First Person: Starting up a business within the Googleplex

Richard Chua founded Talent100 shortly after he finished high school. The company is focused on providing study materials for students in high school, along with connecting them with tutors and other materials.

The company has been successful, earning over $1.5 million in revenue, but there’s an added kicker – Chua is a Google employee. He operates the business from San Francisco where he works at the search giant’s Mountain View headquarters.

Chua spoke to SmartCompany about running the business on the side, and the state of the education market.

What I do in my business doesn’t affect my work. I’ve got a great team, and my input level is high, rather than just operational.

One of the great things about Google is it structures independence. Google is always encouraging things like having the engineers take 20% time for their own projects. So it’s generally quite accepting.

I don’t know if I started the business intentionally. I had the idea for something like this since early high school.

The idea for a business actually came through a bet with my father. It was to do with high school marks and seeing if I could beat my sister.

But I did the opposite of what students do. I started collecting data and found out if I needed to get an overall score; I needed to place in the top 10 in English, or top 20 in another subject, and so on.

What I wanted to design was an end-to-end solution. We provide the visibility, and the courses, to do well in those subjects.

It’s important to get the right team on board. A lot of the time my input is either confirming or pushing back on ideas rather than necessarily creating them.

I’m trained to manage by data. So having the right team on board is not only useful but it allows everyone to do their jobs properly.

Running a business is a wake-up call from what you learn in business school. The first thing you learn is what to do when your competitors start copying you. We took this industry by storm, but I hadn’t expected the competitors’ response.

One response was to go the legal route. But you need to out-innovate. You have to continue to build on the learning processes of the company and just be better.

I waited until I thought the business had enough legs on its own to go overseas.

My sense is that there’s not as much innovation as there could be in this market. We’re trying to push the boundaries of what can be done, and what needs to be done.

I’ve seen a lot of people trying to do things in education but the user experience isn’t there yet. What’s happening is through a bunch of different technologies and can be a bit gimmicky.

In education, companies like mine aren’t 100% free to do what we want to do. We’re doing what we do based on a syllabus, and that syllabus is limited. In some respect I’m restrained by what the government does, or doesn’t do.

Our company is really focused on getting results. We want to help students get these results, and I think our success is the reason we’ve been able to grow as quickly as we have.

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