Dreaming Big Pays Off
Computer science student turned entrepreneur Drake Rehfeld is flying high with five ventures under his belt before he’s even graduated—but it didn’t happen without hard work.
Drake Rehfeld’s mantra for success: Sprint as hard as you can towards the shiniest thing in front of you. When you get there, stop and reevaluate. Then, find the next impactful thing and sprint towards that. He calls it the “sprint and reevaluate cycle.”
“I’ve taken bigger and bigger risks as time has gone on and, generally, it’s paid off,” said Rehfeld, a Glendora, CA, native who graduates May 10 with a B.Sc. in computer science and business administration.
“I guess it’s in contrast to the traditional idea of setting a goal after graduation and chipping away at it over years or decades.”
“I’ve taken bigger and bigger risks as time has gone on and, generally, it’s paid off.”
And, so far it’s been working out for him.
At 22 years old, Rehfeld has already chalked up an impressive resume that includes launching a ticketing business for high school events; becoming one of Snapchat’s youngest ever hires, and co-founding a startup—a venture-capital-backed influencer marketplace—with three fellow USC students.
It all started in freshman year when Rehfeld joined Lavalab, USC’s product incubator club. In 2016, he served as the club’s managing director for a year.
“That experience taught me not only how to build products, but how to be a product thinker outside of being just a coder,” said Rehfeld.
The same year, he landed a job at Snapchat, working on machine learning and computer vision projects. He describes this time as exhilarating but exhausting: working full-time in Venice, while also taking morning and night classes at USC’s University Park Campus.
“There was one semester where I got about four hours of sleep on average,” said Rehfeld. “It was really tough, but I knew it was a great opportunity that I didn’t want to give up, but I still wanted to finish my degree, so I had to just buckle up and deal with it.”
He followed Snapchat with a stint at Team 10, a social media incubator founded by YouTube mogul Jake Paul. This experience provided inspiration for his first bonafide startup, e-commerce app Demeanor.co, launched in 2018.
Rehfeld co-founded the platform with USC Viterbi students Alexander Pareto and Zachary Denham, who also graduate in May, and Jackson Berry, a student from USC’s Iovine Young Academy.
“We’d already done projects together and knew our work styles merged well,” said Rehfeld.
In 2018, Demeanor.co, which allows social media influencers to interact with their fans in a more authentic way, was one of 100 companies selected by the famed Silicon Valley startup accelerator Y-Combinator for an intensive three-month cohort program.
“It’s like you’re in the barrel of a gun, shooting towards a target, which is demo day three to four months later when you have to stand up in front of the investors and pitch for the seed money,” said Rehfeld.
The team succeeded, securing $120,000 seed funding to take their startup to the next level. Rehfeld has since been working full-time as the company’s product manager while completing his final courses.
For those who know him, Rehfeld’s success comes as no surprise.
“Drake has an innate product sense,” said Abha Nath, a USC Viterbi alumna (’15) and investment associate who met Rehfeld four years ago through Lavalab.
“He has a knack for identifying which products will succeed and a gift for leading teams to then build that product. I’m always surprised when I remember he’s only 22—he has a maturity and a vast spread of knowledge that supersedes his age.”
But, of course, success also doesn’t come without a ton of hard work. As a young entrepreneur, that means managing the stress and pressure at an early age.
“There’s an emotional pull, even when you’re starting a company with friends who are great at their jobs,” said Rehfeld.
“It’s hard to be responsible for things like investors’ money and an office building lease—in terms of stress, those little things can add up. It’s been a real growing experience.”
What got him through it? For Rehfeld, the secret to success is working with good people.
“They say you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with—it sounds cheesy, but I think it’s true,” said Rehfeld. And he credits USC with helping him make those connections.
“For one, meeting these incredible co-founders and colleagues was fostered by the organizations that USC Viterbi has prioritized and continues to support. There is also a USC alumni bond, which I’ve seen in my day-to-day work. Of course, it’s up to the student to hustle as well. But if you do it with conviction, you’ll make it happen.”
By Caitlin Dawson