Calvin Knight and Chris Coleman (Photo: Courtesy of SavySwap).
Chris Coleman’s path to becoming an entrepreneur all started with college, Craigslist and a couch. He was moving from Denver to Washington, D.C., to attend Howard University, major in journalism and be on the cross-country running team. To move, he needed to get rid of a couch, so he put it on Craigslist to get a few dollars for it.
Without any luck on the Internet, he ended up giving the couch away for free. He didn’t know it then, but this was the moment his future business idea was born.
While at Howard, Coleman, now 22, began interviewing and writing about technology and start-up companies. His interest was peaked far beyond the standard Q&A with a business founder. He wanted to learn how to code, too. So he taught himself a few coding languages including basic HTML, CSS and a little bit of Ruby on Rails.
Then, in 2012, Coleman dropped out of Howard to start his own business.
"I had people who were paying me for a skill, and I’m not learning these things in the classroom," Coleman told BET.com. "I was able to start two businesses based on skills I taught myself."
Recalling his experience of trying to get rid of that old couch in Denver, he embarked on a plan to start his own start-up, SavySwap, as a way to exchange goods and services through an app. How it works? Upload a picture of your item. The app matches you with people who are interested in your product. Get an offer. Barter. Meet and trade. Coleman says his app helps to alleviate the insecurity aspect of a site like Craigslist by verifying identities through social media.
Next, he went on Meetup, a social networking site that helps connect like-minded individuals through affinity groups, and started looking for entrepreneurship organizations and found his business partner, Calvin Knight.
The initial funding for his business came from his first business venture, Strategic Media, which provides mobile marketing strategies for churches and small businesses. For churches, the business supplied a way for the congregation to give tithes and offering through an app.
And, believe it or not, SavySwap received a large donation from a fan of Coleman’s blog. Coleman began writing and vlogging about his love for tech and entrepreneurship and documented it on his website. The fan, a venture capitalist from Istanbul, wanted to donate some money.
More good fortune came in late January, when Coleman and Knight went to San Francisco to be a part of Tumml, a four-month incubator program that brings companies together that are solving urban problems. They received a $20,000 grant for joining.
And although Coleman has committed most of his time — 60 to 80 hours a week — to SavySwap, he's not yet able to pay himself for his work. Revenue still comes in from Strategic Media; he's got a stable of clients online and offline. He's done a few odd jobs — like shoveling snow for five apartment complexes in Philly, where he was born and raised, during the polar vortex. And he also occasionally writes technology articles for a local newspaper.
"It’s a struggle at times, but such is the life of an entrepreneur," Coleman said.
Follow Erin E. Evans on Twitter: @heyerinevans
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