Roger Jin decided he wanted to be an entrepreneur when he was 14.
He was sitting in trigonometry class and had an overwhelming feeling that what he was learning wasn't serving him. "I felt limited, and a great desire to attain the freedom of being the master of my own destiny," Jin tells CNBC. "Even as a kid, I saw entrepreneurship as my only path towards that goal."
Looking back, his only regret was that he didn't drop out of school and start a business.
Jin doubled up on his course load and rushed through college in two and a half years. He immediately moved to East Palo Alto, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley, and crashed on his friend's couch to work on his first startup idea, Bridge, an app and website that connected people with those nearby who have similar interests. Bridge didn't work, so Jin got a job.
In May 2015, on a trip to China, Jin went to a grocery store a where he bought Choco Pie, a chocolate-coated marshmallow snack. "I remembered thinking, 'It's a real shame most people from outside of Asia will never have a chance to try this,'" says Jin, in a recent Ask Me Anything on reddit. That thought was the seed of Jin's next business idea.
Over the next three months, Jin laid the foundation of Treats, a subscription, mail-order international snack service. He built a website, identified wholesale distributors and found a warehouse where he could sort and ship packages.
Jin built the business from his living room with $5000 in savings. By late July 2015, Jin could accept orders through the website.
Getting off the ground was a struggle. "During the first six months I felt like I was in a constant fight for survival — to build the company, launch it, and grow fast enough before I ran out of money," says Jin in the reddit AMA.
And he took lots of risks, he recounts: "I put all my personal expenses on my credit card, racking up thousands in debt. I also took on personal and business loans to keep the company afloat as it was growing."
Jin got his very first customer by posting about his new company in his high school's Facebook Group. He had attended an international high school in Shanghai and thought his classmates might miss the foods of their childhoods.
In December 2015, Jin started using the branded blue Treats boxes. That was a big month for growth, he says.
In 2016, Treats' revenues hit seven figures, according to Jin, who declined to be more specific. The business currently has four full-time employees and two part-time employees besides Jin. In addition, he sub-contracts out the assembly of boxes and inventory management to Good Source, the fulfillment operation of Goodwill.
"I'm glad to do so because Good Source is a revenue arm for Goodwill, and they also employ down-on-their-luck people who may have a hard time getting jobs elsewhere (due to past criminal records, etc.)," says Jin.
Treats is headquartered in San Francisco but everyone, including Jin, works remotely.
"I'm a bit of an underdog in Silicon Valley because up this point I've been a solo founder, I don't code, and I'm not very plugged into the Silicon Valley investor scene," says Jin, who, so far, hasn't raised any outside capital. "A lot of start-up ideas can't exist without funding because they don't generate revenue for a while and instead requires burning cash to build out the initial product."
While Jin is still building Treats, he is already looking towards his next independent venture too. As he puts it, "Part of my intent for starting Treats from the beginning was to build it into a successful business so that I would have cash reserves and inflow that could use to bootstrap the next business that I decide to work on, and do so without having to necessarily rely on any outside capital (at least not until the product gains traction)."