Former Maria Carrillo student founds tech startup Appsitude

As a high school student with a perfect 4.0 cumulative grade-point average, Chris Kelsey never bothered to consider his college options. He was too busy planning his future.

Now 18 and CEO of a global app, software and website development firm, Kelsey chose a direct, if unconventional, path to success. He dropped out of Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa midway through his senior year.

The risk paid off in ways even the young entrepreneur couldn’t imagine. His year-old company, Appsitude, now includes a development team of 35 high-tech professionals, with business projected at $5 million this year.

Appsitude works with individuals, startups and established companies to design, build and market mobile apps and websites, with client Dan MacDonald of Dan MacDonald Studios calling the team “a dream to work with.”

Last year, Kelsey earned an income of more than $300,000, assuring his once-worried family and friends that being a high-school dropout wasn’t a worst-case scenario after all.

“I’m a person big on, ‘You never know until you try.’ I throw myself out there into the wild,” Kelsey said.

When the accomplished student announced at 17 he wasn’t interested in completing high school, the reaction wasn’t surprising.

“My dad yelled at me a lot. My mom cried a lot,” Kelsey said. “My friends said I was being stupid. I completely understand where they were coming from. They just wanted what’s best for me.”

Kelsey was compelled to follow his gut instinct. He’d been considering career paths, possibly as a dentist or pharmacist, but the passion was elsewhere.

“Deep down I felt it wasn’t really what I wanted to do,” he said.

He researched blogs about successful businesses and entrepreneurs and took note of several books repeatedly mentioned. Two books first published in the mid-1930s made notable impact, Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” and Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

“Those books really changed my life,” Kelsey said. “There was something that directed me to read those books.”

The teen dabbled in programming and website development when he was younger, but wasn’t a master by any definition. He spent much of his time while at Maria Carrillo playing action video games like “Arma II” and “Battlefield” into the wee hours of the night.

He put down the video controls when he got serious about developing a business.

“I was changing my mindset,” he said.

His barber had shared her interest in developing an app, and Kelsey soon discovered there were plenty of people like her, with good ideas but no course for creating or marketing them.

He tested a few business ideas and just a month after leaving school, signed his first contract for $16,500 to develop a travel app to monitor itineraries and other details for students on study trips.

He saw the potential and put together a business model, attended high-tech trade events and shared his idea and ambitions.

“Even when I tell people my story, they will assume I’m 25,” he said. “But when you’re really determined, other people see that and feel that.”

Through research, networking and word of mouth, Kelsey gathered a team he considers standouts in the industry, with specialists in various technologies.

“I wanted to get the best of the best for what they do,” he said. “We’re able to get things done very efficiently and effectively.”

Appsitude “focuses on apps, but we build websites as well,” Kelsey said. “We’re also doing marketing for clients now.”

He has virtual headquarters – no brick and mortar office necessary – in San Francisco where he now lives in a vacation rental, at least temporarily.

“Everything is changing so quickly. I don’t want to tie myself down to one place,” he said. “My life is completely changing every three to four weeks, and it’s been that way for months and months.”

Still, he says, he remains the same “silly” and “light-hearted” person he’s always been.

When he started out, “This whole global-scale concept wasn’t even in my mind.” He now has clients in 10 countries and development partners in London, Australia, the Ukraine and Mexico. Kelsey’s upcoming business travels will take him to Miami, the Dominican Republic, China and Dubai.

His focus is to provide top-quality services “on time and on budget.” Integrity, he says, is paramount to Appsitude’s growth and success. “Our goal is to blow clients away with every area.”

His team of developers includes those more than double or triple his age, many of whose resumes include successful apps with millions of downloads. Kelsey’s age and relative lack of experience haven’t been deterrents.

He often falls within clients’ target demographics, something he considers an edge. “Clients will say, ‘I like that you’re young.’ It’s definitely worked to my advantage. It’s usually positive.”

Kelsey started Appsitude at 17, without the help of mentors or investors. He purposely abandoned the safety net of a high-school diploma and has been working nonstop to assure his decision was the right one.

Kelsey wasn’t always the most self-assured teen, but he’s gaining confidence with every step of success.

Polite and professional, and without a trace of youthful arrogance, it’s only with prodding he shares his income and the fact he paid cash for his first car, a $21,000 used Lexus. He’s now considering a Tesla as a business car.

The teen is grateful for his success – and happy his parents are breathing easier.

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Contact Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at

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