A 16-Year-Old Is Becoming Mobile Ad Star By Telling Companies What They're Doing Wrong

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ash Bhat 16 kiip

Ash Bhat

Sixteen-year-old Ash Bhat's parents are terrified that he is going to drop out of school.

It's not drugs or bad grades that's afflicting the rising high school junior. Ash is just really, really good at programming.

In fact, the San Jose native won a full scholarship to Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which sold out in two minutes in April, and a summer job at Kiip, one of the hottest mobile advertising startups in the Valley, by telling the companies what they're doing wrong.

Kiip's Brian Spittler told Business Insider that the company hired Ash "after he discovered a bug in one of our codes that was allowing him to redeem unlimited rewards." (Kiip provides users with rewards during natural pauses in mobile games, essentially incentivizing ad clicks with treats.)

"I exploited it for a little bit, but then I thought there might be a consequence," Bhat said. So he emailed Kiip's CTO along with a video documenting the program error.

That was in February, which Ash defines as his "breakthrough" month when he started dominating hackathons and getting public attention. He was offered an internship paying thousands of dollars shortly after.

Although Kiip's wunderkind founder Brian Wong is only 22 — "I've been able to connect with Brian pretty well, he knows what it's like," Ash said — the next youngest intern is a college junior at Berkeley. 

"I'm the youngest by far," Ash said.

He got a scholarship to the highly anticipated WWDC in a similar manner.

"I told [Apple] Siri sucks, you shouldn't make it so users have to touch [a button] to talk to it," he said. So Ash created and submitted an app that allows people to navigate iOS with only voice commands, using a software that is always listening as opposed to being turned on with a click.

Ash started programming as part of a (successful) attempt to convince his parents to buy him a MacBook Pro.

"They said it was $2,000, we aren't getting it for you," Ash said, so he decided to make some apps to convince them it would be a good investment. "I originally thought it was something I would do once or twice and then just keep the Macbook," but Ash was quickly hooked.

He got his first paycheck for a couple hundred dollars from Apple for an app called iSchoolerz, which creates customized mobile apps for different schools, as a 14-year-old. The app is now used by 16,000 students and is run by three people, Ash and some friends.

Ash also applied for a Y-Combinator, but co-founder Paul Graham personally reached out to him.

"He said I was way too young to drop out of high school," Ash said. "Paul started talking about a hand gliding analogy that while you're getting an education you are reaching more and more paths ... I didn't really agree with that, you can always learn if you drop out."

Ash says his parents, however, are adamant that he stay in school.

"My mom is the biggest advocate of education," Ash said. "I went to a hackathon without their permission the other day, that I won actually, and she went crazy."

The young programmer, who is currently writing code that is already getting used by developers and immediately impacting the company, is probably heading back to high school in Fall.

But Kiip told us, " we definitely want to keep him on board after the summer."



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