Palos Verdes 8th Grader, Lane Karlitz, Makes Mark with Study App
Lane Karlitz’ nerves were working on him as he waited to pitch his prospective business to a panel of investors and a large audience inside a Washington D.C. ballroom.
The event, at the annual Small Business Summit of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, capped a nationwide contest attracting more than 2,000 hopeful young entrepreneurs – the oldest of them seniors in high school – vying for recognition and college money from the Young Entrepreneurs Academy. Lane, 13, was just graduating from eighth grade at Palos Verdes Intermediate School.
He had developed a detailed business plan for Study Senses, a mobile app that enables students to customize popular songs to help them with their schoolwork. Lane had consulted with app developers and financial experts. He had met with prominent music industry executives, and researched the niceties of licensing, royalties and intellectual property.
Finally Lane’s name was called. He strode to the middle of the stage to take his place behind the microphone, facing the investors and a large audience. Standing all of 4-foot-11, wearing a dark suit, muted purple tie and braces on his teeth, he wasted no time launching in.
“Study Senses is a revolutionary mobile application designed to make studying easy and enjoyable,” Lane said, as the tension began to drain from his body. “Imagine Schoolhouse Rock meets Quizlet, empowered by iTunes.”
What followed was a confident pitch that would earn him second place in the YEA contest, after pitching his way past his other rivals in local and regional rounds.
“Most kids think studying is a chore that they find annoying and difficult. One day I realized my friends and I can memorize the lyrics to a song in a matter of minutes, but not so much for world history or language arts,” he told the investors.
“I have always envisioned making studying more fun,” he said.
Lane told how he had begun to memorize key study terms by placing them inside popular songs, and how this led to better grades. Why not, he asked, “let kids create the soundtrack to their schoolwork.”
“Imagine learning about the Constitution to the tune of ‘Wagon Wheel,’ a popular country song by Darius Rucker,” he suggested. “Well, imagine no more, have a listen.”
Over the speakers, the investors heard Rucker’s bouncy pop-country song begin. Then, in place of Rucker’s voice, they heard Lane’s, with his constitutional study terms injected into the song.
“The convention, of 1787 / James Madison, father of the Constitution / George Washington, led the Continental Army…”
Although Lane had merely spoken the words into his proto-app, the computer algorithm had suited his voice to the melody, while leaving the strumming, chiming instrumental accompaniment intact.
(Although the investors heard the song, it cannot be shared for public consumption because of licensing and rights restrictions.)
On the chorus, where Rucker would sing “Hey, momma rock me,” the assemblage heard “The, Constitution.”
Lane got his first applause break.
The song ended 10 amendments and three branches of government later. Lane followed up with PowerPoint charts and graphs and an overview of how he’ll make money with a free mobile app.
When a student downloads a song through the app, for instance, Lane would get a cut of the song-sale revenue.
The student would then speak or type the study terms into the app. The algorithm would prioritizes the terms by their importance to the subject, and create a new study song.
The student could then upload his or her new creation into a “song garage,” where it could be bought by another student who might not want to make a study song from scratch. The student who created the study song would get a cut from the song as it is re-sold.
Study song creators can have their own song garage channels and their own “sub-businesses,” Lane told the investors.
App users’ age and gender information would be collected for advertising and promotion, he said.
“We have a fantastic advisory board of established executives in the digital media and music industries,” Lane told his audience.
“Study Senses defines success by the number of downloads and the number of songs created. User profiles and engagements have monetary value to drive sponsorships,” he said. “…Revenues are generated through in-app purchase, affiliate revenue sharing and sponsorships.”
Lane went into revenue projections, allowing for “a dip in the summer months because school is not in session.” He described work with “a top app developer,” and the need to launch a beta product for testing before a finished product can be launched.
Lane’s second-place trophy came with a $24,000 college scholarship and a $2,000 gift card from Sam’s Club, the contest’s co-sponsor.
During Lane’s investment pitch he identified music industry executives he’s met with, an impressive short list. Showing the savvy of an older entrepreneur, Lane asked that those names be left out of press accounts, because no agreements have been reached.
“Honestly, he’s trying to figure out who to meet with and whom not to meet with, because so many people are interested,” said his mom Jeannie.
In a telephone interview the night before leaving for two unplugged weeks at camp in the Berkshires, Lane described the yearlong process to become one of the six YEA finalists in DC. He praised his mentors, including Dave Behar, a business development expert and CEO of Ion Network, and Lane’s dad Paul, who manages west coast operations for Lennox Advisors.
“My dad is in finance and he’s my role model,” Lane said. “He’s worked hard to get where he is today, and I see how he helps his clients, and how he gets to mentor people. I hope some day I’ll get to help other people get their businesses off the ground.”
Lane said the hardest part of the YEA project was creating his business plan.
“It was a lot of numbers, projections, graphs – it was hard, especially because it’s a ‘freemium’ product,” he said. Freemium refers to products like apps that are distributed for free and produce revenue in the course of their functions.
Lane said his app will get a boost from common core education, which “will make students study the same things nationwide,” increasing the desirability of songs in the Study Sense song garage.
“This is definitely the furthest I’ve taken an idea that I’ve had,” Lane said. “I just started in September. My family is committed to helping me.”
The seed of the Study Senses idea was planted when Lane was studying a foreign language in school.
“My Spanish teacher’s husband wrote some ditties to help us with conjugations, like ‘one little, two little, three little Indians.’ It helped me remember it. And I thought about how for each class, how much easier that would be, how helpful that would be,” Lane said.
“There should be an app for that,” he said.
As a young person wanting to start a company, Lane is far from alone. Two-thirds of millennials 18 to 34 want to start their own businesses, while only 13 percent see themselves rising to CEO or president of someone else’s company, according to a survey commissioned last year by the Boston-area business school Bentley University.
Other research casts doubt on the follow-through and success rates of youthful entrepreneurs, but Lane defies the negative statistics with his commitment to his business and his early success.
“I was blown away with his commitment,” Jeannie said. “I was blown away that he won [the local YEA contest at Trump National Golf Club], I was blown away that he won [the regional contest] in Phoenix. In DC I couldn’t believe it was real. I was in shock.”
She said the timing of summer camp couldn’t be better.
“I’m happy he’s handling it so well, and I’m glad he’s getting a little break,” she said. “He’ll be back at it full force in August.”
Lane, who plays hockey with the Los Angeles Junior Kings Hockey Club in El Segundo, is “an A-B student” but “not tippy-top of his class,” Jeannie said.
She praised the YEA contest program as “a real business class, entrepreneurship 101.”
As his phone interview wound down, the young entrepreneur made his one and only point of emphasis.
“Can you include one other thing,” he asked. “If someone wants to contact Study Senses it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s the email.”