The post below is written by Eagle Wu, Babson Class of 2019 and Horizons Class of Summer 2016
After a lot of RedBull, stress, and cramps, I walked in disbelief onto the stage in front of a crowd of 500+ people. Granted, I hadn’t slept in over 36 hours, so I wasn’t sure if I actually won Money 2020, the world’s largest finance-tech hackathon. But when they handed us the prize ($10,000), it became very real. Out of 400 competitors from around the world, we emerged victorious.
Don’t believe me?
Here’s me on the stage with my team.
Here’s me and a teammate with half the prize money — in case you haven’t realized I’m the Asian kid.
Before I could process (pun intended) what happened, our team was approached by numerous interested parties from VCs to corporate executives from the world’s largest payments companies. It became quite clear that this wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill event.
This was something special. And just like that, I became a founder of a company called Leaf.
All of this within 2 months after learning how to code at Horizons.
How did I end up at this spot?
In my life there is a lot of pressure to get a comfortable job at a brand-name company after graduating, but I think success for me means something else. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be crazy if I said I didn’t want an awesome job at a cool company building impactful stuff.
However, here’s the thing about time: you don’t have much of it and you can’t get it back.
So the way I see it, if there’s an awesome opportunity to explore, and I don’t go for it, then I’ll always be wondering “what if ?”. “What if” — I ask myself this question too many times already, and the reality is that I will never be able to answer it because I can’t rewind the clock. This is why I’m drawn to entrepreneurship; despite the dangers and risk, I don’t think I’ll find myself asking “what if”.
Hence, last summer, when I was deciding between internships/jobs and Horizons, I knew where I wanted to be.
I wanted to learn more about creating technology. That’s the field that shows immense potential in growing and impacting the world. There’s so much that has happened in tech, but more importantly, there’s so much more to be done. That’s what drew me in.
I was lucky to have coding knowledge from Horizons before I went to Money 2020. Here’s the thing about hackathons — if you want to win, you have to plan. If anything, what wins hackathons are the ideas — are you solving a tangible problem and can add a lot of value to the world? That’s something you have to figure out — no amount of formal education, classes, or homework can really train you in that. You have to go explore on your own, build projects, and learn by trial and error.
That’s the edge Horizons provides — Horizonites spend a lot of time learning over the course of the summer. But we spent even more time doing. By the end of the summer, I had already built multiple web and mobile applications and clones of Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Yelp. So when I started my hackathon project, I knew exactly how to approach technology/framework choice and architecture.
But for me, Money2020 became more than just a hackathon. And our project became more than just a project. It became a startup. A real business. And a lot of the early costs associated with launching a tech company will be building your product. That’s why being able to build it yourself (hence the value of learning how to code) will not only save you money & equity, but will also give you the flexibility you need early on to adapt. Stuff is gonna break. Guaranteed. Do you want to be in a position where you can fix it quickly and satisfy your customers or do you want to be in a bind where you need to rely on someone else to fix your problems?
Learning to code this past summer gave me the skills and confidence to win Money 2020. It was something I never expected to be able to do. The crazier thing is that now I have a startup on my hands. One that has guaranteed seed funding, corporate partners, and potential customers.
I know that technology entrepreneurship is going to be a roller coaster. The ups and downs may not be for everyone. But I’m in it for the long run, so I’m going to have fun and enjoy it.
After all, I’m doing what I love to do, and I know I won’t be asking myself “what if”.
After winning, Money 2020 gave us free conference tickets to their networking & speaker events.
Eagle Wu | Founder, Leaf Payments | Fellow, Horizons School of Technology
Leaf Dash utilizes Beacon Technology and Mobile Apps to simplify payments into a simple push notification.