Setting aside job offers and sleep for the sake of a project they jokingly call their child, a UCLA student and his friend are working to develop their young company.
Hunter Owens, a fourth-year communication studies student, and his high school friend Mark Nadal co-founded Accelsor, a company that offers a website design program, in the summer of 2010.
The company is tailored for people who have some computer programming skills and aims to simplify the process of creating a website. “Accelsor simplifies the current way of making websites by (eliminating the coding and) allowing customers to interact directly with the actual website interface,” Owens said.
Users can use drag and drop features on the actual interface while the code for their website is generated automatically in the background.
“Successful entrepreneurs know how to appreciate failure, especially if it happens early,” said Jim Stigler, the associate dean of research and innovation within the UCLA Division of Social Sciences.
A lot of startups fail if members of the team cannot work together, said Stigler, who co-founded an organization named Startup UCLA that offers funding, mentorship and office space for student entreprenuers like Owens.
Owens said he acknowledges that his and Nadal’s venture has a chance of not succeeding, but they are still committed to making it work.
“(We have put) money into something and have turned down job offers to put effort into something that has a 95 percent chance of failure,” he said.
The two met in high school, after Nadal gave a graduation speech about his goals to start a company. Owens said he was inspired by his peer’s commitment to entrepreneurship.
Without having ever met Nadal, Owens approached him after his speech, in what he describes as a somewhat awkward first encounter. Nadal said he was taken aback by Owens’ forwardness at first but later realized they had similar interests.
“If it weren’t for (Owens), I would still be hiding in my house,” Nadal said.
Nadal came up with the idea for Accelsor shortly after graduating high school, when he was designing a website for a customer. He approached Owens, who had become his close friend, to help with the project.
Nadal said coding websites is an exasperating process because achieving one small effect can require drastic changes in the code.
Owens handles the marketing and advertising aspects and Nadal, who dropped out of community college in order to come to Los Angeles, handles the technical aspects.
Certain technicalities, like trying to ensure that Accelsor’s software works the same on different web browsers, took time to work out, Nadal said.
Nadal and Owens were a part of the inaugural class of Startup UCLA’s summer incubator program in 2012, during which nine entrepreneurial teams received funding and office spaces to develop their product. Owens and Nadal received $4,000 in grants from Startup UCLA to support their company. Startup UCLA also brought in guest speakers who advised participants in the incubator program about different aspects of running a successful company such as getting investments and making contacts.
“Nadal and Owens form a good team (as their personalities) are very complementary,” said Robert Jadon, director of the organization.
He said he thinks Owens understands what the customer wants and can convey it very well, while Nadal is passionate about programming the product.
“(Founding a successful startup) involves being passionate and persistent,” Jadon said. “It’s a long road and there are lots of ups and downs.”
Nadal and Owens have spent the past few years developing the product and ironing out the glitches in the program, which is now available for beta testing.
Owens, who previously worked alone on a technical support startup, said the most important lesson he has learned from the Accelsor venture is about teamwork.
“You have to deal with conflict and (learn how) not (to) destroy each other,” Owens said.
He said he expects to have more time to dedicate to Accelsor after he graduates in June. Though finding the delicate balance between school and work has been an issue, he said being a student entrepreneur has been rewarding.
“It’s a major advantage being young,” Ownens said. “When you’re older and at a tech event, you blend in.”