Building affordable computers by teens, funded by teens

High school sophomores create company from ground up, with help of a H.S. senior


Custom building a gaming personal computer seems like a hobby for the rich. Solving the age-old problem of not knowing which PC to purchase is even worse.

But even if a computer is affordable, it does not necessarily mean all the electronics pieced together inside a tower is right for you.

What people may not know is that a computer can be customized similar to a suit tailored to align perfectly with a someone’s body.

Niv Levy and Tal Sotnikov are those tailors — at least from a computer perspective. They have to put together a business that does exactly that. And they’re only in high school.

Sophomores, in fact. From the High School for Environmental Studies in Hell’s Kitchen, although Levy is a former Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy student.

Every PC comprises of five essential parts — the motherboard, center and graphic processing units, memory, and hard drive. Nevertheless, in total, there are a dozen parts that make up a computer.

But building a PC seems almost ridiculous. The idea only fancy factories build computers is not accurate. All you need to do is understand how a computer works.

Sotnikov has a long history with computers, first getting involved when he was just 8.

“My parents didn’t really like that — they wanted me to stay away from the internet,” Sotnikov said. “But I was always curious about computers, and got into it, and fell in love with it.”

Sotnikov would learn simply from watching YouTube videos. He also read online courses, and built his first computer by himself by the time he celebrated his 10th birthday.

“I bought the parts, and I was able to assemble it,” he said. “I pushed the power button, and it worked.”

Sotnikov found success after months of research and two years of saving money. He didn’t want others to go through the same thing he did, that’s why he partnered with Levy to start Tal Niv Technology — or TNTech.

“We both love computers and want to impact the industry,” Levy said. “TNTech arose. Age is not a barrier to success.”

While they both run their company, they also both run from class to class, studying for tests and doing homework.

“It is definitely a challenge,” Sotnikov said.

TNTech is all about quality, transparency and affordability. Customers would give the partners their budget, unique needs, game preferences, and future goals. From there, the duo does their best to accommodate by building a PC from scratch inside Sotnikov’s Manhattan apartment, where he stores inventory.

“You would give us your budget, tell us the games you want to play, and we pretty much optimize your budget to get the best quality,” he said.

Sotnikov and Levy scout the internet for hours hunting for great deals on equipment. Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark — there are few digital stones they leave unturned.

But it’s not like they didn’t get any help. In fact, Levy’s uncle essentially made the company possible. Levy has pitched his proof of concept to dozens of people. Ultimately, it was his uncle who saw his potential. Computers intrigued his uncle.

The uncle helped them buy their first product — a graphic card, which can cost as much as $600, and are a key component to any gaming platform.

“The rest was history,” Levy said.

Since then, TNTech has made about $15,000 in profit. Their PCs range in retail price from $700 to roughly $1,500, depending on what a customer might need.

“It was hard, but after seeing progress, it motivated me to keep going on,” Levy said. “But if one of us were slacking off, we will always motivate each other to keep going. Having a partner — and great communication — is critical.”

But like many successful businesses, there was one thing the two struggled with early on: capital. Purchasing inventory is expensive, and typically requires more money up front they have yet to collect from customers.

And that’s when they found another student interested in the business. He   runs a hedge fund.

“It was a ‘Shark Tank’ kind of deal,” said Carl Lu, founder of Yellow River Capital. He just finished his junior year at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in the Upper East Side, and already has more than $20,000 in assets.

Lu liked what he saw with TNTech, and invested $2,000 in what they believe could very well be the first high school-led private equity deal.

That money gives Lu 13 percent of TNTech, and a share of future profits.

“I think what really motivated me the most to do this transaction with TNTech is the fact that we’re all high schoolers, and the fact that everything was teenage-led,” Lu said. “TNTech is a smaller, local business. Because of that, our capital can have a more transformative and visible effect.”

Before TNTech, Lu’s Yellow River Capital invested in public companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft, However, Lu did not see much social impact on shares that can cost hundreds of dollars with minimal immediate return.

After the transaction between the two high school student-led companies  TNTech is growing quickly, and looking to partner with institutions that focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics — like the STEM Center at Cornell Tech.

Sotnikov and Levy have attended workshops at Cornell, which focus on robotics.

They aim to create their own workshops to teach others how to build their own computers.

“But we really want to expand,” Sotnikov said. “We have so much storage, we need to have a place where you can store all the computers.

computers, Niv Levy, Tal Sotnikov, Carl Lu, TNTech, Tal Niv Technology, High School for Environmental Studies, RKA, Riverdale / Kingsbridge Academy, hedge fund