Yonge Interviews: Donny Ouyang, President of Rayku
It takes a certain type of person to learn a new skill from scratch and earn six-figures from it within three years. But when Donny Ouyang was 15, he did just that. He launched his first business Kinkarso Tech to hone the art of flipping websites, which is when a developer buys an existing website, fixes it up, and then sells it at profit.
He quickly garnered media attention and was named one of the ten teen entrepreneurs to watch by TechCrunch and one of technology’s seven wonder kids by PC Magazine. He won numerous awards, including being named the Student Entrepreneur Provincial Champion for Ontario in 2011. This was in part due to Ouyang’s decision to sell his assets from Kinkarso Tech in order to launch Rayku Corp., an on-demand peer-driven tutoring service.
“I was spending so much time with businesses I didn’t have much time to study, so I would find myself going to friends and paying them in beer and chicken nuggets to help me learn math concepts,” Ouyang says. “I saw a big opportunity there and it was just something that I was passionate about and I thought that I could do something about it.”
Originally from Richmond, BC, 21-year-old Ouyang has put his full-time commerce studies at the University of Toronto on hold to run Rayku.
He just returned from Moscow, Russia where he was one of 20 young Canadians representing the nation at the G20 Youth Entrepreneurs’ Alliance (YEA) Summit, an annual event that originated out of Toronto and aims to connect young entrepreneurs from around the world in an effort to help strengthen opportunities within their respective nations.
“It is important for people like Donny to attend because having top young entrepreneurs makes the movement more powerful,” says Preston Aiken, who nominated Ouyang to represent the nation.
Yonge Street caught up with Ouyang to learn more about the summit, Rayku, and what it’s like to transition from an all-star teen entrepreneur to the big leagues.
What did you have to do as part of the Canadian delegation at the G20 YEA Summit?
We had to put together a communique, just a recommendation to the G20 leaders. There’s a bunch of different stuff [in it] that we haven’t finalized it yet. For me personally, the one that I would like to push for–I don’t know if it’s going to be in the end product or not–but I would like to be able to see them get rid of paperwork for [youth led] startups because we can’t afford lawyers and accountants or to worry about all this tax stuff and make sure everything is on regulation, so it would be easier for us to start businesses and hire people and build it as a startup. That would encourage more entrepreneurs and make it easier for people to build companies.
Beyond this, and considering your experience as a young entrepreneur, what else would you like to see the government help you with?
To be completely honest I think the Canadian government has been really good compared to the other G20 nations. There are a lot of opportunities out there, there’s money to spend. It just takes a lot of time to go through it, but there’s options available if you go look for it. A big thing is accessibility in terms of people knowing about these grants, knowing about government support, knowing about MaRS and all the support they give. Maybe it’s a marketing and communications thing, but there are a lot of resources out there.
What was it like being representing Canada and what did you learn?
I was really inspired, as I always am every time I go to a conference. There are a lot of young entrepreneurs who are extremely accomplished. You don’t see as many around in the local environment, but there was a guy from Mexico whose company had millions of dollars in revenue and he was one year older than me. There’s a lot of really impressive people there and listening to their work ethic and experiences was really interesting.
You received a lot of media attention when you were younger. Can you tell us more about this aspect of your youth?
It was cool to get a lot of media, but back then it started out as a hobby. I was building websites because I was interested in it. Then it turned into work, so the more work you put in the more money you made at that point. The projects I was working on were for different markets that I had no knowledge in and no interest in. That’s really why I transitioned into Rayku, which is something that I’m actually passionate about.
Now, Rayku has grown to more than 500 tutors and 8,000 students and you’re doing pilots with partners such as Ryerson University. Can you tell me about this?
We set up some partnerships with Ryerson and a couple other universities and education institutions. We’re building a marketplace right now. To build a marketplace, you need to have two sides of the market: supply and demand. You need to have equity of everything and that’s the most difficult part, to make sure there’s enough tutors for the students and that no one is left sitting there waiting.
One of the ways is to set up these partnerships where they bring on both sides of the market; they bring on students and tutors. We hope to be able to take that opportunity and reach critical mass so we can grow organically and take it from there. Partnerships are a bridge for us to get to critical mass.
How does one make the transition from teen entrepreneur to regular entrepreneur?
At the beginning when I was just starting out, I lied about my age so I could get rid of that [stigma] and it worked. Just don’t talk about your age and then people look at your work and see if it’s a good enough product that you’re selling that they’ll buy into it.
I think being a teen entrepreneur is good in a certain way that it will allow you to get mentorship and people to listen to you that are very successful, but there is also some drawbacks. People don’t think about it, but there is discrimination being young, until you show your product, then it’s all down to business.
Have you noticed any trends emerging from young entrepreneurs–especially here in Toronto?
There’s a lot more student entrepreneurs nowadays, people are becoming entrepreneurs and building businesses while they’re in school. They’re less afraid to get started because you don’t have that much pressure of running a family or paying off a mortgage or all that stuff, and you also have all these resources around you, so a lot of people are starting businesses in school, especially tech businesses, because it doesn’t cost any money.
What advice would you give other young entrepreneurs?
Be stubborn. Be really stubborn about taking your company to a certain level and just be so stubborn that no matter what happens you still believe that it’s going to get to that stage, so you’ll do whatever it takes to get to that stage.
Thanks Donny. Why don’t we end this by you telling us about your future plans?
I’d like to build Rayku as big as possible. The thing I like about Rayku is it’s high risk, but the potential to expand into different verticals and different markets is really big. Right now, we’re just academics, we’re on-demand tutoring, but I’d like to expand that into personal test pads and go beyond that into financial advice, to video gaming, to relationship advice, pretty much anything and everything and become an e-bay for on-demand learning. The opportunity for it to expand to all these different verticals is massive and I’d like to see that through.