Photo: SellRaze co-founders Tyler Ma (left) and Jeff Mao (right).

In March 2023, Jeff Mao and Tyler Ma won first place in the Georgia Tech InVenture Prize with their web-based platform SellRaze, a solution to simplify the online resale listing process. Nearly a year later, I sat down with Jeff and Tyler to talk about life since their big victory, where SellRaze is today, and how winning the competition has shaped the two former roommates as entrepreneurs and tech professionals.

As transfer students who came to Georgia Tech with mighty aspirations, Jeff and Tyler overcame the hurdles of acclimating to a new campus with few connections by plugging into campus events and organizations. They learned about the Idea to Prototype (I2P) program, part of Create-X, from a flyer and began developing the idea that would become SellRaze. At the end of the five-month program, they pitched their idea to a panel of judges in the program Showcase event.

jeff mao and tyler ma
Photo: Jeff Mao (left) and Tyler Ma (right) at the Create-X I2P Showcase in December 2022.

“We weren’t expecting much out of it,” Jeff recalls. “We wanted to experience pitching, so we did it. Then we ended up winning.”

Winning the I2P Showcase ultimately rocketed the team to the InVenture semifinals.

Nicknamed "American Idol for Nerds," InVenture Prize is an Emmy Award-winning, interdisciplinary innovation competition open to all undergraduate students and recent graduates of Georgia Tech. Created in 2009 and organized by Georgia Tech OUE’s Office of Experiential and Engaged Learning (E2L), the competition brings together student innovators from all academic backgrounds across campus to foster creativity, invention, and entrepreneurship. The culminating event is a Shark Tank-style electrifying televised competition.

Tyler remembers seeing a clip from one of the InVenture televised events during FASET, but never imagined being a part of, much less winning it one day.

As first-place winners of the InVenture Prize, Jeff and Tyler received $20,000 and a coveted spot in Georgia Tech’s Create-X Startup Launch program where they gained access to coaching from experienced entrepreneurs, office space, pro-bono legal advice, and, notably, investors. Coming out of Startup Launch, SellRaze gained $560,000 in pre-seed capital as well as another co-founder, Patrick Young.

“[Patrick] has been pretty instrumental to our success,” Jeff says of Patrick.

“I feel like we wouldn’t be where we are without him,” Tyler adds. “He’s a lot more of the operations … [whereas Jeff and I] are always building.”

In November 2023, Jeff and Tyler attended Z Fellows, a week-long startup accelerator in San Francisco, where they and a cohort of attendees met with “unicorn founders”—founders who either started or exited billion-dollar companies—to network and join, as described on the Z Fellows website, a “community for the most determined technical founders”. They describe the week they spent in the Bay area as comparable to winning the InVenture Prize in terms of how it has impacted SellRaze’s success. It’s no wonder the pair see the event as transformative after learning the founder of Z Fellows, Cory Levy, himself became an investor.

In just one year following InVenture, SellRaze has become an incorporated company with eight employees, 600 customers, and $20M in active inventory. So, what’s next?

“Next step—IPO,” Jeff says without blinking. Tyler laughs. “In all honesty, we’re going to continue to work on our app,” Jeff says.

InVenture prize winners
Photo: Jeff and Tyler celebrate taking first place at the 2023 InVenture Prize televised competition.

The mobile app version of SellRaze—best described by its slogan, “Take a Picture, Sell Everywhere”—is expected March 2024. With the help of AI, the app will make it possible for resellers to generate listings for their items on multiple resale sites at once. They anticipate 100,000 downloads and profitability a year after launch. (For anyone else who’s been putting off listing those shoes, you can join the waitlist here.)

“It’s just iterating,” Tyler says of the future of SellRaze, and of himself and Jeff as founders and entrepreneurs. “It’s a rollercoaster, but I think, personally, this is our life now.”

At the beginning of a promising future in the tech industry, Jeff and Tyler occupy a unique space between their lives as students and their lives as businessmen. I asked them what advice they might have for other entrepreneurial students considering the future.

“Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone,” says Jeff.

“FAANG is not the only option!” Tyler adds. For those, like me, who are not familiar with Silicon Valley slang, FAANG stands for Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google.

“I think a lot of entrepreneurial students get discouraged,” Jeff continues, “because they think ‘Oh my idea’s been done before, I don’t know where to start’—[InVenture] is a great place to start.”

The co-founders both agree that their journey from I2P to InVenture Prize and Create-X Startup Launch program provided the mentoring and investment that made it possible to build a business based on their idea, as well as the tools to grow that business into the future.

“You just continue pushing through," Jeff says. "You will succeed in what you’re trying to do. And that applies to everything, not just startups.”

Watch the 2024 InVenture Prize Finals live on March 13, 2024, from 7:30pm – 9:00pm in the Ferst Theater. Get tickets here.