16-Year-Old Entrepreneur Building a Craigslist for Chores

July 27, 2011

11:00 am

For a 16-year-old, Shahed Khan has a lot to brag about: Robert Scoble likes his startup idea and may recommend him to investors; a Y Combinator alumni offered to introduce him to Paul Graham once he has a working demo; and he has spoken with Andrew Warner of Mixergy and Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures.

But Khan isn’t bragging. At a pitch to investors at SPARK Chicago, he didn’t mention any of these connections; he didn’t even mention his age, until a curious judge asked.

“I didn’t know how people were going to react to my age,” Khan explains to me, sporting blue jeans and a white Express t-shirt. Now he knows: TechNexus donated free office space to him; Social Media Monthly offered him a quarter-page ad and a story; and UserVoice may give him free credits for its customer-feedback tools.

Khan started creating a startup called Viatask this weekend at Chicago Startup Weekend, where he met his 17-year-old cofounder, Andrew Chen. Viatask will be a platform where users post chores–buying groceries, mowing the law, or even waiting outside Best Buy on Black Friday–and others complete them for the stated price. It’s like Zaarly–a comparison the SPARK judges brought up and perhaps the reason Viatask didn’t move on to the next round. But Zaarly’s COO Eric Koester apparently told Khan that tasks make up only 5 percent of Zaarly use.

Khan came up with Viatask while watching an episode of Million Dollar Listing where rich, busy clients hired assistants to buy them new homes. A rising junior at Illinois’s Plainfield North High School and a competitive volleyball player, Khan always had a passion for business–he used to sell candy to friends and recently worked on a concept for a movie-rental startup called Muvvio.

But Viatask has the potential to be much more than a concept, if Khan’s attitude is any indication. Besides surviving on just eight hours of sleep last weekend, he is clearly committed.

“I’m not one of those kids that goes out partying and hangs out with girls and does all that teenage crap that kids usually do nowadays,” he says matter-of-factly, preferring to spend his time on the computer discussing and developing ideas. He admires Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky–“how he dropped everything in his life: he dumped his girlfriend, quit his job, and moved in with his buddy and basically started Airbnb.”

Khan is looking for a developer to finish building Viatask and plans to eventually raise funding. If all goes well, he estimates a Chicago launch within a month–an ambitious timeline.

“I’m aiming to make Viatask as successful as possible and make it a household name in Chicago,” says Khan, who would then expand to San Francisco, Boston, and New York. With gelled black hair and dark, intent eyes, Khan is still not bragging, only forward-looking.

“If Viatask is my first successful startup, that would be awesome. Viatask would be four years old by the time I’m 20.” He doesn’t need to say that twice.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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