Ridgefield grads team up for tech startup Halfpast
RIDGEFIELD — When John Thompson started working on other people’s computers he was a sophomore at Ridgefield High School with very little business acumen.
When he graduates from Georgia Tech in two years, he hopes to enjoy the freedom of being his own boss.
That’s because he’s transformed Ridgefield Top Tier Tech from a small, local company into to tech startup that stretches across multiple states.
“The big surprise was our original success — we never were thinking this would be a tech startup,” said Thompson, who started Ridgefield Top Tier Tech with fellow RHS grad Brendon Agliardo.
The business has since been branded as Halfpast and has added a third founding member — Zach Panzarino, who attends Georgia Tech with Thomspon. The goal has shifted from solving clients’ tech needs to training students, like themselves, how to fix software problems and connecting them to customers.
“We got a lot of exposure and experience in Ridgefield,” Thompson recalled. “We had about 100 clients when we left for college. When we went back to trying to serve them all last summer — the first summer we were back from college, it had become obvious that it would be hard to keep up this business model across statelines.”
Thompson and Agliardo, who attends the University of Maryland, decided it was time to expand and give other students the opportunity to gain entrepreneurial, social, and technological experience the same way they had in Ridgefield.
“The question became, can we expand beyond Ridgefield and make it work elsewhere?” Thompson said.
Thompson and Panzarino were fortunate enough to gain $20,000 in seed funding through Georgia Tech — money they would apply to teaching students in both Fairfield County and Atlanta and building an app that would match them with customers who needed help.
“We have one high school student in Trumbull and two others in Fairfield County that have been trained and will test out our website and our app this summer, along with 10-15 customers who will all be our beta testers,” Thomspon said. “... We’ve spent the better part of the year building Halfpast and getting it ready for production. It’s exciting that we’re coming into the real thing.”
While the young entrepreneurs can train students in how to remove a virus from a computer and interact with customers, Thomspon believes that experience in the field is the best way to learn.
“The students we’ve brought on board come with us on jobs two or three times and then we let them go from there,” he said. “It’s our preference for them to gain that experience in the field and learn on their own. We get feedback from the customers so we can track how they did rather than be constantly looking over their shoulders.”
Halfpast wasn’t always going to be Thompson’s tech startup.
He and Panzarino had other ideas when they were offered the funding support from Georgia Tech earlier in the year.
“We experimented with several apps,” said Thompson, a computer science major. “One was a note-taking app for students and another was a business intelligence tool and tracker.”
The business tracking tool, which focused on auto-scheduling to create stronger performance at work, was what eventually inspired Halfpast.
“We ultimately chose to expand upon the high school model that was proven,” Thomspon said. “But Halfpast — at least in name — came from that other idea. We pivoted away from machine learning and scheduling and into student training, technology and customer service... The name Halfpast deals with punctuality, which is important to us. We thought it still fit who we were and what we were trying to do.”
Panzarino, who is originally from New Jersey, is running Halfpast’s business in Atlanta this summer.
“It depends where people are,” Thomspson explained. “Brendon and I are back here training students and Zach, who has less of a background with technology repairs, is training students but focusing more on growing the business and making it viable long term...
“Once we have the model established, it can be expanded anywhere in the nation,” he added. “Theoretically, we could bring in jobs to students living in cities like San Fransisco.”
Content for now
While growth is the ultimate goal, Thomspon said Halfpast is still in its infancy and that it’s important to roll things out methodically.
“We’re going to stay where we are physically for now,” he said.
Students working for Halfpast will be able to solve problems pertaining to iPhones and laptops, computer viruses, software setup, email and apps, and printers.
“We won’t be covering too much of the hardware stuff,” Thompson said. “It can be challenging to teach.”
The Halfpast app allows students to receive payments, find clients, and schedule jobs.
For customers, bookings can be done on the website.
“We’re working on the app for customers — it should be ready in the next few weeks,” Thompson said.
“We’re going to be pushing out both this summer.”
North to south
Thompson admits that it’s been an interesting journey going from Connecticut to Georgia.
“Going through our high school experience in Ridgefield to where we are now in college in this big city, it’s pretty incredible,” he said. “... Back in high school, we started out with zero. No experience in business or working with people. We got out of our comfort zone and we were able to make customers happy. It’s an experience we want to give to kids now...
“We wouldn’t be here without that high school experience.”
Thompson knows what will be his biggest challenge as he looks ahead to the possibility of graduating in 2021 and being his own boss right out of school.
“Keeping myself accountable and taking initiative,” he said. “It’s scary going into pitch meetings but that’s why were working hard at this ... we want to get into those rooms and have those conversations. We don’t get there without setting deadlines and getting stuff done on time...
“We want to take this thing as far as it can go and we’re just grateful to have the opportunity to keep working on it.”
For information on Halfpast, visit halfpast.io.