From a psychology major at BYU to a VP of Apple Inc., Greg Porter dared to be different, relying on a combination of classroom education and real-world application to map out his career.
In 2001, Apple acquired PowerSchool for $62 million in stock, making Porter a multi-millionaire in his 30s.
“People look at my success and think I’m lucky, but what they don’t know is that I’ve started a good number of businesses that didn’t work,” Porter said. “The 100 mistakes I made in one business are now 100 mistakes I won’t ever make again moving forward.”
Porter is no stranger to learning. Since he was a kid, he pursued any business opportunity that came along, which propelled himself into a career as a successful entrepreneur.
He would take his wagon, brushes and paint and knock on people’s doors, asking permission to repaint address numbers on their homes.
“When I was a kid, I acquired confidence that told me I could pursue anything I wanted,” Porter said. “It wasn’t much, but I learned so much just by stepping out into the real world and starting something on my own.”
Porter’s drive to learn continued throughout high school as the student body president at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, California. He worked closely with the administration and knew about the technical challenges facing the school.
Porter had the ingenuity to turn his education into a small business. He observed how teachers struggled to record attendance and send information across the district’s network. He and a classmate were enrolled in a computer class decided improve the software for a class project.
Together, they wrote simplified record-keeping software, which other schools in their district started using shortly after hearing about its success. He sold the original software for about $300 per school. He knew how to ingeniously apply his education to his goal of becoming a businessman.
Porter still sees himself as a student of life and advises young learners to expand their education beyond school walls.
“As students, sometimes we see our education like a river. We choose certain channels and let the river take us where it always flows. We forget however, that we can walk out of the river and climb mountains. We pave our own paths in life.”
Porter continued to apply his business skills after graduating high school and enrolling at BYU. He saw himself as an entrepreneur, and was determined to own and operate a successful business.
After changing his major three times, Porter decided on psychology because of his interest in the subject.
“If you are drawn to something, check it out,” Porter said. “BYU offers the perfect testing ground to explore and learn what your interests and passions are. Don’t run yourself into the ground thinking some majors are better than others. Do what you love.”
Porter’s daughter, Kambria, is currently a BYU freshman and was given similar advice before leaving for school.
“My dad told me, ‘Always be open-minded to any situation,’” she said. “You never know what you’ll end up loving until you’ve tried different things.”
Porter did not graduate from BYU, and left school with the intent of making his dream of becoming an entrepreneur a reality. He improved his education software and co-founded an Internet shopping site. He and his partners eventually sold the site and he used his knowledge of the Internet to convert his software into the web-based technology of PowerSchool, which Porter said, “sold like crazy.”
PowerSchool grew over the years from a one-man company to something used by thousands of schools and districts for maintaining the records of millions of students. PowerSchool’s popularity gained the interest of investors, which proved to be a monumental learning experience for Porter.
“At the beginning, since the business was small, I was the CEO and programmer.” Porter said. “When I presented PowerSchool to schools and districts, they listed their expectations; then I would go home and make those changes in real-time.”
Porter admitted he wasn’t the most disciplined programmer, but his business still attracted venture capital, in part because of his ability to turn customers’ requests around so quickly.
“Companies who could turn their work around the fastest got the job. That is something school couldn’t teach me, only experience,” Porter said.
PowerSchool gained so much momentum in school districts across the country that it was acquired by Apple, Inc.
“(Greg) reminds us that true education is a life-long mix of passion, work, trial, discovery, friendship and family mixed with lots of fun,” said David Tenny, Porter’s good friend and college roommate. “It is a journey we can and should enjoy every step of the way.”