John Xie is no stranger to bootstrapping. In 2003, with virtually no budget, Xie launched Cirtex, a Web hosting service. Since founding the site at age 13, Cirtex now hosts more than 100,000 websites around the world and, in Xie's words, has become "very profitable."
Now a senior at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, Xie is applying that same philosophy to Min.us, an online sharing platform he founded in September 2010 with zero funding.
The origin of Min.us is part savvy business, part serendipity. On a whim, Xie traveled to Boston on a cool September evening to attend a networking dinner with fellow entrepreneurs. "I rarely go to these things," Xie says. "It was totally random." Xie had a great time and ended up seated next to Carl Hu, a software engineer. The pair hit it off, and agreed to work on a project together.
Within a month, Min.us was launched. Within five months, nearly one million users had shared files on the site, and Xie began fielding interest from investors.
"We just wanted to try out a project and see how it goes," Xie says. "That was Min.us. We didn't expect the sudden take-off, and we didn't expect people to talk about us. It was very spontaneous."
Xie's philosophy is that sharing should be universal, and the purpose of Min.us was to eliminate any unnecessary or awkward features that making sharing files difficult. The site, which is a mostly-blank screen, operates with ease: photos, videos, and text documents can be dragged from your desktop onto the screen and then shared by a link generated in the browser. Xie says he and Hu wanted a tool that everyone could use—a site even their grandparents could comfortably return to after one demonstration.
"My take was that sharing is built into us since we were little kids, and that's why Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are so successful," Xie says. "Why not create a platform of sharing literally anything with simplicity, minimalism, and speed?"
Operated out of his room, Min.us has climbed to the top 2,000 websites in terms of traffic in the United States. Though the site has found instant popularity, Xie and Hu are reluctant to monetize Min.us until they've perfected their product. In less than a month, they plan to launch an iPhone and iPad app at South by Southwest.