of the next few months.
Greg has come a long way since leaving Speyside High with little job prospects or education options. Having learned how to build websites at the age of 13, he found local college computer courses were only holding him back.
While studying at Moray College and working on the production line at Walkers’ shortbread factory, the young entrepreneur used his spare time to begin a new website concept which allowed people to use all of their social networking accounts like Facebook and Twitter from one place.
It led to his first lucky break when a web firm in England bought the package and hired him as a full-time designer, before the firm later went into liquidation.
Each job chance was followed by a setback for Greg, until he joined forces with a fellow developer he met while working in England. The ambitious pair took their website ideas to Y Combinator, a San Francisco-based start-up programme offering highly coveted opportunities in the world of Internet entrepreneurship.
“It’s often referred to as the Harvard of startups, and it’s notoriously difficult to get in,” Greg explained. “There are stories of people applying six years in a row with no luck, but we thought we’d give it a try anyway.”
From 2,500 who applied, Greg and his business partner Simon Fletcher were among 250 selected to enter the next stage of the process – a fast-paced, Dragons Den-style 10-minute interview for which they had to fly all the way out to Mountain View, California.
The pair turned the trip into an American holiday based in San Francisco, an hour’s train journey from Y Combinator’s HQ. After being grilled about their product by a panel of interviewers, they headed back to San Francisco to discover the shattering news that they had been rejected.
“Our hearts sank. We had just spent roughly 24 hours on planes to get here and now we had to return with just an experience but still empty-handed,” Greg said.
“We then sent an email back saying thanks for the opportunity and explained some of the things we didn’t get to say during the interview.
“They changed their minds. We got a call asking if we would accept the investment terms and join YC. We said yes. That was the whole night reversed on its head, it was suddenly an amazing night that we’ll never forget as a company.”
Now in the midst of a 13-week boot camp, Greg is learning from some of the industry’s biggest investors and innovators, with the end goal of hopefully turning their web designs into a major money spinner.
The big chance comes at the end of the programme when he gets to present his ideas to some of the world’s heavyweight venture capital firms and investors.
Success at that stage could see BakedCode emulate rising internet stars like popular social news website Reddit and file hosting innovators Dropbox, both of who were founded after a stint on a YC bootcamp.
“Our aim is to make BakedCode a lifestyle, not a job. We actually have a developer working for free at the moment as he just wants to be part of BakedCode and its future,” Greg said.
Now living in an apartment complex in San Jose surrounded by the offices of the likes of Cisco, Samsung, Yahoo, eBay and Google, he has come a long way from dabbling with his grandfather’s Windows 95 computer back in Dufftown as a youngster.
“It wasn’t until I was about 13 that I learnt I could build my own websites,” said Greg, a former pupil at Dufftown’s Mortlach primary school. “Within a couple of hours of researching and playing with a couple of websites I was hooked. It was amazing to me that I could build something which most people considered alien at the time.”
Soon he was building fan sites for his favourite football club St Mirren, and learning all about the complex coding languages used in web design.
But job opportunities in Moray were scarce. After a spell with a web development company in Elgin and a brief stint as a shortbread packer, his website concepts attracted the attention of Youmeo, a firm in Coventry, where he worked for 16 months and had to overcome some accommodation challenges.
Firstly Greg slept on a sofa in his open plan office, often kept awake until the early hours as staff worked through the night. Then he recalls living on a mezzanine which was meant to be used as storage for the kitchen below it, with one side completely open to a stranger’s lounge and dining room
“I slept on a single pull-out bed which only had a very flimsy, one-inch thick foam mattress. I had to sleep like this for a year whilst eating entirely takeaways since I had nowhere to store food, and this meant I always felt terrible and was often sick.”
But he became addicted to the life of a startup web designer, and was stunned when his firm went into liquidation and he found himself out of work.
He teamed up with a sacked colleague, Simon Fletcher, to continue working on his website designs but within six months was back living in Elgin, where his parents had moved to.
Another break came his way when, after attending a jobseeker’s meeting in Elgin, his phone rang with a job offer from ChristianVision, a client of his former employers offering him and Simon jobs as web developers. The company had offices all over the world, meaning trips to Miami, Florida, Australia and Ukraine.
However, it was a short-lived experience as the pair were let go after six months, though continuing to work with the firm on a freelance basis.
It was then that they decided to apply for a place with Y Combinator, and his American dream came to fruition.
“San Jose compared to Dufftown is incredible,” he admits. “Living in this world of ultimate-geekiness has just been a dream of mine for so long. The weather is crazy, it’s usually at least 30 degrees Celsius which isn’t great for my pale red-headed skin.
And Greg has relied on great support from his family in Moray along the rocky road to business success.
“They said I should at least get a normal job and just build websites on the side, but this didn’t sit well for me as I knew I could become successful as a full-time web developer.
“However, since working at Youmeo and ChristianVision and even more so now that I run my own company out here in California, my family are becoming extremely supportive.
“My mum Karen was for a long time worried I was going to become a down-and-out. I now call home roughly once a week to tell her all the stories about the YC dinners and any other exciting developments which she is extremely interested and excited about.”