Daniel Brusilovsky

The Teens in Tech founder helps young entrepreneurs like himself get started

Daniel Brusilovsky has an impressive resume: CEO, entrepreneur, speaker and strategist. Those are strong credentials for anyone, but they're particularly remarkable for someone as young as Brusilovsky. The 18-year-old California college student has spent several years building businesses and his career, and he's now passing on his experience and insight through Teens in Tech Labs, a Mountain View, Calif., company he founded in 2008 that's dedicated to providing tools and resources to young entrepreneurs. Supported by funding from corporate sponsors, it has four employees and two interns.

How did you get into technology? My parents emigrated from the Ukraine almost 17 years ago. They have computer science degrees, and they work at technology companies. So growing up, I've always been surrounded by technology. After school, my parents would pick me up and take me to their offices. I'd be there for hours, and I'd work on homework and I'd have my laptop. But on the way home, I'd ask my mom or dad, "What's a server? What's a database?" and the more I asked, the more I got intrigued by everything going on.

You started working in technology when you were 14. How did you land your first tech job? I'd go to my dad's office every day, and I'd do my homework and go online and read the news. One day, the CFO came up to me and said, "You're here every day -- why don't we give you something to do?" So I started working at this company, Remend, where I did everything from hardware stuff to fixing computers to setting up new computers. The whole point of the job was that they wanted to teach me as much as possible about computers.

Tell me about Teens in Tech. I've started three companies and sold one of them, and there were always the same struggles: I have an idea, but I don't know what to do, who to talk to. Entrepreneurs come to us with ideas, so they don't need our help there, but they need help jump-starting them. So we have [an eight-week training program called Incubator], a blog, a conference -- all around trying to help as many entrepreneurs as possible.

In this world where young people grow up accessing information with ease, why do they need help from Teens in Tech? When I founded my first company, which was a media group, I worked with a lot of adults. Young people like to talk to young people. And that's what's unique about us. At our conference, half of our speakers are under the age of 21 and the other half started their companies when they were under 21. I think that's why people come to us: We have this community of young entrepreneurs who have the same understanding of what's going on.

Why is it so hard for young people to communicate with older people? Do adults just dismiss them? I think that's part of it. When I was first starting out, people didn't take me seriously, and that's something that really upset me. I was going into meetings with [venture capitalists] and they'd just consider me cute, and I'd think, "I'm not trying to be cute -- I'm trying to start something."

Like many other executives, you've made some mistakes -- specifically, a public one over allegations that you offered coverage in exchange for compensation when you worked at the Web publication TechCrunch. What did that experience teach you? One of the biggest lessons I took from it was that 20 years ago, there was no Internet, so nothing we'd say would come back to haunt us. But today, when everyone is connected, everything will be heard. That's one thing that I don't think a lot of people realize -- that everyone will find out one way or another. Working at TechCrunch was a fantastic experience. There were a lot of lessons I learned, and I owned up to [my mistake]. I think that's the only thing we can do: learn from our mistakes and move on.

There's a general concern that young people are great users of technology but that not enough are becoming technologists. Why do you think that's so? What I feel may be the reason is that [young people] don't understand how it all works, and I think it's an education problem.

Do you think the amount of time your generation spends online or with technology has any negative effects? I definitely think so. A lot of people spend too much time online and don't focus on their priorities, which, for most, are school and things like that. I believe it's up to the parents to really educate, to take responsibility and say, "You need to step away from the computer and focus on your homework." That's what my parents did.

Do you think companies are missing out on any IT trends that could help them? What's great is that a lot of big companies are getting on the social bandwagon, but it still fascinates me that they don't have a mobile-optimized site. Not even an iPhone app. If I go to a website, I expect it to have a site that loads automatically onto my phone, things like that. There are still a lot of advancements that need to be made.

What's your technology vision of the future? To be perfectly honest, I don't know. The way I look at it is, every day there's new technology being developed. It's one of those things in this industry -- you never know what's going to happen next.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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