June 1, 2008
When you meet the president of Zinch, after climbing the stairs of a slightly run-down, mid-century shopping center in downtown Provo, entering a debris-filled reception room and being directed to shake the hand of a kid with spiked black hair and the confident shrugginess of a high school quarterback, you’ll probably feel…misdirected. Oh, you’ve probably been in the “offices” of young techie guys before — mostly pizza-box insulated warrens with pathways that lead from the computer cave to the fridge and back — but this is the headquarters of Zinch, the company that may have revolutionized the way colleges find and admit quality students. Where’s the leather sofa? Where’s the veneer? Where’s the friendly assistant who will offer you a refreshing beverage?
There is none of that at Zinch. There are piles of boxes and walls covered with graffiti and a big screen TV (purchased solely for March Madness action). President Mick Hagen, age 23, shares an office with his brother and CEO, Brad. Brad’s friend, Sid Krommenhoek, is the CFO. The average age of the 17-person staff is 28 and they all play Rock Band™ during downtime. But, it could be argued, if you run a company that connects high school students with colleges, it may be that understanding the mind of a teenager is more important than your age or the size of your desk.
“We try to be everywhere the high school student is,” says Hagen, explaining the unique online dynamic of Zinch and how its users interact and communicate with message boards, student blogs and multi-media profiles.
Zinch provides college admissions boards the means to find desirable students they missed in the test score screenings, the students who have expertise and qualities not demonstrated by SATs, et al. Students post profiles and Zinch’s programming helps colleges and universities find those students. It’s like eHarmony meets Monster.com, with students garnering the attention of schools they had never considered — and who had never considered them.
Hagen himself was one of those kids who went unnoticed during the initial college recruitment process. “I was still able to figure out a way to get myself out on the radar,” he says. He was admitted to Princeton in 2005 to study economics and computer science, but he left to start Zinch in September 2006. “I’m the kind of person who is completely fine taking risks,” he says. “I left my education to help others find theirs.”
Hagen is a rare combination of nerd and athlete. As a student at Provo High School, he headed the chess team and won the Utah State Sterling Scholar Award in Computer Science, yet was also captain of the varsity basketball team. He loves to blog and read blogs about both technology and business. This kind of well-roundedness — in others — is what Hagen and Zinch seek to promote.
Zinch currently has more than 500 schools registered and paying for database services, at $2,500 to $10,000, depending on the package. The first big name to sign on was Stanford. More than 400,000 students are online using Zinch and its products to get noticed and get accepted into the school of their dreams. But Hagen has bigger goals. “There are 12 million high school students in this country. It’s such a big thing we are trying to tackle.”