Pioneer Community Discussion - Describe something weird or unusual you've done early on in life.
Shared by pioneer · 14d ago · 30 comments

Part of filling out the Pioneer application includes the prompt: "Describe something weird or unusual that you’ve built or done early on in life."

It may be our favorite question. We think you'll enjoy reading answers from others in the community. So...

Describe something weird or unusual that you’ve built or done early on in life.

BobBass · 14d ago

I started a debt collection agency at 21 years old.

I very quickly climbed what you might refer to as "the corporate ladder" if the company was larger. The owners and managers all got very lazy and dumped way too much work on to me.

The vendors, clients, banks- they got to know me very well and it took very little convincing to get them to work with me when I left.

I saved up $10,000 worth of bonus checks and that was my "startup fund". I spent about $5,000 on a tiny office with two cubicles and internet service. I used the remaining $5,000 to pay one other employee who sat right next to me making calls all day. The accounts that we worked were all placements from a Tribal lender.

I kept reinvesting any income back into hiring. On average we processed $780,000 annually, when my agency was at its largest I had somewhere around 17 employees. I've had three separate partners and I've bought all three of them out at a later date when they each individually stopped working.

I also provided networking and server solutions for a handful of other local agencies. One of them got raided by the feds because they were doing some really bad things. I wasn't aware of it but I was forced to testify against this person in court twice because I had an understanding of the management structure at their office as a side effect of interacting with people for IT work.

I sold my agency in November of 2019 and I lost the comfort that came with the income - but I gained the ability to sleep at night a hell of a lot better.

Slouischarles · 14d ago

Nice! I always wondered, could debt collection agencies also remove/delete the related entry on your credit report? Seems like a good incentive to get folks to pay. What were the margins or profit on collections if you don't mind sharing?

BobBass · 14d ago

There is a lot of nuance to all of this because there are a lot of different types of agencies and a lot of different ways they operate.

Credit reporting is a big can of worms. There are a lot of different ways to get sued and credit reporting is near the top of that list. Generally, you won't see credit reporting past the original creditor or the first agency. Often times a file will go through 4 or 5 separate agencies before it's paid both because of agencies being inefficient but also because YouTube is flooded with bad information advising consumers not to pay collection agencies. Then there are also bad actors that you hear about on the news even if they're a small minority. It doesn't make a good news story to say "Respected collection agency approves 35% settlement on student loan account", but "Homeland Security raids fraudulent collection scheme that bilked consumers out of 40 million dollars" is a very good news story.

Long story short, the industry is set up in a very inefficient way and consumers as well as agencies both make the process very difficult on each other. Something has to give, it can't keep up this way much longer. Very few people realize how bad it actually is. It keeps our court systems packed and consumers tend to have way more debt than most people realize.

As far as the profit margins, in a typical year, my agency would process just shy of $800k with about 8 employees. Our size fluctuated a lot because there was a ton of turnover as a result of being an unskilled desk job. I usually had 1 partner and on average we'd probably pay ourselves around $125k each annually. It was an S Corp so we had a passthrough structure. That should give a good idea of our profit margins.

I had friends and associates who were making more like $360k to $3M annually with 30 to 80 collectors. Unfortunately, the laws are very vague and up until about 2 years ago, it was technically illegal to call a cell phone or to send an email to a consumer. The larger and more profitable agencies tended to push the grey area a bit harder than I ever did.

I do keep in mind that if I wanted to start another agency I could probably get up and running and become profitable within about 3 months if I wanted to with maybe a $20k investment.

The industry is ripe for disruption and that's what I've been working on.

The last thing worth noting is that an agency needs to process about $300k annually before they become profitable. From my experience, if you're processing about $25k in payments each month with a staff of 3 or 4 collectors, there will be no profits after operating expenses and if you're the owner you'd be lucky to pay yourself a minimum wage. Once you get past that number, that's when it becomes profitable and then as you continue to scale it becomes more profitable in a more exponential manner.

I wouldn't recommend jumping into the industry right now and I'm fortunate to be out of it.

sole-fields · 13d ago

This is really, really interesting.

BobBass · 13d ago

Thank you, I find it interesting because of my history in the industry but I always assume that this is super dry to most people so I never bring it up. Maybe it is a good sign that I can find a good way to spin the story for marketing efforts.

Slouischarles · 14d ago

Thanks for the long and detailed response. I worked briefly for a top debt settlement firm and they were making money hand over fist (processed billions in debt). I learned a lot about credit and debt but not collections.

The whole industry is a mess as you say and collections really needs an overhaul. People have no incentive to pay collections besides improving their credit.

What's your pricing structure going to be like for debtcollect.io if you're still working on it?

BobBass · 14d ago

Exactly, no incentives besides ending harassment. I am still working on it, the name is now DebtOS and it's a suite of debt collection tools. It's evolved a bit and I'm planning on doing a basic structure of $150/mo for the platform and then charge separately for credits that will send emails, text messages, register consumer portals, etc.

Honestly, though, I'm just trying to finish this thing because I want to move onto the next project. I'm SO sick of the debt industry and I'm realizing that I'm ending up in a position to become a full-time salesman to that very industry... and I'm really nervous about that.

Slouischarles · 14d ago

There's a TON of places that will pay a flat fee of $99-$150 for a debt collection portal. The ONLY way I see that people will pay is if it gets removed from their credit. Other than that, like you said it's just to end the harassment. It's a brutal sales job. Maybe the most brutal. I'll keep in touch. I'm looking forward to seeing your progess. Good luck!!!

BobBass · 13d ago

Thank you

sole-fields · 14d ago

For a few months in middle school I would take our local newspaper, circle grammatical errors, and send them in a little plastic bag to the editorial team.

Never heard from them, but I like to think it had an effect...

coryz · 14d ago

i used to sell candy from my locker in middle school lol
made a pretty nice profit

coryz · 14d ago

the key was actually selling to kids one or two grades below me...

alessandrosolbiati · 14d ago

I (italian) started my first startup in China at 19 as an illegal immigrant, when we got seed funding (that I did all in Chinese) the lawyer from the VC fund found out about my illegal status and told me literally "RUN NOW", and I left china in 6 hours and never came back to avoid terrible ripercussions (including blowing up the deal for my chinese co-founders) ahahah

sophieherman · 10d ago

My 5th grade invention for school was a working timed dog feeder

AndyDent-Touchgram · 9d ago

My entry for the Pioneer application said Designed a passive solar house.

I would probably have been an architect if I could draw & not got distracted by computers. (Seriously, I nearly failed out of 1st year engineering due to inability to use pencils accurately.)

I fell in love with Christopher Alexander's works on Design Patterns, unsurprisingly found because a large part of the software industry discovered patterns. I bought all his books & devoured them. I then spent much of 9 months designing a house for this perfect solar block - long EW axis with a side-street to the N (Southern Hemisphere - that's where the sun is).

I went through 23 iterations in a 2D CAD program, before we engaged a building company who polished the design & built something that corresponded about 98% to my work.

The house worked really well, with sun flooding in during winter & warming the place. Ironically, we're now living in a house built about the same time that has even more glass facing North but because it was built by idiots, has single-paned glass in aluminium frames, so heat transmission is awful.

Oh, I'm in my late 50's so something I did 20 years ago barely counts as early on in life.

Truly early-on, I didn't do anything unusual or exciting. I shoveled shit & drove tractors then went to study engineering & dropped out to write code. That was so long ago, that it probably qualified as unusual.

McKayla-Berry · 7d ago

Love this Andy. Really cool. I can't draw for shit but always wanted to build my own house. Do you have pictures?

Dropping out to write code certainly qualifies too -- I bet these days, so does shoveling shit lol

AndyDent-Touchgram · 6d ago

Do you have pictures?

I have many inc scanned plans. I'll have to reinstate my personal site, took it down after my WP blog was breached at GoDaddy & never got around to finishing setting up the static hosting.

McKayla-Berry · 5d ago

imgur all the way :)

mohammadazeem · 14d ago

During 2016, I had to save rent for my co-founder to work on Qayaam (Airbnb of Pakistan). I took him under in my college dorms. People from outside are not allowed to stay, however, I was able to masquerade him as a student for six months. I even got him published as a student in our college magazine

jerico · 13d ago

This is the content we need. Nice.

pavlegoloskokovic · 14d ago

My friend's little sister was afraid of the dark and couldn't fall asleep without a light on. I went to a dollar store and bought a night light. I told her it was given to me by a wizard and that it scares evil spirits away if you put it under your bed.
It worked like a charm! :D

sole-fields · 13d ago

Well done!

tanayrathore · 14d ago

I got two seats for Mastering Growth, a one time only live class at the Harvard Business School, taught by Reid Hoffman. They had 60 seats, I was 20 yo.

I was a sophomore at my college back then and used to work night shifts to pay for college, and another part time for essentials. Had a lot fo jobs on my resume, so I built different profiles and submitted three applications.

Slouischarles · 14d ago

I'm a little older but at 12-13 I sold VHS tapes of Dragonball Z when virtually no one heard of it (4 episodes a cassette). CDR's were like $400 when I an early teen so I modded Playstaions (I had a friend solder the chip) and sold "backups" of video games I downloaded or purchased from IRC. Fun times

ptmn · 14d ago

I learned to code at age 14, but I hated programming.

The last thing I could remember was a joy from designing a game at the of 3 years learning C/C++. I left computer science and became a self-taught graphical designer. People loved my style - so they keep inviting me into projects in their schools, clubs and their network.

It was how I joined startup 10 years ago though I just learned pure math solved paper and pen with academic trajectory.

mkaic · 11d ago

When I was very young, my absolute fricking hero was the YouTuber/Viner Zach King. I was obsessed with how he made such cool special effects in his videos, so I watched a bunch of tutorials and made a Harry Potter fan film.

It had no real plot, featured a pink plastic shopping cart, and had the jankiest VFX you've ever seen, which I'd created using Apple's Motion 5 (a software primarily intended for motion graphics, not VFX).

It's the earliest short film of mine I still have a copy of. Now, ~9 years later, I'm part of the Pioneer tournament making software to help me produce my current-day VFX short films!

McKayla-Berry · 7d ago

That is awesome. Love this origin story. Is that short film watchable online anywhere?

mkaic · 6d ago

Watch if you dare! Used my siblings for actors.

https://youtu.be/mgQrz3v8xuE

McKayla-Berry · 6d ago

Oh WOW! :) This is hilarious and incredible.

KaylaBens · 11d ago

I took a year off and traveled to 11 countries after college. Solo back packing for most of it. Coolest spot was Nepal. There was a night when - i suppose because we were so high up hiking - the sun was at full blast on one side of the sky and the nightsky / moon crystal clear on the other. Literally night and day at once. Unforgettable