Something people don't know about me is: I love bowling, even though I'm bad at it My favorite food is: Crab wontons
Creating friendly apps that improve people's well-being
A CHILD PRODIGY. Michael Sayman's story is legendary in Silicon Valley. It started in his bedroom in Miami, Florida, where from the age of 12, he was building and successfully monetizing websites and apps. One app in particular, chart-topping word game 4 Snaps, caught the attention of Mark Zuckerberg, who convinced Michael to drop out of school at 17 to work for Facebook.
While there, he was instrumental in turning Instagram into a Snapchat competitor with its stories feature and regularly challenged the company's notions on how people use social media. After four years, he switched to Google, working on their home devices, VR products, and several experimental social apps.
After four years at Google, Michael's career shifted significantly. Now 23 and with eight years of experience at the world's top tech companies under his belt, he considered launching his own company. However, fear was getting in the way, resulting from growing up in a financially unstable home. His enormous success at building apps had made him the family breadwinner but had instilled a fear of taking risks – a story he explores in his deeply personal coming-of-age memoir App Kid, released in 2021.
"I remember the pressure in my family forced me to push through and figure out how to build more successful apps. My parents didn't know what I was doing then, but I found a way to learn how to code online for free via YouTube and Google. We ended up getting evicted from our house anyway, which sucked. That experience definitely made me scared of doing my own company."
Instead, Michael enjoyed a year-long stint at Roblox and a brief four-week spell at Twitter, cut short by Elon Musk's takeover, before leaping into his own venture. "I managed to raise my $3m seed round in what turned out to be seven of the weirdest, craziest days ever. I was surprised by how many more people believed in me than I believed in myself."
RECLAIMING POSITIVE SOCIAL CONNECTIONS. Michael's company, Friendly Apps, is a new startup with the goal of helping people connect in positive ways. He likens the behavior on many of today's social media platforms to smoking, addictive and ultimately bad for your health. "The challenge for me and the mission of the company is, how do you create a product that solves those problems but can compete with literal nicotine?”
"I think we need more apps that are literally just friendly to people. I think our current ones are not friendly to our mental or physical health, and we need more apps that are friendly in that way. I don't know the exact answer yet, and I'm sure I will fail 100 times before I come up with anything that's remotely good, but the mission is very important to me."
Friendly Apps could be seen as a turn against the companies that first gained Michael notoriety in Silicon Valley. However, he says he will always be grateful for the opportunity to understand how those companies work and what drives their decision-making. "I've worked at these companies for a long enough time to understand the mechanics used to make the product spiral in this world. My outlook was always that the long-term value of a user is not by creating a tense, competitive space powered by algorithms, but through their happiness."