by Nathaniel Shahan
He may not be the next Mark Zuckerberg yet, but Matthew Wagnitz, formerly of the Class of 2015, can add a line to his résumé most Kenyon students can’t: tech startup founder.
It has almost become a cliché at universities like Harvard and Stanford for students to drop out in pursuit of opportunities at million-dollar startups. At Kenyon, however, such stories are hardly ever heard. But that didn’t stop Wagnitz from dropping out after the first semester of his junior year to work full time at his two-year-old startup, Tapp Industries.
Tapp, which has since gone out of business, designed custom software for websites of a number of domestic and international clients. Wagnitz was not himself involved in writing the code — he worked on the operations of the business. His title, as listed on LinkedIn, was president and chief creative officer of Tapp.
At Tapp, Wagnitz was working constantly.
“It was a lot to handle: … emails before I go to bed [and] email wakes me up,” he said.
Working with international clients required Wagnitz to be on call 24/7. He credits Kenyon with preparing him for this lifestyle.
“The strenuous schedule at Kenyon really helped develop my work ethic,” Wagnitz, who played on Kenyon’s baseball team, said. He believes the work ethic and schedule he kept at Kenyon prepared him for any job he might hold. Based on his experiences, though, Wagnitz believes Kenyon should offer more tech classes to prepare students for the demands of the modern economy.
While at Kenyon, Tapp took up a lot of Wagnitz’s time, including weekend business trips. His former advisor, Associate Professor of History Stephen Volz, counseled him to take the opportunity. The Collegian reached out to Volz for this article but he declined to comment, saying he has not been in contact with Wagnitz since his departure from the College.
Despite his decision to drop out and focus his attention on Tapp, the startup went under. Wagnitz would not go into detail about why Tapp failed or how it was dissolved. He said he did not feel it was appropriate to comment due to his current relationships with former business partners. The Facebook and LinkedIn pages for Tapp Industries are dormant, and a call to the business’s listed number was met with a disconnected line. Wagnitz confirmed that he left the company unofficially in September 2014 and fully cut ties in March of this year.
To return to Kenyon, Wagnitz would have had to notify the College in the fall of 2014. However, Wagnitz made the decision to finish his degree elsewhere and is currently enrolled as a finance major at DePaul University in Chicago. Though he considered coming back to Kenyon, Wagnitz says he is happy to be in Chicago. In addition to his coursework, he has been doing part-time consulting work — mostly for friends — and thinks consulting for tech startups may be what he wants to pursue after graduation.
“I’ve only learned from it,” Wagnitz said. “All you can do in life is learn from your experiences and improve yourself.”
Wagnitz enjoyed his time at Tapp, in part because it introduced him to many new career paths.
“I got a taste of all sorts of different careers,” Wagnitz said. “It was actually a really cool experience being able to get a little slice of each path, everything from creative [work] to business development, graphic design [and] client management.”
Wagnitz still stays in contact with his friends from the baseball team and several alumni. He said he missed certain little things about Kenyon, such as the sense of community and walks down Middle Path.
Wagnitz said he is glad he pursued the opportunity, in spite of the venture’s early demise. He believes he had a good opportunity to work on a project he cared about. In general, Wagnitz believes that Kenyon students, or anyone interested in pursuing a drastic change like leaving school, need to really want to make the project succeed.
“Being an entrepreneur, you have to have your whole heart and your soul behind what you’re doing,” Wagnitz said. “You basically have nothing if you don’t believe in yourself and your concept.”