College Game Plan

Built In a UPenn Dorm, ThirdEye Helps the Visually Impaired ‘See’

In an as-told-to essay for College Game Plan, Rajat Bhageria, co-founder of ThirdEye Technologies, reveals what he learned navigating the business development process as a student. ThirdEye's app identifies objects near a user, then reads out a description of the item. ThirdEye was recently acquired by The Blind Guide.

The CEO: Rajat Bhageria, co-founder of ThirdEye

School: University of Pennsylvania

My dorm room pitch

We’ve all heard the stories of Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. All these founders who started college, then dropped out and built companies that ended up defining people's lives.

Rather than follow the ideology that you have to drop out to start a company, I think ThirdEye shows that’s not necessarily true.

We've always believed college is the best time to start a company, because resources on campus are available to you. We built a product — from our dorm rooms — that hundreds of visually impaired people all over the world are using on a daily basis, without dropping out, and without taking any risks at all.

How I juggled school and starting a business

I definitely didn’t have the stereotypical freshmen college experience. I didn’t do the things that most of my peers were doing. But it was a great exercise in learning how to prioritize what matters to me.

Obviously building ThirdEye into something that actually made a difference had a hierarchy. What’s really cool is that I kind of structured my course work and life around that goal. My social life wasn’t going to fraternity parties and going out with friends, but rather having lunch and dinners with interesting entrepreneurs, or interesting people building cool stuff. I'd pick their brains about how they do what they do.

The courses I took were tailored so that they were central to what I was doing with ThirdEye. It was really cool figuring out how to kill two birds with one stone.

The mentors I look up to

On campus, there are professors I’m always working with. Off campus, I have entrepreneurs who aren’t mentors, but rather friends I can call or text and grab coffee with.

More accurately, my support group has always been people I haven’t actually met, but who mentor me from a distance. The two figures I point to, and are definitely cliche but very personal to me, are Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. I would throw Winston Churchill into that group as well, with his quote, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” The way they lived their lives helped inspire the way I built ThirdEye, and I hope to continue that in my later companies.

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My ultimate life goal

I think I’ve figured out I want to build a 100-year company. Something that lasts for a long time. I want to build a beautiful organization of people who come in every single day feeling as though they’re having a significant impact on the world. It’s kind of like a family. At the end of the day, I want to build products that really make an impact.

What I would tell my high school self

I was doing science fair projects in high school, which is very different from startups, but you have to learn how to sell yourself. How do you perceive yourself as a really smart person? It’s more about the perception than it is about the thing. Learning how to do that was something I learned from science fairs.

For any high school student, it can be extremely valuable to work on some sort of project where you have to take an idea in your head which you know nothing about. You're forced to figure out how to solve the problem, ask for advice, read books all day, and then learn how to do everything else, from the science, to the legal, to building a team. Taking something in your head and making it into a reality; that’s by the far the best education you can get.