Jack Kim spends his days as a student at King’s High School in Shoreline, taking advanced placement courses in hopes of one day attending Stanford University. Then, after robotics team practice, homework assignments and a little nourishment, the 16-year-old gets to work on his non-profit Internet search startup, Benelab.
The organization’s goal is to donate advertising dollars generated through the search engine to non-profits, with Kim hoping to reach a $10,000 goal this school year.
Possible? Well, as the Benelab team points out, if just 0.0001 percent of the 4.1 billion Web searches each day occurred through the site, it could donate $250,000 to non-profit causes.
Kim — who founded the startup with six other high school students this past summer — is getting a little help from his friends.
“We have now branched out to 12 members, all students at King’s High School each maintaining a role that they would like to pursue in the future,” says Kim.
Juggling startup life and school is not always easy. In preparation for this interview (and in a true sign of his entrepreneurial spirit), Kim shot off an email to GeekWire at 2 a.m. providing more details about the upstart.
Here’s more from our interview with Kim.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We help communities and individuals through the power of web search. We donate 100 percent of our search engine advertising revenue to a unique cause every month, essentially allowing free donations.”
Inspiration hit us when: “We realized that all existing charity search engines are for-profit and their search funds are diluted out to multiple individual charities, as opposed to one big impact. And also when I realized that no matter how much you learn in a classroom, the best way to learn is to actually go out and do it. In our case we founded a Web startup.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Bootstrap (besides our $1500 seed funding), because we’re high school students and can’t even ask for an allowance raise.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We took an existing model and improved on it. Our ‘one cause per one month’ guarantees bigger impact and a sense of community around Benelab that all strive for one common goal. And we’re kids. We know what our generation wants and how to take something charitable and make it cool. We made a search engine that anyone can use to do good for others.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Focusing our target market to students and the younger generation, rather than parents or other adults. We didn’t expect it, but students actually care a lot about charitable causes, at least when it’s in the form of a cool startup.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “I’m not sure if we have had one yet. But we’re not too worried about it, because it’d still be a huge learning experience for us. Well, maybe setting up our bank account two months after incorporation, because we were $400 in debt. Good thing parents don’t charge interest.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Zuckerberg. He’s young, and has accomplished something we as students can look up to. (I forced our company to watch The Social Network, accurate or not.) And I think he has a cool last name.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “People realize that doing good is not a cliche and that it’s not that hard to do, especially with technology. When they find out someone’s life can be changed just from a crowd of people doing what they always do – but through Benelab. And when the younger generation realize that charity can be cool. And then when we gain some market share in the huge web search market.”
Rivals should fear us because: “Benelab is totally non-profit, donating all of our revenue. We are way more crowd-source oriented, making bigger impacts at once; and we have our own technology behind the search functionality.”
We are truly unique because: “We are all high school students and are completely volunteer-run. I like my work as CEO, and so does every other student in the company with their own positions, and you don’t see many of these around, especially a full-on web startup.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Some people wouldn’t or couldn’t do their work. We have something massively attention-hogging called school and some people just didn’t have time for Benelab. We went through a corporate restructuring, hired a student HR, and had strict guidelines when hiring new students.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Well, I’m not sure if they would want an advice from a 16-year-old CEO with braces, but I’d say analyze your topic very thoroughly, and go for it if you believe it will work! Sometimes you’ll fail, but I guess that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about. It’s the thrill, and I personally believe you get what you put into it. And from what I’ve learned so far connections are so nice. Get help from anyone you can, because help never hurts.”
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