Most recent high school grads will be heading off for their first semester of college this fall, but not Spencer Costanzo.
As president of Malibu Apps, a successful app developing company, Costanzo will be spending that time continuing his business and traveling the world.
Costanzo, 18, graduated from Princeton High School in June. He has spent the summer traveling to Italy, Switzerland and California. Soon he will be off to New Zealand, Australia and Fiji.
That’s a far cry from the usual post-high school experience.
“Friends’ parents say, ‘Oh, you’ll go to college eventually,’” Costanzo said. “And I say, ‘No, I’m really not going.’ Everyone’s very supportive of it.”
He owes his success and independence to his company, which is all a product of his own self-education. Costanzo’s philosophy can be summed up with one of his favorite quotes from famed entrepreneur Jim Rohn: “A formal education will make you a living; self education will make you a fortune.”
Costanzo followed that motto in June 2011 when he started up Malibu Apps. His first app ideas were quickly approved by Apple.
“My first five or so apps went through review with no problems and were approved on the first try. In the past year though, they’ve become much more strict,” he said.
It’s not always easy. An app Spencer is currently working on has been rejected six times.
“Imagine spending thousands of dollars and weeks creating one app just to have it rejected for trivial reasons,” Costanzo said.
His first successful apps were video game guides and tutorials, for games like Minecraft, which he said are still strong sellers. Costanzo was cagey about revealing details about his products, but said his best seller is in the Top 1 percent in its category. All told, he said, Malibu Apps has seven apps that are in their category top 200.
Costanzo now finds himself managing six employees. Once he has an idea he works with his content developers, graphic designer and iOS developers who do the coding and create icons and logos.
“I send [the developers] specific instructions on functionality, user interface design, graphics from the designer, and the content, and they make it into an app,” Costanzo said.
Costanzo’s company also designs and publishes eBooks. For that, Costanzo hires freelance writers to come up with content. One popular eBook offers recipes and tips for making cake pops, which Costanzo realized were trending worldwide.
Costanzo’s sale charts are going straight up. During last year’s holiday season, he had eight apps. Now he has 40 and said he is expecting a big boom. With sales on iTunes up 10 times what they were last year, it sounds like he might be right.
To get this kind of success, Costanzo spends his days reading business books and teaching himself about mobile apps. He currently spends 40 hours a week coordinating his employees, who are as far away as Indonesia and China. He also does a lot of research to figure out the current trends so he can create the next great app or eBook.
The rest of his time is spent on Twitter.
“The greatest tool for news and for figuring out what’s going on, like the trends in technology, is Twitter. I follow almost 500 people. Those are the top business leaders and people in my app niche and eBooks. I learn everything there,” he said.
Costanzo’s parents, Lorrie and Frank, said they always knew that their son appreciated a different way of learning. They say Costanzo caught the entrepreneurial bug at a young age.
Lorrie says that her first hint was during summer camp when Costanzo was 11. She said he noticed a problem with the camp’s snack bar, stating it closed too early and left a lot of kids without food. He quickly noticed a niche he could capitalize on.
The next summer Costanzo went to camp with a packed suitcase full of chips and sodas that he sold to campers.
And before that, Lorrie says, her son built an online T-shirt business that was successful among his friends. But Lorrie and Frank admit they didn’t know until recently that he could make a living off this skill and not go to college.
Costanzo says he sat his family down this past spring, after being accepted to a Canadian university, and broke the news. He said that he didn’t want to waste his time and money learning English and history and math, but instead wanted to teach himself business.
“I think we were shocked when he said he didn’t want to go to college, but when I gave him permission not to, that was the happiest moment of his life,” Lorrie said.
As a family, the Costanzo’s decided that Spencer’s business was successful enough that he wouldn’t have to attend college.
“They were confident enough that I could create my own jobs in the future to support myself,” Costanzo said. “They’ve always said I can do whatever I want.”
Lorrie now thinks that college would actually hold her son back from his true potential.
“I couldn’t be happier with the path that he chose. College just isn’t for everyone,” Lorrie said. “You have to follow your dream and your passion.”
Once the college issue was settled, Lorrie says she moved onto a new concern.
“You worry that a kid who is 18 and making a lot of money and they’re running a business and they’re not going to college that they’d become self-centered, but he isn’t,” she said. “One of the things that came out of this is generosity. He’s been donating money to things he feels are important.”
With his family’s support, Costanzo has been able to delve into his love of learning. It’s gotten him to a place of success that’s not typical for someone his age, much less someone twice his age.
“I’m extremely happy for Spencer, but the truth is that his success isn’t typical,” said Pat Flynn, founder of smartpassiveincome.com, where Costanzo has learned many tricks of the trade. “Not everyone who attempts to build an online business and generate passive income will succeed.”
“It takes a certain amount of skill, which can be learned, and a lot of hard work, patience, trial and error, but not everyone is determined to learn what they need to learn and fight through all the failures,” he said.
Flynn said that if you are going to have this type of success, you have to believe in yourself.
Lorrie says that is also the family motto. She says you have to keep failing until you succeed and hope it all works out in the end.