When Chris Kelsey dropped out of high school in December 2014 to follow his dream of becoming an entrepreneur, people thought he was crazy.
Flash-forward to the present, and Kelsey is now the founder and CEO of Appsitude.com, a full service app and website development company that specializes in walking clients through the entire design process, from initial idealization to marketing and beyond. The company, which currently has revenue just over $1.1 million, is on track to become a multimillion-dollar entity within the next three months.
Kelsey is among the small but growing crop of post-millennials whose raw entrepreneurial potential and innate understanding of technology is driving them to change the IT landscape as we know it. Like other young visionaries before him such as Mark Zuckerberg, Kelsey had a generational understanding of a specific market need, and was able to address that need in a way only someone who was unquantifiably “tapped in” to the market was capable of.
Kelsey started his company with an idea and a whole lot of ambition, but not much else. At age 12, a friend showed him how to change the source code on the Google homepage, and he got hooked on web development. Over the next several years, Kelsey read as much as he could about web development and eventually taught himself HTML and CSS.
While he doesn’t consider himself to be particularly savvy at app development himself, Kelsey continued to be fascinated in the IT industry throughout his teen years. He had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but got some pushback from his family, who felt he should pursue a more traditional career as a dentist or pharmacist after completing college. But deep down, Kelsey said he knew that he wasn’t meant to follow a traditional academic path.
“You expect someone to fail when they drop out of high school because it sounds crazy,” he said. “That’s what I really learned about holding onto your vision as opposed to taking advice from other people … I just felt like deep within myself I had to do it no matter what.”
At the beginning of his senior year of high school, he decided once and for all to follow his dreams of becoming an entrepreneur any way he could, even if it meant destroying his chances of getting into a good college. He was inspired by an anecdote in the book “Think and Grow Rich,” in which the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes burned his ships before beginning his invasion of Mexico so that his troops would have no choice but to succeed in their conquest.
“I wanted to completely destroy my chances of going to college and just literally force myself to become an entrepreneur,” he said. “To me that was my equivalent of burning my ships, by destroying my school career so that I couldn’t turn back.”
By reducing his chances of getting into a good school or attaining a normal job, Kelsey said he was able to focus on his dream of owning his own business. His first venture, which focused on helping customer improve their company’s online reputations, failed within a month. But after dropping out of school, Kelsey was able to focus on his next idea – helping people develop and produce their own apps.
“I wanted to be able to offer a service that would blow away everyone when they built their app,” he said. “Our focus is that when someone has an app idea we’re not only their tech partner, we’re also helping in all areas, from marketing and even connect our clients with investors.”
Kelsey locked down his first development contract within 10 days of finding several clients on Craigslist. Then, he met Chris Kettle, a prominent Australian app developer who had viral success with several of his products, including HungryHero and My 247 in his home country. Kettle was impressed by Kelsey’s ambition and decided to join his company as chief operating officer in October.
Kelsey recently set up a virtual office in London, and Appsitude is in the process of building offices in Australia and Los Angeles. Kelsey said he is also working on creating a presence in Mexico. The company is currently drawing up the final plans for several multi-million dollar deals.
“We’re expanding on a global scale, which is something that I never would have imagined at any point before until now,” said Kelsey. “I’m realizing that this company can go much farther than I ever imagined.”
Kelsey is a near-perfect example of how Gen-Z entrepreneurs and thought leaders have the innate ability to innovate and create disruption in the IT market because of their deep understanding of how technology factors into our everyday lives. Unlike other generations, including millennials, Kelsey and his peers never knew a world in which app development and internet-based businesses weren’t a reality; by growing up immersed in a culture rife with viral internet sensations and overnight success stories like that of Twitter, Snapchat and Flappy Bird, Kelsey was able to draw inspiration from a whole new set of individuals who proved that anything was possible with a good idea and the right amount of determination.
When it comes to inspiring the next crop of IT innovators and entrepreneurs, Kelsey said the most important thing to remember is to believe in your convictions, no matter what, even when times get tough.
“I knew that no matter what, I would do something that would work and I wouldn’t give up until that happened,” he said. “Even if you fail for a long time, you eventually will learn from your mistakes and assuming that you really want it, you will take that knowledge and apply it so you don’t repeat [your failures] the next time.”
The Millennial Report is a weekly column by associate editor Michael Cusanelli, who graduated from Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism in 2013. He is an avid gamer and movie buff who spends nearly as much time concocting the perfect mix tape as he does writing. You can find him on Twitter @MCusanelliSB.