George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” If you met Tom Szaky you might disagree. At fourteen, Tom was making a five-figure salary as a web designer. By age twenty, Tom dropped out of Princeton to start TerraCycle and has successfully built a $15 million business over the last decade. His story of “upcycling” people’s trash and turning it into viable products has been covered by CNN, The New York Times, “20/20”, the “Today” show and many more.
CareerFuel had the opportunity to hear firsthand how Tom achieved this success and to get his advice for would-be startups. Tom strongly recommends business plan competitions to raise initial capital, followed by angel investment. He also has some choice words about venture capitalists. Tom encourages entrepreneurs to listen to what the naysayers and the markets say and be prepared to pivot, as flexibility is key to steering your startup to success.
A couple of years before Tom stared TerraCycle, another young guy named Peter Thiel founded PayPal with several others and went on to become extremely successful. Thiel has since founded a fellowship program for kids just like Tom, paying budding entrepreneurs to skip college and pursue an idea. Recipients of the Thiel Fellowship receive $100,000, no strings attached. Tom Szaky would have been a no-brainer had this program been around a decade ago!
Thank you Tom and the rest of the TerraCycle team for sharing your story as part of our “How America Works” series and for inspiring others to do great things!
Video Production by Mayer Dubinsky Videography