High school gig
Some people knit blankets as they sheltered in place from the novel coronavirus; others made cakes. College students Alex Fantappiè and Matt Hashimoto, both recent graduates of Peninsula High, made a startup.
“I think the quarantine was — well, obviously it sucked,” said Hashimoto, a junior at UC Berkeley, where he studies computer science. “But it turned out to be a blessing for us.”
Fantappiè was home from Boston, where he attends Babson College, a private business school that declares itself the “best college for entrepreneurship.” Hashimoto’s internship moved from in-person to online, so he was home in Palos Verdes. They met in their parents’ backyards, masked and socially distanced, to brainstorm Fantappiè’s newest idea.
At 20 years old, Fantappiè is already a serial entrepreneur. If experience is the teacher of all things, he has learned more about business than the average college student.
“I just love the freedom of it,” he said. “I love the fact that I get to create impact myself and decide how I want to create that impact and be creative in that sense. It makes me feel like I’m doing something that is unique, that I can create something out of nothing.”
At 14, he launched Fantappiè & Co., a digital marketing agency with a twist: he’d build a company’s online presence in exchange for a donation to charity. He spent his free time reaching out to all types of businesses, from nail salons to hairdressers to chiropractors, and offering to create Facebook ads, websites, and Yelp profiles for them.
“That was really enjoyable,” he said. “I felt like I was really making an impact in the community, meeting with all kinds of businesses and learning so much.”
In his junior year of high school, he started a clothing business called Classic Threads, mostly because he’s interested in fashion.
“It was a big failure,” he said, laughing. It was also a pivotal point in his learning journey, as failures generally are.
“It seems obvious in retrospect, but when you’re just starting out, you sometimes skip over the part where you have to find a problem and think about exactly what problem your business is solving in your market,” Fantappiè said. “The clothing brand wasn’t really unique or different enough to find its place in such a saturated market.”
He then started Smartr Tutoring, a service that connected high school students with other students seeking tutoring. Hashimoto was one of these tutors.
“That was a really big hit,” Fantappiè said. “That was the epiphany: I realized high school students are just as capable, if not more so, than adults at many of the jobs we rely on adults to do. That inspired me to create Avanti.”
He began thinking about how to safely connect high schoolers looking to earn some money with people in their communities who wanted to engage their skill sets at affordable rates. As the novel coronavirus was making its way around the planet, Fantappiè called Hashimoto on FaceTime.
“I have this idea,” he said. “I need your help.”
While the general population tried to navigate a stalled economy and a global pandemic, Fantappiè and Hashimoto, who have been good friends since Palos Verdes Intermediate School, put their heads together. Each day they worked, Hashimoto coding and designing a website, Fantappiè writing a business plan. They both describe the process as organic and even fun.
A series of online surveys broadened the scope of Avanti. Fantappiè circulated surveys through Facebook and NextDoor, asking people to identify what services they were interested in procuring. The process yielded some discoveries; for example, people wanted “tech help,” or assistance operating digital devices, so this was added to the list of services.
When Fantappiè and Hashimoto returned to their respective corners of the country, they made a commitment to touch base every other day. Despite the time difference, they check in often with each other.
Avanti has now engaged 60 “helpers,” the term its co-founders are using for paid workers. The word reflects the brand’s mission: to help high schoolers and neighbors help each other. All helpers attend high school in Palos Verdes.
Several trusted helpers have boots on the ground while the company’s directors are in college. Currently helpers offer private tutoring via Zoom, dog walking, car washing, and tech help. Avanti intends to add services over time, such as athletic coaching for kids, babysitting, and yard work.
“Just a few years ago, when we were in high school, no practical opportunities existed for us to save up for college while keeping up with a demanding high school schedule,” the company’s website reads. “Now that we’re in college, we want to solve this problem for the millions of high school students who struggle to apply for college and save up for it at the same time.”
Their mission is threefold: to offer high school students opportunities to earn money; to create a convenient, affordable, and safe way for neighbors to access services; and to establish a fair and responsible company within the context of a gig economy.
By hiring high school students, Avanti seeks to be more socially responsible than a typical company that relies on independent contractors and yet doesn’t pay them enough to make ends meet.
“Because we’re focusing on high schoolers, this is more of a way to make spending money and put something on your resume that will contribute to your college application or to building a better future for yourself,” Hashimoto said. “That’s one thing about Avanti that we love to emphasize. We think we have a really important mission.”
Fantappiè and Hashimoto see Avanti as a startup with potential for scale, rather than a local business.
“A big part of the vision is to scale this to other communities,” Hashimoto said. “We’re starting off in our hometown because we know it well. We know the schooling system and the culture around academics there and it’s what we’re comfortable with right now, but eventually we want to branch out.”
“Although we’re starting small in PV we’ve got really ambitious goals,” Fantappiè said. “We want to expand across the South Bay and Southern California and beyond but we want to keep that very local feel, as if you’re just hiring a student from down the street. So a customer in PV is seeing a student from PV. We feel like this problem we’re addressing in Palos Verdes is a common problem and can be broadened out to millions of students and customers nationwide.”
To learn more about Advanti visit JoinAvanti.com. PEN
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