When Mark Bao was a 5th grader, he wrote an app to help manage homework and sold it on floppy discs for $5 bucks a pop to his fellow students.
Soon he began playing with PHP and web design, and as a freshman he created Debateware, which is software for high school and college debate teams. In high school, the debate club President worked on dozens of projects, launched 4-5 start-ups like Genevine, Supportbreeze, and Classleaf and two foundations including the Genevine Foundation promotes family and community while fighting homelessness and poverty and the Center for Ethical Business.
Just one month ago, Bao started a website called Threewords.me. The site is simple. It allows users to describe their friends on the site or on Twitter in three words. After just three weeks, the site had a quarter of a million users, 5 million total visitors, 4.3 million words and 17 million page views.
He started the site as a side project to experiment with two ideas. One, how to acquire customers through viral marketing, and two, exploring the idea of getting an honest opinion of yourself. When it got big, Bao decided to sell as it was distracting from his other major start-ups. Bao also admits that he’s much better at working with start-ups that have a clear monetization strategy as opposed to making money off a free service.
About 40-50 people approached Bao to purchase Threewords.me. He finally sold to Kevin Ham, an Internet entrepreneur who owns 300 million in domain names including God.com and Satan.com. While still closing the deal, Bao says he can’t talk monetary figures but that the closing price is very pleasing to both Bao and his parents.
What did Bao learn about his Threewords.me users?
“Any user of a social network is a little bit narcissistic,” he says laughing. “That’s one of the driving reasons behind why the site succeeded.”
The 18-year old entrepreneur grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts. An only child, Bao’s parents, both doctors working on cancer research moved their family from China to the states when he was 4-years old. He is now a freshman at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts and when he’s not working on start-ups, he plays video games, like COD: Black Ops. “I try to reduce my non-valuable time,” he explains.
He’s decided to stay away from girls for now, because we’re admittedly a bit of a time-suck. But if he moves to New York City, “that might have to change,” he says, laughing. (There are a few NYC entrepreneurs who are actively trying to lure the college freshman away from Waltham.)
His next project, code named “Project Whiskey Town” is hush-hush but aims to revolutionize the online restaurant reservation space. But his most ambitious project yet, called Avecora is a cloud-based network and may be the convergence we’ve all been waiting for. To find out more about Avecora and the man behind it all, watch our interview with Mark Bao filmed yesterday in New York City’s Union Square.