What with some successful startups making hundreds of millions of dollars these days, $6 million may not seem like a lot. But it is still enough to impress most college students, and Joseph W. Presbrey ’08 earned that very amount back in March 2006 by selling a social networking site for high school students to Alloy, a media and marketing company targeting young consumers.
The idea for the site, called Sconex, came into existence after a conversation between Presbrey’s collaborator, Jawad Laraqui ’04, and his sister, who complained that she and her friends could not use Facebook because they were in high school. (Facebook has since been opened up to high school students.)
Presbrey said that he and Laraqui began working on Sconex around Independent Activities Period 2004, during which “we were working pretty much non-stop on the site.” “We’d get up and start programming,” with the television playing in the background, he continued.
Originally, “marketability was not the initial concern,” Presbrey said. Instead, he and Laraqui focused on coding interesting features and getting “the students excited about this stuff.” Later, however, the two collaborators worked with a friend from Harvard to obtain input on how the features they had designed would be seen from a business standpoint.
After Alloy — whose clients include Proctor & Gamble, Schick, and Nintendo — purchased Sconex, Presbrey said that the focus shifted largely onto marketability, which is “probably why I ended up not working there anymore.”
Sconex, whose name came from the site’s motto, “Stay connected,” is used nationwide, but it is especially popular among urban high school students on the East Coast. The site allows students to post their class schedule, create photo albums, blog, and leave notes on their friends’ “blackboards.” To ensure safety, registrants must answer security questions relevant to their high school, and students may remove others they do not recognize.
Presbrey worked on Sconex until the end of summer 2006 and no longer does any feature programming for Sconex. Occasionally, according to Presbrey, he still consults the company on database schema and how other systems work.
Presbrey said that he is “thinking about school right now” and is not currently working on any other startups. With only a few semesters left before graduation, he said, “I’m gonna crank it out before I go off starting another company.”
Presbrey is, however, involved in various projects on campus, working on public services offered by the Student Information Processing Board, and running the Undergraduate Association’s online voting system.
In high school, Presbrey started a computer consulting firm, although he gave away his clients once he came to MIT. He still consults for companies for which he has written programs. Presbrey has also written security software for Windows 98, obtaining a copyright for the program in the Library of Congress, but he chuckles over the fact that “no one uses Windows 98 anymore.”
“I think I may have learned the alphabet on the computer,” said Presbrey. He remembers that his interest in computers began when he grew bored with the menu of games that his dad set up on the computer and became curious about how he could download his own games.
President of Theta Delta Chi fraternity, Presbrey said that he’s “still a regular person” and does not think that he is a celebrity of any sorts.
And how will he spend his glorious $6 million? On a future startup, of course.