Victor Wong ’09 co-founded his own company last March called PaperG, an online social-advertising network that connects local advertisers with local publishers. Its flagship product, the Flyerboard, which works like the virtual bulletin board on YaleStation.org, is nearing its launch. Wong, who founded the company with four other Yale students and a Harvard senior, is taking this semester off from school to fully focus on his business. In a discussion with the News, he talked about his business and his life as a student entrepreneur.
Q: Tell us about your business.
A: PaperG connects local advertisers to local Web sites. It seems pretty intuitive, but that’s basically not the way the Internet is run right now. The Internet is mostly dominated by large national companies that pretty much saturate the online experience with kind of useless ads and drivel for mortgage companies and various unscrupulous educational institutions. But my company basically changes the local media experience by focusing on local businesses and local happenings that need attention and that consumers are actually looking for. And by connecting these kinds of groups all together, it creates a better experience for everybody.
Q: How did you come up with your idea?
A: Funny enough, actually, I was in intermediate microeconomics reading the YDN, and this was kind of during this period last year when there was a lot of talk about where newspapers were heading, and that basically got me thinking about what is going to change for local media to survive in the coming years. What we’re doing is online advertising and making it easier for local businesses and local organizations to place ads on local sites. And by doing that, we’re basically consolidating the local media. So, for example, in Boston we’ve worked with a number of newspapers to create one platform for local businesses to buy advertisements from. What that does is it allows newspapers to control ad prices and overall reach in the city. So from the local business’ standpoint, now I can reach everybody in the Boston area and I have only one ad to buy. And from the local publisher’s standpoint, now I can make more money because now I control a resource that has reach in Boston you couldn’t get otherwise.
Q: So what stage is the company in right now?
A: Actually, we just closed beta. We were testing it in both New Haven with the New Haven Independent, as well as with the Harvard Crimson, interestingly enough. And we’re actually set to launch in Boston next month with a number of different newspapers. We’re basically closing around our finances right now.
Q: So between the idea stage and where you are now, what did you have to do to get it off the ground?
A: We had to recruit an entire team of people with diverse experience, ranging from newspapers all the way to programming. And we’re entering an industry that respects a lot of age and wisdom, so we put together a very credible board of advisors to lead us and help us make the right connections to the right people.
Q: How do you feel about taking a break from your studies?
A: It’s definitely kind of exciting and scary at the same time. I guess the way we see it, it’s really just no different than being at Yale. The Yale experience for each one of us has really been outside the classroom. I think one of the big things that a lot of us who are taking time off are evaluating is kind of the risk involved in starting a company, especially in interrupting your traditional experience. The idea that people believe that they’re lowering their risk by just pursuing steady jobs and what seems like the best next step — they’re really not. A lot of times, a lot of people are just hoping for their next big break or that their next step will come by itself and all things will be great afterwards. But given all these different sorts of risk that you face in life, you have to look at these different risks that you can control and the ones that you can’t control and then try to minimize it as much as possible.
Q: What does the name mean?
A: A lot of people have speculated on various meanings for the letter “G” in our name. I personally favor “guy,” as in “paper guy,” because we’ve all kind of grown up with “paper boy,” but there’s really no explanation for it.
Q: What would you say as advice to other undergrads who are looking to start their own companies while still in school?
A: I think collaboration is absolutely necessary, and I think a lot of undergraduates and people in general have a tendency not to share their ideas and openly pursue a project. I think that’s a fundamental mistake that a lot of people make, just because you’re not going to meet the people, find the right advisors if you’re not actually openly discussing this so that other people can know what you’re doing and help you along.