In the depths of the Great Recession, 13-year-old Michael Sayman took it on himself to step up and do what he could to support his family. One year and countless online coding tutorials later, he launched an iPhone app that was raking in thousands of dollars a month. That was just the beginning of his adventure in app development. While still in high school, Sayman developed the gaming app 4 Snaps, which reached the number one spot on the world games chart. That led to a job as Facebook’s youngest employee in history. From there (still only age 21), he went to work for Google as a Project Manager for the voice-based service, Assistant. Today, Sayman has returned to his gaming roots as a Senior Product Manager and Designer for Roblox.
On November 10, Sayman will join Cresset for an exclusive online event where he will share his incredible journey through the world of app development as told in his new memoir, “App Kid: How a Child of Immigrants Grabbed a Piece of the American Dream.”
Below, Michael provides a preview of his talk and explores topics such as the nature of entrepreneurship, how we can support the next generation of innovators, and the role of social media (for good and bad) in the lives of young people today:
Michael, you seem to have been born with an entrepreneurial / innovative spirit. Do you believe those qualities are innate, or did you have a mentor or family member who inspired you?
I think we all have the ability to innovate and build in the spaces we are passionate about. That’s the most exciting thing I see about the next generation with the internet! I certainly think we all have innate abilities that differentiate each of us. I believe we should tap into what makes each of us unique.
Do you think it has been harder to achieve the success you have because of your age? Do you find people take you less seriously, or are perhaps patronizing, because you are only 25?
I definitely have had times in my career where I’ve been taken less seriously because of my age. It happens all the time. But I can’t let that stop me from achieving my dreams. At the same time, I must remain cognizant that others have many more hurtles to overcome in the biases of others.
On the flipside, what advantages does your relatively young age provide you that entrepreneurs two or three times your age might not have?
Coming from a different generation than my colleagues helped me share a perspective to the teams and products I worked with that was certainly sought after in many circumstances. In many ways, the youth is the future. And there is an advantage in being able to tap into that future when you’re younger.
Let’s talk about your book, “App Kid: How a Child of Immigrants Grabbed a Piece of the American Dream”. Do you feel that as a society, we are doing enough to inspire and encourage young people like you?
I think the internet as a creative tool offers the resources to allow my generation to believe they can build anything themselves. We can see it happening in real time as the “creator” economy continues to grow ever larger. And I believe this is only the beginning as we expand access to the internet across the world so that more kids can gain the opportunity to do the same. In time, I’m excited to see what comes out of Gen Z and the following generations!
Facebook (your former employer) and related apps have received a lot of scrutiny lately for allowing the dissemination of disinformation and negatively impacting young adults. How do you believe this will play out? How / can we stem the tide of negativity on social media?
Just as the internet can provide opportunities for my generation to build, learn, and grow in positive ways, there is a dark side to the internet that, if left unchecked, can lead to devastating consequences. I believe we need to make sure that the tools and services that the youngest use on the internet should be built with their safety and well-being in mind – at all costs. The amount of work that needs to be done to make that a reality is enormous, and the industry has a massive way to go.
Where do you go from here? You have a lot of “runway” left in your career. What are your big, audacious goals for yourself?
It’s hard to say, but the sky’s the limit! There’s a potential series / film taking shape out of my book, which is surreal to even think about! At the same time, I’m still learning to shake off the imposter syndrome I grew up with. As I continue to learn, I might explore starting my own company to help solve some of the growing issues we face as a society with the increase in connectivity and social features available to people around the world. I grew up immersed in Instagram, Snapchat, and other apps as a kid myself. I hope to use that experience to help guide me in building products that take that perspective into account for the next generations.
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