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Sahil Lavingia is a great believer in learning by doing. He quit college after a semester, reasoning that he "could save three and a half years of my time" by leaving to pursue his goal of working for a real company.
That company turned out to be Pinterest, the social media juggernaut that got 104 million visits in March, according to Experian Hitwise, making it arguably the world's number three social network. Lavingia left before Pinterest really took off, but he says he doesn't regret it. After all, he really wanted to be CEO, and the only way to do that was to start his own company. "I'm really happy," he tells Mashable. "Building a company is better than working for someone else."
Lavingia's new company is Gumroad, a startup that aims to do for online payments what Twitter did for blogging — provide a common means of distribution. Gumroad's twist is that it connects prospective buyers and sellers across social media networks. As the video below explains, if you sign up for Gumroad, you can easily sell your stuff to people who follow you on Twitter or to your Facebook friends via a Gumroad link. Seth Goldstein, the chairman of Turntable.fm calls it a "PayPal for the social web."
The idea's not unprecedented. You can do the same thing via eBay, of course, but Gumroad "is a lot faster, simpler, and cheaper," Lavingia says. The company takes a 5% cut of sales plus $0.25 compared to eBay's 9% plus insertion fees (which run from $0.10 to $2.) Five percent is also way less than Amazon's 50% cut and iTunes's 30% cut.
A few investors think Lavingia is onto something. SV Angel, Accel Partners and Lowercase Capital gave Gumroad $1.1 million in funding late last year. On Monday, the company announced it got another $7 million round led Mike Abbott, former Twitter engineering head and partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Not bad for a guy who just started coding four years ago, when he was 15. "I started designing five or six years ago, but got bored making pretty pictures," says Lavingia. The teen fell in love with iOS and eventually caught the attention Goldstein, who commissioned Lavingia to create the company's iPhone app. "He's a great coder, thoughtful, strategic," says Goldstein. "I tried to hire him, but he wanted to start his own company."
Now a teen CEO, Lavingia is following in the footsteps of Mark Zuckerberg, who persuaded venture capitalists to invest in Facebook when he was 20, David Karp, who launched Tumblr at 20, and Brian Wong, who became CEO of Kiip at 19.
The latter may have been the youngest person to ever receive money from a venture capital firm, according to reports at the time. Lavingia may not have broken the record, but he's done something else: Taken himself up on a dare to run his own company. Says Lavingia: "I wanted to see if I could do it. This was the best way to find out."