Jimmy McDermott is your average young entrepreneur… except he isn’t average at all. Thirty minutes after receiving his high school diploma, Jimmy got a call from the superintendent asking him to go in on a new business idea. He accepted, and his life hasn’t been the same since.
Together, the now-business partners created Transeo, a community service tracking and life-readiness planning tool that’s transforming education for students across the country.
Transeo combines Jimmy’s love of education with his love of technology and entrepreneurship. With the help of his parents (both teachers) and MobileMakersEdu, Jimmy expanded his skills throughout high school and by the time he was a senior, had his own consulting firm, building iOS apps for a robust clientele based in Chicago. He planned to continue on this path, but like all great entrepreneurs, he knows the importance of pivoting when necessary, so he took a chance. Once a freshman in college, Jimmy and the Transeo team had their first customers.
Fast forward to today and Jimmy has been listed as one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30. Transeo has expanded its offering beyond tracking community service, adding life-readiness resources to its portfolio and raising funds to improve accessibility and equalize opportunity within schools. Now a titan of industry in both education and tech, this former student from Mt. Prospect, Illinois, reflects on some of the lessons he’s learned as a young entrepreneur.
1. Grit can be learned.
As entrepreneurs, we learn by doing… and sometimes failing. We’re expected to tackle real-life problems with ease, but building a business brings its fair share of highs and lows. Over time, we begin to see failure as just another part of the process. Learning how to bounce back or change direction in the face of challenge requires determination, perseverance and grit. (Youth entrepreneurship programs support this skill building.)
I’m not sure I consider myself a seasoned entrepreneur, but what I’ve found to be super valuable in my career is simply not giving up. There have been many, many moments while building Transeo (and there will be more) where it felt like things were crumbling around us.
It’s so important to maintain perspective and to keep pushing forward. And I think that with the right role models and examples, grit can be learned. Nothing inspires this ability more than watching someone you admire push through a really tough time and come out stronger for it.
2. Entrepreneurship and coding have a thing or two in common.
Both coding and entrepreneurship require creating something out of nothing, being intensely curious and creative, and pivoting when faced with obstacles. I think that entrepreneurs who know how to code make better executives, even if they don’t serve on the technology side of the founding team. Learning to code is only partly about the code itself—it’s also about learning how to solve problems and think critically. Those skills transcend any particular coding language or framework and can be applied to all sorts of different problems—even problems that aren’t directly related to coding. Being able to converse intelligently and make decisions without needing someone else to “translate” between business and tech is extremely powerful.
I highly encourage students to get involved in programming as early as possible, even if it’s not a career you see yourself going into. The tangible skills you’ll learn from a language like Swift, for example, are invaluable. For me, the best thing about Swift is the mix of its type-safe nature with its extensibility and expressiveness. It’s a combination of factors that many programming languages don’t have, and it makes for a great server-side language (as well as for iOS apps).
3. Focus is your most valuable asset.
The most valuable asset that diminishes with time is your ability to focus. Focus on customers, focus on a specific problem, focus on making your product… but most importantly, focus on one thing. Many entrepreneurs (myself included!) fall into the trap of trying to expand horizontally too quickly. Instead, focus enables you to go deeper into what you’re good at and will help you build a more valuable business at the end of the day. For me, I wake up in the morning excited to help scale the type of experiences and education that I was lucky to have when I was in high school.
Education is a passion of mine, ingrained in me from a young age. I got to witness firsthand how powerful education can be when it comes to tangibly changing the lives of students. For example, students who participate in community service are more likely to finish college on time and return to the community in which they grew up. With this as our focus and guiding star, I see the students that we serve as the fuel behind Transeo’s innovation and growth.
As luck (and a lot of hard work) would have it
I think where I got really lucky was the ability to combine education with my other passion, because one thing that I know to be absolutely certain is that the experiences that I was lucky enough to have in high school are, right now, only scalable if you have administrators who are extremely dedicated.
Currently, more than 250 school districts across the country use Transeo. Transeo has raised nearly $5 million, is growing its team, and is taking on competitors like Naviance to offer a more holistic alternative. Transeo tracks community service, job and internship opportunities, and college prep to connect students with pathways that align with their passions and interests, because everyone deserves the opportunity to build a business inspired by what fuels them.