Eric Zhu is the 15-year-old co-founder and CEO of Aviato, a platform that lets you pitch to funds anywhere, anytime. On top of being a founder, Eric is probably best known for his viral memes on Twitter. Aviato has raised 100k in pre-seed funding from investors including Tom Preston-Werner (founder of GitHub), Eric Bahn (founder of Hustle Fund), and Pioneer Fund (a fund made up of Y-Combinator alumni), Blake Lieberman (Shrug VC) & BBQ Capital. Eric Zhu is also an investor, serving as co-founder and General Partner of Bachmanity Capital, a $20M fund for early stage startups. He currently attends high school in Indiana, where he’ll be starting his sophomore year in the fall.
In today’s issue, Eric shares his stories behind his Twitter shitposts, taking investor calls in the bathroom, and being a 15-year-old VC-backed founder:
🐦 Getting started on Twitter at age 13: It was during the pinnacle of quarantine, when everyone was online, that was the perfect time to meet people. I got into this club and was banned the first day, but got a group of really smart friends out of it. It made me realize there’s some smart people in the world and that I wanted to be just like them. Through this club, I came across an opportunity to do marketing for a startup, and even though I knew nothing about marketing, I pretended to and got the job. I got 10,000 users for the startup at the cost of getting banned from every single Discord server and from Discord itself five times. I was like, “Okay, so it's not that hard”.
🚀 The entrepreneurship journey: First, I started a nonprofit to teach people how to code because every other tutoring center in the area was pretty bad. Then, I started a machine learning hackathon that got backed by Tesla with someone I met on Twitter. After that, I created an ed-tech start-up, but ultimately exited it after realizing I didn’t want to work in ed-tech. The next thing, I became a venture scout and made a bunch of troll startups. One of them was a dating app between founders and VCs, which after a few pivots, became Aviato.
💸 Raising funding (in the school bathroom): We raised 100k in two weeks in January. I did it in my school’s bathroom because I got kicked out of the janitor's closet. You can't really say valuations in the bathroom because of drug problems and the bathroom is really big – people come in all the time. Aviato was way oversubscribed, so we cut all of our investor allocations in half, meaning that we had to choose who we wanted to go with long-term. We had some really cool investors on our cap table and are looking to raise more in our next round.
📈 Becoming funny on Twitter: I used to post super serious tweets and get one or two likes max. I was at the airport one day and really wanted to figure out this Twitter thing. I sat in the airport for five or six hours, analyzing tweet structures and why certain tweets went viral. I realized that shitposting was just very authentic and relatable. Specific keywords and timing are also crucial. The next day, my web3 tweet blew up. Then a bunch of VCs were like, “This 14-year-old is building this startup and raising right now. Let’s schedule a call.”
💡 How do you come up with tweets? I write tweets based on stuff that happens to me. Like, I got rejected from McDonald's and made a tweet about that. Other topics: Getting kicked out of the bathroom. Cramming 3 guys in one bed at a hostel. These are really just shower thoughts.
🏫 Are you well known at school? Not in my high school. I sort of hang around here, but I’m not known for being a start-up guy. Indiana is just really rural. If you say start-ups, they really wont know what you are talking about.
⏰ Balancing high school with a start-up: I just work on the company full-time and crush it in the bathroom. I just make up some diarrhea excuse and ask to use the restroom.
👪 On having Asian parents: My parents are first generation immigrants. My mom is a doctor, and my dad is a scientist. They still don't really get what I do, but they’re slowly getting it. They used to want me to be a brain surgeon, but now, they're like, “Oh, you could actually make money from doing this.” I’m living at the Elysian House right now (a hacker house in San Francisco), and my parents were very nervous about it. I just said I was with a bunch of Harvard and Stanford students, and they're like, “Oh, yeah, okay. Good influences.”
☀️ Day in the life: If I'm not in school, I'm working every day. At night, I go out with some friends. Currently I’m doing a lot of calls, heads down building, and preparing for the next raise. I’m leveraging as much as I can in San Francisco. I have a lot of people who work for me even though they're two or three times older. It’s interesting for sure, but they’re all cool.
💭 How have you grown as a person? Before, I only saw inside the Indiana bubble – corn, school, needing to become a doctor. I’ve really changed by seeing how big this whole entire world is. The internet has really democratized a lot. You can learn anything online. I found out I could self-teach and learn better when there’s a real-world application. For example, when I was forced to take coding class for two years, I fooled around and didn't learn anything. But when I decided to make a nonprofit, I ended up teaching myself how to code.
💡 Best advice: The world is way bigger than what you're around, the people you're around, your bubble. School is only going to take seven hours, and with homework, maybe another three. You still have five or six hours per day. Instead of spending all your free time hanging out with friends, learn something new.
tl;dr 1) The world is far bigger than your surroundings. Joining Twitter and Discord are immediate ways to broaden your world. Find a group, meet people, and do something. 2) There’s a strategy to making viral tweets. One way is to simply frame everyday occurrences in a funny way. 3) You have more time than you think you do. Spend that time learning something new.
Learn more about Aviato here: joinaviato.com
Keep up with Eric!