November 26, 2012 9:12:18 AM
Ross Waycaster said he knew from an early age that he would be working with computers, in some fashion, for the rest of his life. He started building websites at age 12.
Throughout middle school and high school, Waycaster, now 21, was a "go-to guy" for website design for local businesses in Tupelo, and even began getting called out of class in high school to help the district's technology specialists with different problems.
Though the examples of his talents were multiplying, when Waycaster amassed $12,000 in a single month from $0.99 downloads of an iPhone application he developed as a senior at Tupelo High School, even he was surprised.
The application, a simple game that involves a character jumping platform to platform collecting coins, was originally called Super Mario Jump.
"In the first two weeks alone, I got about 10,000 downloads," Waycaster said. "I left it up for a few months and Nintendo never contacted me or anything, but my dad was like, 'You've had a good run with this.'
"So I decided to change it up and added an extra 'r' to Mario in the title and changed up the look of the actual character."
Downloads have trickled since the name change, but Waycaster, a junior at Mississippi State, has earned about $16,000 in total from the app since its release in 2008. There is also at least a small spike, he said, every time Apple releases a new product.
Waycaster said he realizes the name of the app probably prompted a majority of the early downloads, many coming from Japan, and that prior to changing the name, he decided to reactivate the app with the original name, just for a day, just to see what happened. Twenty-four hours later, Waycaster was $1,000 richer.
"That was when I was a freshman up here, I guess," Waycaster said. "I thought, man, if I ever need some extra spending money, I know what I'm doing."
Super Marrio Jump is one of four apps Waycaster has available in the iPhone app store, and though the games he has developed since his breakout are probably not any less impressive, he said he is only averaging a combined 100 downloads a month.
But that's OK with Waycaster, who is trying to juggle school and a budding entrepreneurial career. The junior is currently enrolled in 16 hours, and if he isn't working on school projects he is doing one thing: programming.
"I've always enjoyed it, really, I will stay up to 4 and 5 in the morning tweaking one little thing," he said. "But it's just so satisfying to finally see it finished, even something as simple as the games."
Waycaster could probably quit school and focus on developing more apps, but in his eyes, earning his degree in business information systems is part of his personal process.
"I know how to do some of the stuff I am learning, and a lot of the stuff I don't know is kind of extra functionality stuff, stuff I've never had to really use, which is neat," Waycaster said. "I wish I could just focus on my businesses sometimes, but I know I need that formal education."
Much of Waycaster's work is done under the moniker Waycaster Works LLC., and he has a wide range of ventures. Earlier this year, he launched Founddd, which places QR codes and a unique URL on animal tags, keys, etc.., that correspond to selected contact information. A quick scan of the code or visit to the personal link, and a lost puppy can be returned to its rightful owner.
Founddd tags are available online at founddd.com and soon will be available at Strange Brew in Starkville.
Waycaster is no stranger to the spotlight. Last year, the Huffington Post featured him in an article on app development, and earlier this month the Washington Post came calling, using him as the intro in a piece about the app economy as a whole and how it could be a "jobs market bright spot."
For now, Waycaster is comfortable where he is, even though he might find it hard to explain what that means. In reality, Waycaster sees himself as "just another 21 year old," excited, confused and eager, and not even really sure why.
"I think some people think I have it all together, but I really, really don't," he said. "I have no idea what I want to do for the rest of my life. I go through phases, but right now I am on the technology side, I think. Serial entrepreneurship is something I definitely think I could handle, but we will just have to see."
For more information on Waycaster and to see some of his work, visit rosswaycaster.com.