Most teenagers spend their free time at the movies, playing video games, keeping track of friends on social media or some other carefree activity.
But by the time George Matus was 12, he had already built his own flying quadcopter and was working with drone companies to test every product on the market.
Flash forward six years, and today he is CEO of his own drone and software company, Utah-based Teal, which has four full-time employees, 15 contractors and sells the world's fastest consumer drone.
"Between when I was 11 and 16, I flew everything on the market and I really got frustrated with what was out there and by what I wasn't able to do yet," Matus said. He wanted a drone that didn't restrict him to only taking pictures, or only racing. "It got to the point where I was wanting to push the limits."
After creating a "wish list" of all the things he wanted in a drone, Matus formulated the concept for Teal, and the prototyping process began. Keep in mind, this CEO was only 16 at the time, and he had homework, projects and papers to keep up with, too.
After years of "flying, crashing, rebuilding and modifying" dozens of versions of his product, Matus completed his dream drone, the Teal.
Teal can fly faster than 70 mph, with no out-of-the-box modifications needed, and the drone is able to withstand 40 mph gusts. Matus said he's been able to fly the drone as fast as 85 mph, and he's working on add-ons that can make it go even faster.
Teal comes built with a tiny Nvidia computer that is capable of machine learning and image recognition. It's essentially a flying computer, Matus said. Further, Matus said the platform will come with an open software development kit, which he hopes app developers and other drone makers will adopt.
At $1,300, Teal's price falls in line with the market-leading DJI Phantom series. The drone will be available to the public early next year, and 500 units are available for preorder now, ready to ship just ahead of the December holidays.
"I started racing drones before they were cool, and now there's a big community growing out of this," Matus said. "Teal wants to give racers something that works out of a box, … something they don't have to tinker with." Most racers either have to modify their own drones or build one from scratch, Matus said. But he's looking to solve that problem.
And Teal isn't just for drone racers. It's great forthe consumer, the hobbyist, and even the person who has never flownanything before, Matus said. And the possible use cases for Tealare plenty, like taking photos andvideos, playing games, delivering packages and complete a "search andrescue mission," Matus added.
In 2015, Matus was chosen from almost 3,000 applicants to be a Thiel Fellow from Peter Thiel's foundation. The organization pays young entrepreneurs $100,000 to either drop out of school or forgo college to work on their own ventures.
Matus, who lives in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, recently graduated high school, but he said he's deferred going to college to devote his time and energy entirely toward his company.
While he was still in school, Matus would spend his days in classes with his peers, but afternoons and evenings were dedicated to prototyping, designing Teal's website and fundraising — bringing the abstract product in Matus' mind to life.
"Raising money was pretty hard, especially just starting out," Matus said. "My dad was driving me around because I didn't have my license — I had braces — so it took a while."
Teal completed its first round of seed funding in December. To date, the company has raised more than $3 million, Matus said, with plans to scale the team even further and grow production to higher volumes into 2017.
"Starting this company was a steep learning curve for me — learning how to raise money, build a team, build a company," Matus said. But after Teal's first angel investor, Northgate Capital's Mark Harris, believed in Matus' vision, things became easier, he admitted.
This year, Matus was chosen to be a competitor on the TV show "Battlebots." He spent three months building a combat drone for the show, while also working on Teal, which proved to be another "incredible experience," full of mistakes and much learning along the way, Matus said.
With a bright future, this 18-year-old CEO has only just begun. "[Teal's] goal is to push what's possible, to push the boundaries and expand the use cases for a drone, integrating augmented reality," Matus said. He plans to make his drone "as ubiquitous as a smartphone" one day.
"The advice I would give to young entrepreneurs is to really find what interests you, and then it doesn't feel like work," Matus said. "This is my passion, and it's what I love to do."