Aurora college student has knack for startups
Wilbur You always had the kind of entrepreneurial drive that is nearly impossible to rein in, even after it almost landed him in big trouble when he was just 10 years old.
Wilbur, now 22, is the CEO and founder of the creative ad agency Youtech & Associates in Naperville -- the third startup business he's launched in three years, all while managing a full course load at Northern Illinois University. He will be graduating in May with a degree in computer science.
"I'm not just here to walk through my life and not do anything, and just work," the Aurora resident said. "I want to do something that changes the world, or has a huge effect."
His first business venture at age 10, however, got a quick ax from his parents.
Wilbur figured out how to access an online video game for free. Soon he not only had scores of other online players playing for free with him, but he also was making money selling them customized game features.
"When we found out what he was doing, we made him get offline, and we banned him from the computer for several months," said his father, Mark Stanek. "We kind of figured, 'It's gotta be illegal.'"
These days, business for him is all on the up-and-up, Wilbur says.
Youtech & Associates occupies a small, two-room office perched atop a computer repair store in downtown Naperville. The company started last summer in the basement of Wilbur's parents' home, where he lives, and moved into the office space in November.
Youtech has two employees, creative director Shawn Herrick, who also is Wilbur's best friend since childhood, and technology director Frank Hilgers, whose son is another of Wilbur's friends.
The company's philosophy is "simple is better," Wilbur said.
"Back in the day, websites used to be so crowded, so busy," he said. "Now people don't like to go on a website to read pages and pages of information -- they just want to get to the point."
The company has about 40 to 50 clients, Wilbur said. If all goes according to plan, he added, Youtech will hire more staff in next few months and move into a bigger office in downtown Naperville.
The business is indeed going well -- almost surprisingly well, said Hilgers, who took a 60 percent cut from his previous job's salary to work for Youtech.
"I like Wilbur. I like his energy, his attitude, his enthusiasm," he said. "I said, 'If we're going to do it, let's just do it -- everything in.'"
The atmosphere of camaraderie coupled with serious work is a great combination, Hilgers said. "It's a lot of fun working here. It's a lot of pressure, but fun, which takes a lot of the pressure off."
"It has picked up really fast, real quick within the last eight months," he said. "When we started out it was rough, but it's something we pushed through."
Growing up, everyone knew Wilbur would be a leader some day, Herrick said.
"He planned everything in high school," he said. "His destiny is to lead."
Among Youtech's clients is Phil Marrone, of Philip+Rae & Associates in Naperville, who said he had no hesitation about hiring such a young firm.
"(Wilbur is) a true entrepreneur willing to take risks and create jobs," Marrone said. "We need more Wilburs."
Marrone said he met Wilbur after the young businessman did work for Marrone's brother.
"I was impressed with his abilities and his quick understanding of the project, and vision for the end result," Marrone said.
Wilbur, a 2009 graduate of Waubonsie Valley High School, attributes much of his success to his well-rounded upbringing.
He was raised by his mother, Hong Stanek, who is of Chinese descent, and his adoptive father Mark Stanek, after his birth father died when he was 2. He has a younger brother, Justin, 12.
Mark Stanek was his "No. 1 fan" and taught him to play baseball, basketball and football, while his mother instilled in him the value of education and insisted on piano lessons, Wilbur said.
"My mom always would say, 'You weren't brought here to be (just) someone else in this country. You were brought here to make something of yourself,'" he said.
"Chinese culture is more strict, but my dad's culture is not as strict," he said. "I got the best of both worlds."
At age 18, Wilbur launched a marketing website designed to sell ad space.
"It required a lot more money, and higher advanced technology than we could build," he said.
In 2010, he started Youchers, a suburban deal website along the lines of Groupon. It was successful initially but ran into problems, mostly due to lack of startup capital, and folded after a year, he said.
After that, Wilbur said, he decided he needed to learn firsthand about business operations. He got a job in marketing for American Invsco, a condominium development company in downtown Chicago, where he worked for a year, spending three days a week in Chicago and two days in class in DeKalb.
Despite the juggling act, he never was tempted to go to school part time.
"That's still my main priority. At the end of the day, my family stresses education," he said. "I liked the busy schedule. The busier I get, the more productive I am."
Mark Stanek admits he's worried over the years as Wilbur's first businesses didn't pan out. But he's optimistic about Youtech.
"I'm happy for him. He's one that doesn't really want to work for somebody else," he said. "He wanted to go on his own and try to build a business for himself. I tip my hat to him."
Wilbur's former high school teacher Christine Bell remembers him as always energetic and positive.
"There are kids that are going to be successful in no matter what they do, you get that vibe," said Bell, who now teaches at Naperville Central High School. "And you see that in Wilbur."
Since starting college Wilbur has been as a guest speaker in Bell's marketing class several times. He really engaged her students with his enthusiasm and honesty, including about past mistakes, she said.
"(Students) see that 'if I do this, I can get that too.' They see it's reachable, it's attainable."
One of her students was hired as an intern at Youtech, Bell added.
Wilbur said his long-term plan is to open up a Youtech division in San Diego, and ideally spend winters there.
"Eventually, I want to have an agency with camera team, a photography team, a printing press," he said. "I want a huge marketing agency."
• Elena Ferrarin wrote today's column. She and Kimberly Pohl always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to email@example.com or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.
Wilbur YouAge: 22
School: Northern Illinois University
Who inspires you? My grandpa Zhu Xiang Wang. He was a nuclear scientist from China, and he came here to work at Fermilab. He's the smartest man I know. Even to this day, he can outdo me in calculus.
What's on your iPod? Everything. I listen to hip-hop, rock, even country.
What book are you reading? I recently finished "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson.
The three words that best describe you? Motivated. Humble. Happy.