Steven Schwartz started his first side hustle at age 13. Then, he created 22 more.
He built several of them with his friend, Cameron Zoub. They hit milestones: A couple of times, they made hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single day, leading Zoub to buy a Tesla Model S while they were still in high school, Schwartz says.
But they didn't build anything sustainable until March 2021, when they — along with co-founder Jack Sharkey — launched tech marketplace Whop. The platform, which Schwartz describes as "Etsy for software products," currently brings in roughly $354,000 per month, according to a CNBC Make It estimate.
It worked for a simple reason, he says.
"You want to really orient yourself around a real problem that needs to be solved," Schwartz, 25, tells Make It. "[On Whop], people get hung up around building software, and they make something that no one's actually going to use ... If no one's using it, you get really demotivated."
Bigger names in the tech world have echoed Schwartz's sentiment. Billionaire entrepreneur and investor Mark Cuban, for example, often advises young people to dwell less on starting a business and more on how to fix something.
"There comes a point in time where you got to figure out the answers yourself," Cuban said in a 2015 interview. "Learning how to solve problems, learning how to find answers, being curious enough to find solutions on your own is where successful businesses come from."
That's exactly how Cuban became a billionaire: He and his friend Todd Wagner wanted to listen to Indiana University basketball games over the internet, leading them to help co-found AudioNet in 1995. The company became Broadcast.com, which Yahoo acquired four years later for $5.7 billion in stock.
Schwartz similarly learned that lesson through his own successes and failures.
During high school, he and Zoub built sneaker bots, or pieces of software that nabbed limited-edition shoes faster than people who manually clicked "buy now." Sometimes, the bots helped them make money, but it was nearly impossible to predict how much they'd bring in at any given time, Schwartz says.
In late 2018, they started their own IT agency, where they built websites and apps for clients. At its height, it brought in $100,000 per month in revenue, says Schwartz. The company clearly solved a problem, but the co-founders didn't find the work creatively fulfilling.
Whop did both, Schwartz says. It solved a safety problem: Zoub patrolled online forums where people sold software, and found them rife with scammers and rip-off artists. Whop advertises itself as a more trustworthy option, with vetting processes and standards in place.
And it's personally fulfilling, Schwartz says: He doesn't need to abandon the company whenever his next side hustle urge strikes. He can keep building new pieces of software because he now has a reliable place to sell them.
"The beauty of Whop is if we have an idea, we can just go on Whop and try it out," says Schwartz. "It's a really amazing way to use your own product."
Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank," which features Mark Cuban as a panelist.
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