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This tech entrepreneur lost $1 million and made it back before 25

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind

Jessica Mah founded inDinero, a small business services start-up, when she was just 19 years-old and received $1 million in funding by the time she was 20.

This wasn’t too surprising. The tech wiz began programming at 8 years-old, started her first company at 12 and dropped out of high school to take computer science courses at University of California at Berkeley when she was 15. In 2010, TechCrunch wrote that she was, “Perhaps the closest we’ve got to a female Mark Zuckerberg.”

Yet after just one year, her company was on the brink of failure. She was burning through $80,000 a week and couldn’t get along with any of her co-workers. “I overspent, I overhired, I wasn’t focused on generating enough revenue to sustain the business,” says Mah.

inDinero was initially billed as a “Mint.com for small business owners,” but she found that her 30,000 customers didn't feel like the product was worth paying for and only used free services. The company ran through its funding quickly and by the time they were down to their last $150,000 Mah realized she had to make drastic changes. “I feel like I'm Bernie Madoff--rich on the outside, but completely broken on the inside,” she emailed her father. She laid off all but two of her eight employees and moved the company out of its office and into her apartment.

“We regrouped,” says Mah. “And we came up with the idea to do inDinero full-service. So instead of just being software we decided to charge thousands of dollars more but also handle all of the accounting and tax needs for a business.” The rebranding worked—inDinero has grown 2,686% in the past three years and now has four offices around the globe.

“We went from eight employees to no employees near death, near bankruptcy and now we have about 130 full-time team members working at inDinero,” says Mah.

One of the key elements to inDinero’s rebirth? Couples therapy. Last year Mah and cofounder Andy Su, 24 decided to go to marriage therapy to improve their business partnership. The couple has never been in a romantic relationship. “Business partners have conflict sometimes,” she explains. “We yell at each other but we love each other too. Marriage counseling has really helped us figure out how to be better partners for each other.”

It’s been a long journey – and it’s only just begun. Mah is just 25 years-old and plans to continue expanding inDinero. This month she was featured on the cover of Inc. Mag’s 5000 issue, which features the fastest-growing private U.S. companies.