Image courtesy of thirdeyeglass.com
Every once in a while, an entrepreneur comes along and revolutionizes the technology industry while helping those in need along the way. Meet Rajat Bhageria, a rising college junior who developed a device that allows the visually impaired to recognize objects directly in front of them during his freshman year at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
I was able to interview Bhageria and ask him a few questions about his steadily growing business, ThirdEye, as well as his educational experiences. Surprisingly, the young entrepreneur, whose goals include “changing the lives of 1 billion people by 10x” was incredibly down-to-earth, humble, and well-spoken, even while imparting life lessons we could all learn from.
- How did you come up with the idea of ThirdEye?
- What was the most rewarding moment during the development of ThirdEye?
Definitely the mass amount I’ve learned looking back. It’s insane how much I know about how to interact with people, work with people, criticize then, inspire them, press, legal aspects of entrepreneurship, taxes, software and building a product, finance and accounting, design thinking, customer interviews, and everything in between.
- What was the greatest personal challenge you faced while starting ThirdEye?
Motivating my team members to work when they also want to do well in school. At the beginning the sheer excitement keeps people interested, but as things get difficult motivating people is tough.
- Has there ever been a moment when you almost gave up or doubted yourself? What made you persevere?
Oh definitely. I had quite a lot of existential crises but honestly I think those acted as gifts more than anything else.
I persevered because I had an underlying goal about doings that impact the lives of people by at least 10x. In particular, my life goal of changing the lives of 1b people by 10x kept me going and helped me remember that one failure doesn’t mean much other than motivation to work harder to not fail next time. It’s what Angela Duckworth calls grit.
- What was one goal that you weren’t able to achieve while starting your company and what was your takeaway from it?
At the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey I was incredibly excited to be talking to big VCs and Angel investors and wealthy individuals to raise money. It was an exciting life! And when I went out to raise funds, there were actually a few angels and VCs who were ready to write checks for us. But ultimately we decided that we didn’t have much use for the cash and that it might be more of a long term liability than an asset. And so we completely bootstrapped ThirdEye; looking back this was definitely the right move to make.
But of course, early on one of my major goals was to “raise money from a major SV [Silicon Valley] VC.” I think I realized that the only reason I had that as a goal is because every other entrepreneur has it as a goal and because it’s a sign of success. In reality though, raising a major VC round, getting major press, getting into YC, or any of those other “hoops” young entrepreneurs deem you have to get into are really just a facade that hide what really matter: building a brilliant product, building a sustainable and scalable business around that product, and then achieving your goals (maybe that’s impact or money or something else). Getting funding or press doesn’t really matter. They just allow you to tell a story.
- What is the most common criticism you have heard related to ThirdEye and how did you overcome this discouragement?
Most visually impaired and blind people love our app but always tell us that they would prefer if it were a little faster. The problem is that making it faster isn’t really in our hands since technically speaking computer vision is pretty computationally expensive.
- What are the next steps for ThirdEye?
We’re consistently looking for more visually and blind organizations to partner with to bring our product to the hands of more people.
Related to Business:
- What made you decide to pursue a career in business when you were in high school?
It wasn’t really business per se. More entrepreneurship and building amazing products that change the lives of people.
For me it was education and realizing how broken our system is. I wrote frequently in HS about education and this culminated in my book What High School Didn’t Teach Me (see on Amazon). I realized that if high school wasn’t going to teach me how to build cool stuff and do something major and practical, I’ll have to do it myself. This lead me to my two high school entrepreneurial projects: a Modular Sofa Integrated with Entertainment Center patent I invented and a social network that allowed writers to publish their writing with the world (Medium before Medium was big).
- What is the most important lesson related to entrepreneurship you’ve learned so far?
That’s a tough one…
I’d say really really get to know your future co-founders before starting your company. When stuff goes wrong—which it will—you want to know how your co-founders will react and treat you. People are very different when they’re at the very bottom of the trenches than when everything is working well. Before starting a company with someone, see what they’re like at the bottom of the trenches so you know what to expect (and know that you can get along with them).
3.What are the most essential skills you believe millennials need in order to succeed as entrepreneurs?
A vision or a life goal. For me it’s to build an organization where everyone is a family and where employees feel like the organization is helping them achieve their childhood dreams; and then I want this organization to collectively change the lives of 1b people by 10x.
Once you have this life goal and you know why you’re doing what you’re doing (this is tough) the how and what becomes a lot easier. Once you have this major audacious goal, everything revolves around that goal.
- How does one break into the tech industry when it’s dominated by titans like Apple, Google, IBM, Elon Musk, etc.?
Well to be honest, I don’t think this is necessarily as hard as it sounds.
What you have to remember is that all the companies you mentioned were once startups themselves. They broke into the tech industry when it was dominated by Intel, IBM, SUN, Atari, etc.
Summarizes this perfectly: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead
Related to Student Life/Personal Goals:
- As an undergraduate, you’ve already accomplished a lot. What does your everyday schedule look like and how do you balance your social and academic life with your business life?
- What do you consider your greatest strength?
Hustling. When I have a goal in mind, I will do whatever it takes to make it happen.
- What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in your life so far and what was the payoff?
Honestly I haven’t taken too many risks in life. A lot of people may think of the things I’ve done as “risky” such as writing a book, starting a business during freshman year, forgoing traditional internships to build businesses, skipping class to have meetings with successful individuals, etc. But in fact, none of these are extremely risky in my eyes.
I think I really resonated with Zuck’s quote on this: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
But if you really want something, it would probably be repeatedly trying to get a hand of Steve Wynn (Penn alum, Vegas casino magnate, and rapidly become visually impaired) using a ton of hustling.
- If you could tell your high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Work on projects! You will learn so much it’s not even funny. Working on interesting problems will pay back so much more than volunteering or research or anything else that you’re traditionally prescribed to do.
More (these are about college but the I would say the same thing)