Dropping Out and Starting Up: An Interview with Sam Forline, 24 year old Founder And CEO, Scholar App Studios
Sam Forline, CEO and Founder of Scholar App Studios, a mobile app development and marketing firm headquartered in Washington, DC and Silicon Beach, CA sits down for a brief discussion on managing multiple ventures at 24, the D.C. tech scene, and the future of mobile apps:
WASHINGTON, DC AUGUST 3, 2015
Q. So lets begin, you’re 24 years old, while many people your age are relatively newly minted graduates entering the corporate world of 9-5’s you decide to hire yourself and run a few companies of your own. Was there a breakthrough moment you can recall where you decided to become an entrepreneur or was it a series of events that led you to where you are?
A. Well I have always tried to start cool ventures, I remember being 13 years old and pairing up with another Sam in the neighborhood with the idea of doing yard work for a little money. We made business cards from paper, with the name Sam and Sam Incorporated, passed them out but never really followed up on requests. Later on when I was about 18 years old, I came up with the same business idea that Blue Collar Scholars is now. We were going to have college students perform easy chores such as mowing, weeding, gutter cleaning, junk removal and snow removal throughout the different seasons. I told my parents that this was going to be a huge success and that I wanted to focus on this full time and put college on the back burner. Problem was, they were not too happy with my thought process, which crushed me, and I ended up listening to them.
Fast forward a couple years later, I began to study Chemistry at University of Maryland: Baltimore County in hopes to make it to Med School. I was doing great, making straight A’s it looked like my future was bright. Throughout my studies it dawned on me that the price of Medical School would be around two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and it would take another 8 years for me to even start to be independent. I was making fifty dollars an hour coaching soccer on my own at the time and I realized if I started another venture such as the yard work idea, I could start supporting myself right away without losing my youth. Being a bit older and more mature than 18, I felt confident in my decision to go against my parents’ and professor’s advice and leave school to follow my heart. I will tell you, it was probably the best decision of my life!
Q. Glancing thru your LinkedIn profile, it is clear that you stay incredibly busy. From soccer training and public speaking to managing a landscaping/handyman company and running a software development business how do you manage all these ventures and stay sane?
A. It’s simple, I love what I do! I have the best job in the world, I help young kids reach their goals in soccer, I help entrepreneurs follow their dreams by making their Apps become a reality, I provide jobs for local college students who are trying to pay their tuition and bills, and I have the pleasure to pass on motivation to students at High Schools and Colleges when I am invited out to speak.
Q. Tell us a bit more specifics about your business entities, Blue Collar Scholars and Scholar App Studios. Landscaping and software development don’t exactly go hand in hand- what led you to develop Blue Collar Scholars and Scholar App Studios, companies in two distinct fields? Is there one company you focus on more than the other?
A. Sure. Both these entities came from problems I saw in the market. I started Blue Collar Scholars when the economy crashed and college grads and students alike couldn’t find jobs. I knew one thing, every house in my neighborhood needed some kind of work that could give college students jobs. Either mowing the grass every week or so, weeding garden beds, taking down unwanted trees, cleaning gutters, taking out unwanted junk, and even shoveling snow in the winter. I came up with the business name because we were Scholars doing Blue Collar work. Many of my neighbors loved the idea and wanted to help out local college kids so the company took off immediately.
When it came to founding Scholar App Studios, it just made sense. In 2006 there was no such thing as a mobile app. Now, mobile apps are what we wake up to, what we use when we are bored, and what we fall asleep to. It was one thing to acknowledge a newly emerging market, but it was another thing to witness that there were way more entrepreneurs trying to build an App than there were App development companies. I shared my vision for Scholar App Studios with the best software engineers and architects I knew and we formed an amazing team that is able tackle any App thrown at us.
It’s really hard to pick favorites because I consider both entities my babies, but recently, I have been spending more time on Scholar Apps. We are in an exciting market, I meet with other successful CEOs every other day, talk with influential investors all over America every week, and I have the chance to be right smack dab in the middle of the exploding market. I see where this venture is going and I am there every step of the way to ensure we do the best we can.
Q. An increasing number of people are taking on the challenge of becoming an entrepreneur, what do you like most about running your own businesses and how has being in such a competitive space shaped the development of your companies?
A. When you start your own business, you have the chance of working on something you believe in 100%. I can’t stress enough the importance of loving what you do. Many of my friends ask me why I don’t go out on the weekends, why I wake up early on Sundays, why I am busy at 9 PM every night. The truth is, I am having so much fun working with the smartest people I know on businesses and ideas that have the chance to influence people around the world.
And thanks for asking about competition. I love competition! Growing up playing travel soccer and eventually playing in the NCAA Tournament. I thrive under the pressure and competition simply makes me work harder. If there was no competition, this would be too easy and I am a firm believer in never taking the easy way out.
Q. What are you currently working on without violating any NDA rules? Can you give a general sense of the type of projects currently on your plate?
A. The type of projects we have been working on are just fantastic. Getting daily requests to build Apps, we’ve had the chance to pick the very best and most promising ideas to work on. Not breaking any agreements, I can say we’ve been working on a location based picture App for Android called Snap Location which will come out in September. Other than that we are dealing with very sensitive projects in which brilliant entrepreneurs have found huge holes in markets such as the Smart TV space, health care space and the location based social network space.
Q. You have been experiencing rapid growth in demand of your company’s services the past few months. What do you look for in team members that you bring on to work for you? What qualities have you found key to your success as an entrepreneur?
A. This is a great question. I believe you are only as good as the people around you. I choose to surround myself with professionals who share the same values as I do. Hard work, dedication, and a passion for excellence. Anyone can learn how to be a good programmer or marketing professional, but the best are the individuals who absolutely love what they do and never give up. Having the best team around me isn’t my only secret to creating profitable companies, I really have to give a big shoutout to all my mentors and advisors. Over the past years I have utilized LinkedIn to connect with experienced business owners who have had tremendous success in all different spaces. It has been so great to see how so many great influences are happy to reach out and offer advice when I need it.
It becomes very simple when it comes to personal qualities that determine success. You do not have to be the smartest person or have lots of money to begin with. I do not consider myself as smart as many people I know and I definitely had no money starting up my companies. What I did have was pure determination and the ability to spot talent and opportunities when I saw them. I will finish with one of my favorite sayings, “It is hard to beat someone who never gives up.”
Q. You provide an end to end service for clients from software development to marketing. Where do you see the software industry going over the coming years and why is it so important for companies to develop mobile apps now?
A. This is such an important question so I am not afraid to repeat myself: Mobile Apps are what we wake up to, what we communicate with and what we fall asleep to. People talk about an App bubble, and yes, some mobile companies are valued too high at the moment, but I promise you one thing, mobile apps are here to stay. People tend to forget how economics work. Remember, there was first AIM, then there was MySpace, and now there is Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat. No matter if the stock market falls or surges, there is always going to be a product that will come up and dominate an existing market.
On companies who are not mobile, I couldn’t stress the importance of building a mobile app more. Children are learning how to use iPads before learning how to read, millennials are now firing up Netflix instead of switching on the TV, and of course everyone is much more comfortable scrolling through social media on their phones rather than booting up their bulky computers. As we can clearly see the data of mobile users progressing, you will be left behind in the competitive market if you are not mobile.
Q. From the Scholar App Studios’ website it looks like you primarily work in Washington DC and Silicon Beach California. What has the startup scene been like in DC and do you have plans to expand the business elsewhere?
A. Yup! It’s great that we are in two areas where startups are really taking off. Especially in DC I am astonished by the abundance of bright individuals starting up fantastic ideas. We have a great tech meetup community where you can connect with pretty much anyone who is in the same space as you. I have absolutely loved the experience.
As for future plans, I am happy to announce that we will be moving some of our team out to Silicon Valley this coming Winter! It has always been my dream to establish the company in the Valley and it will be exciting to see my dream unfold in the next couple of months!
Q. Best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
A. Don’t just study business, go out there today and try to start something you believe will work. We don’t become great at a sport by sitting behind a desk and being told how to catch a ball. Nope. We become good by throwing ourselves into a real game, making mistakes, and learning how to become better along the way. There is absolutely no substitute for experience so if you want to be an entrepreneur, start today, get the smartest and most dedicated people you know around you and never give up.