Howdy, my name is Stephen Dafeng Ou!

In 2008, I moved from China to the U.S. at the age of 13. After teaching myself English, I've built a successful online business comprised of 8 popular web apps and worked as a programmer for companies worldwide. I spoke at TEDx about young entrepreneurship. When I'm not working, I am a photographer, cyclist, sports fan and mathemagician. Currently, I am a freshman at Stanford University.

As seen in...

iTunes Instant

  • What is it? iTunes Instant is a web-based instant search engine for iTunes.
  • Why built it? To speed up and clean up iTunes search through a web interface.
  • How successful? 400,000 visitors to date; 2.6 million search results served.
  • What technology? PHP (CodeIgniter), JavaScript (jQuery), iTunes API.
  • Anything else? It is my most popular and profitable app by far!

Press Mentions

Artsy Editor

  • What is it? Artsy Editor is a premium WYSIWYG editor for WordPress.
  • Why built it? To provide a better writing experience for WordPress users.
  • How successful? Profitable since day 1; Still generating passive income daily.
  • What technology? PHP, JavaScript, WordPress, Object-Oriented Programming.
  • Anything else? I learned a great deal about marketing and customer support!

Press Mentions

TwtRoulette

  • What is it? TwtRoulette lets you look at other Twitter user's home timeline.
  • Why built it? To discover interesting people to follow and connect with them.
  • How successful? 10k users joined, including Ashton Kutcher and Robert Scoble.
  • What technology? PHP (CodeIgniter), JavaScript (jQuery), Twitter API, OAuth.
  • Anything else? Investor Shervin Pishevar pitched the idea to me and I built it!

Press Mentions

ACPark.org

  • What is it? ACPark.org is a park and recreation finder for Alameda County.
  • Why built it? To easily find locations and features of local parks on a map.
  • How successful? Got 2nd place and received $1,500 at the County Hackathon.
  • What technology? JavaScript (jQuery), HTML5 Location, Google Maps API.
  • Anything else? Beat 21 teams of adult developers to win the 2nd place award!

Press Mentions

NeedNumbers.me

  • What is it? NeedNumbers.me imports Facebook contacts to your phone quickly.
  • Why built it? To eliminate the process of manually typing numbers into a phone.
  • How successful? 9000 users in less than a week; viral among Facebook users.
  • What technology? PHP (CodeIgniter), vCards, Facebook API, OAuth.
  • Anything else? With the app, what used to take 30 mins can be done in 30 secs!

Press Mentions

SocialBusinessCard.me

  • What is it? SocialBusinessCard.me converts your social profiles into business cards.
  • Why built it? To provide unique business card designs with people's own identities.
  • How successful? Users said it was the most clever idea they have ever seen.
  • What technology? PHP, Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn API, OAuth, HTML5 Canvas.
  • Anything else? I built the app in 8 hours and made a timelapse video of the process!

Press Mentions

OhBoard

  • What is it? OhBoard is an interactive whiteboard app in Google Chrome.
  • Why built it? To easily sketch mockups and create wireframes in the browser.
  • How successful? Helped 200 designers, developers, marketers to jog down ideas.
  • What technology? JavaScript (jQuery), HTML5 Canvas, HTML5 Local Storage.
  • Anything else? It was one of the first apps on the Chrome Web Store platform!

Press Mentions

OneExtraLap

  • What is it? OneExtraLap lets you take/create quizzes while competing with friends.
  • Why built it? To help people gain knowledge and have fun at the same time.
  • How successful? Spent 8 months building it and got few hundred signups.
  • What technology? PHP (CodeIgniter), JavaScript (jQuery), Twitter/Facebook API.
  • Anything else? It was my playground when I first started learning how to code!

Press Mentions

Warner Music Australia

I built an a system for Warner Music Australia that automates their sales analysis and reporting process.

Warner Music Asia-Pacific

I extended the system to fit the multi-currency and visualization needs of Warner Music Asia-Pacific.

Alameda County

I worked at Alameda County to make an app for shuttle riders to view time estimates, route maps, schedules.

Pat Flynn

I developed a WordPress plugin for searching through a company directory for Pat's niche site network.

Envato / WP Tuts+

I wrote a series of articles on WordPress theme and plugin marketing for WPTuts+ on the Envato network.

App of the Day

I made a version of App Store instant search for App of the Day, a popular iOS application discovery network.

Lanvie Apparel

I created a full-featured warehouse management and invoice processing system for a local apparel business.

eBroadcast

I devised an algorithm to process and display eBroadcast's TV guide, the No.1 provider in Australia.

Teens In Tech

I served as the lead developer for Teens In Tech, a global network for inspiring young entrepreneurs.

Endorsements from Clients

"I am happy with the reporting application Stephen has developed for our users across Asia. Aside from delivering an application that met our requirements within budget and schedule, Stephen also provided prompt technical support throughout the rollout period competently."

David Wong, Operating Director of Warner Music Asia-Pacific

"Stephen's exceptional skill-set has enabled eBroadcast to offer its users a state-of-the-art user interface with exceptionally quick search features. His ability to think outside the square is complimented by his excellent development and implementation expertise."

Glen Murphy, Managing Director of eBroadcast

"Stephen brought new energy to the team with his 'can do' attitude and his ability to think differently to deliver a solution that would benefit all county employees and residents."

Tim Dupuis, Director of Alameda County Information Technology Department

"Stephen may be a little younger than me, but he's definitely someone I look up to. He's an extremely gifted person and anyone in the world would be lucky to work with him, as I was."

Pat Flynn, Founder of Smart Passive Income

I'm currently not available for freelance work, but I can refer you to a developer!

Web.AppStorm

You've already shipped an incredible number of products. How do you get ideas for your projects?

It's a simple 3-step process. 1. Pay close attention to things around you and find problems that annoy you. 2. Create the best solution to solve those problems. 3. Look for people with the same problems and promote your solution to them.

Double Your Freelancing Rate

What rate did you start out at? And what's the highest you've charged?

The first time I put out a price tag, it was $50 per hour. I pretty set that rate because I saw a post (I think it was on FreelanceSwitch) recommending the starting rate to be $50. At the peak, I charged $125 per hour for some specialized work. My public rate is $95 per hour.

A New Take

What are your long-term aspirations? What are your next steps?

It's my long-term goal to build a low-maintenance, high-return online business, whether it's a web app, a mobile app, an info product, a class, or all of them combined. I want to live comfortably while building something that solves a problem well and customers will pay for.

Doers

What advice can you give to other young entrepreneurs?

Marketing > coding. It is how businesses had been run for centuries, but it seems to change in the tech industry. If you want your business to be successful, you need to focus on marketing first. You need to communicate with customers. You need to generate leads. You need to get your pricing right.

SideProject Book

What advice would you give to a developer that is just about to begin a side project?

Focus on solving a real problem for people. There are so many misconceptions out there that you should always buy a domain and start writing code right away when you have an idea. From my experience, that never works. The process of idea validation is crucial to the idea's future success.

IdeaMensch

How do you bring ideas to life?

First, I validate the idea. I believe it's stupid to write a line of code without having someone willing to pay for it. Then I go to a whiteboard to sketch the idea. I plan out how each screen looks like, how they connect to each other, and improve them until they make sense. Then I'll go on a coding period when I write all the code as fast as possible.

The Startup Project

What is the most valuable thing you've learnt from the time you've been running startups?

Make your creations really good so that people want to talk about them. This is very powerful. When I made iTunes Instant, because people enjoyed it so much, they told their friends and blogged about it. And from this kind of word of mouth, it became insanely popular in short amount of time.

Raising CEO Kids

What have been the best surprises that you found in starting your business?

I found out recently that you don't have to be big to be successful. The common notion is you have to have a $xx millions company with #xxx employees to be successful. But that's not true. I will consider myself successful when I make $10k/month from a simple one-man lifestyle business.

Sawyer Speaks

What was your first entrepreneurial endeavor?

My first entrepreneurial endeavor is OneExtraLap. I started around November 2009. It was treated mainly as an experiment. It came along pretty well. Our small buy loyal group of users loved it. I just kept on developing what users requested, and at the same time, learning more and more about the world of programming and marketing.

I'd love to be featured on your blog/magazine/podcast. Get in touch now!

I'm actively looking to speak at business/technology events. Contact me for availability!

Alameda County Tax Calculator Code on Github >>

A web interface for Alameda County residents to view their property taxes.

Cool Shirts Code on Github >>

A mini website that features a list of my cool, nerdy T-shirts.

CVHS.me Code on Github >>

A link shortener that helps CVHS students to get to teacher's web pages faster.

Dice Simulation Code on Github >>

A simulation that outputs a random result and displays probability.

Emoticon Guide for Facebook Code on Github >>

A Chrome extension that shows a list of Facebook's emoticons and their syntax.

Infinitesimal Code on Github >>

A super fast, Dropbox-powered blogging engine that I wrote for my personal blog.

Hacker News Mobile Version Code on Github >>

A mobile interface I created for Hacker News with jQuery Mobile.

MLB Simulation Code on Github >>

A simlulation of an entire Major League Baseball season under my own rules.

SinCosTan.info Code on Github >>

A table of sine, cosine, tangent value of every angle from 0 to 90 degrees.

Statistical Tool Code on Github >>

A tool I created for my Statistics class that calculates mean, median, quartiles, etc.

(This is also my Common Application essay in response to the following prompt: "Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.")


Starting from the Bottom

“It’ll take at least four years for your English to catch up.” The verdict came from the owner of Kittie Land Tutoring Center. Looking out the window to an early September overcast, I prepared myself for an uphill battle ahead.

I came to the U.S. in July 2008, not knowing any spoken English. Eager yet naive, I immediately dreamed about starting a business in the land of entrepreneurship. However, I never realized the difficulty of overcoming the language barrier until the first day of school, when curious students bombarded me with questions like “What’s your name?” and “Where’re you from?” Embarrassingly, I couldn’t answer them, so I sat cluelessly in the last row while immature kids made fun of my thick glasses and outdated T-shirt. To make matters worse, I had no friends who could help me out.

I needed serious assistance. Soon, my family found a tutoring center called Kittie Land. They offered one-on-two English training at a hefty price, but we had no choice. Before we signed the contract, the owner told me, “Even with a daily two-hour session, it’ll take at least four years for your English to catch up.” I promptly activated my mental math machine and figured out how much I’d be spending my parents’ hard-earned money in the next four years. Feeling guilty yet desperate, tears dropped from my eyes for the first time in seven years.

Things didn’t make an upward turn. As the owner accepted more students, I was instead receiving one-on-seven help. Meanwhile, I was still failing every class except for math. Three weeks later, I told myself, “I can prove the fraudulent, incompetent owner wrong. I will learn English by myself, and I will catch up in two years.”

The next day, carrying a yellow notepad with four distinctly-labeled columns - vocabulary, definition, translation, sentence, I started executing my plan right away. I quickly jotted down new vocabulary, at a pace of 30 words per class. When I got home, I opened up translate.google.com and dictionary.com and learned every word’s definition and translation. Then I put the words in context by creating coherent sentences. The following morning, I got to school half an hour early trying to converse with classmates on first-grade topics. After school, I practiced dialogues with teachers without realizing they had lessons to plan.

Despite the awkwardness, mockery, and occasional all-nighters, I was making tremendous progress. In 3 months, my ESL teacher promoted me to the mainstream English class. In 6 months, my writing was evaluated as beyond my grade level. In 12 months, I received Student of the Month award for working diligently to improve English and earning the highest grade in my mainstream English class. In 24 months, I could communicate with anyone without problems. I was no longer the kid who “didn’t speak your language” or “acted differently”. I achieved the goal of catching up my English in two years, half of the time the owner claimed, all without going to her tutoring center.

This journey has fundamentally shaped the way I approach challenges. Without the resourcefulness I acquired through learning English, I wouldn’t have become proficient in four programming languages in two years. Without the independent learning I constantly practiced, I wouldn’t have successfully created and operated eight web applications by myself. Without the confidence I built up trying to become a better speaker, I wouldn’t be brave enough to speak on interviews with KCBS, Inc. Magazine, and The Mercury News about young entrepreneurship.

Steve Jobs spoke accurately in his 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” When I first set foot in the U.S. in 2008, I had no idea what I would become five years later. Looking back now, it’s amazing to see how my dots connect.

For more of my writing, please visit my blog or subscribe via RSS!

  • I was born in Kaiping, a city 150 miles west of Hong Kong known for watchtowers.
  • I am fluent in four (spoken) languages - English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Taishanese.
  • I know the following programming languages: HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript.
  • I have been known for doing mental math quickly, also known as mathemagics.
  • I am an aspiring photographer on the side. My favorites are landscape and portraits.
  • I started the Next Programming Star club/class to help students learn how to code.
  • I love all things business related - marketing, finance, advertisement, UX, pricing.
  • I am a big fan of the gameshow Jeopardy!, but far from being the next Ken Jennings.
  • I donated $35/month to support a child in rural China to attend school for 3 years.
  • I took American Sign Language for 2 years and volunteered in the Deaf community.
  • I was rejected by Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, and Carnegie Mellon.
  • I lurk on /r/AskReddit, /r/IAmA, /r/talesfromtechsupport, /r/pettyrevenge.
  • I am a big fan of maps, and I've been collecting maps since I was 3 years old.
  • I know where Lichtenstein, Monaco, Bhutan, and Djibouti are located.
  • I once tried to re-create all of Chipotle’s recipes, without any success.
  • I play Ping Pong, badminton, and tennis. Any net sports are my friends.
  • I enjoy watching all kinds of sports, NFL to F1, MLB to PGA, NBA to NHL.
  • I have an uncanny ability to watch professional bikers dancing on saddles for hours.
  • I tend to contribute my success to my exceptional resistance to games.
  • I love Apple. My favorite apps are Instapaper, Flow, Coda, 1Password, iAWriter.