The Inspiring Backstory of Spencer Shulem, Founder of WeDo
“He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” One of our investors said, ‘it’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing and you have questions… we didn’t invest in you because we thought you had all the answers, we invested in you because we think you can figure out the answers.
I had the privilege to interview Spencer Shulem. Spencer is the Founder of WeDo — a life management application used by students. WeDo has set the standard for tracking homework, tasks, habits and college classes.
Yitzi: Spencer, thank you so much for joining us. What is your “backstory”?
Spencer: I grew up with a severe case of ADHD, and OCD which ultimately led to my expulsion in the 5th grade. I was sent to the principal’s office almost every day leading up to that, talking to teachers, administrators, and I had a lot of conversations with them. Those conversations made me realized at that time that adults were just kids that have existed longer. There was not necessarily a correlation between age and knowledge. What that meant to me is that there were some adults that used their time to mature, grow, and learn, and there are a lot that didn’t. And I was always really curious as to why. I had always been fascinated by people; but I became more so in the efficiency of people who chose to grow. Success to everyone can be different, for a lot it’s financial, but for some it’s being or doing something, and for others it’s having something. But the question remained, why could some people get so much more done in their life, and become their own version of success, while others with the same time didn’t. And from that, I made a commitment to try and do everything in my power to move forward in my life with purpose and try my best to become my own version of success.
At around 12 years old I started a small business for a private server for a popular video game at the time, at 13 I started a review website called Elite Nerds that got over 1.3m hits in the first month, at 14 years old I started a software company with my Tutor at the time and made a top 1 selling medical app and top 10 productivity app, at 15 I became a teacher at a local retirement home because I was awful at communication and I felt like explaining new things to older people would be a great lesson. I have a personal rule for myself, which is every few months I should be able to look back and say, “I can’t believe I thought that.” I want to always be growing, and figuring new things out. When I was 19 I was in charge of User Experience for Mobile and Desktop at a billion dollar tech company, and was the youngest employee there. With my user experience background and my passion to help people to become the best versions of themselves, I later left and started WeDo, and raised a million dollars at the same age, and have been working on WeDo with an incredible team since 2015.
Yitzi: Which person or which company do you most admire and why?
Spencer: Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, I have a lot of admiration for. It is said that Netflix’s biggest competition is sleep today, which I think anyone would agree, that’s a great position to be in as a business. While I think the culture of “this is a team, not a family” that Netflix pushes, can be a bit harsh, I think the resilience that that brings is hard to beat. Netflix in retrospect and even today, at any point in time, shouldn’t be winning with what it is up against. What I continue to learn from Netflix, Amazon, and similar companies is even when things appear to look good, you have to constantly throw away what made your company successful yesterday and focus on what’s going to make your company successful tomorrow. Blockbuster, Kmart, Blackberry, the list goes on of companies that had a growing and thriving business but failed to invest their money in the future, and instead decided to double down on the past until it was too late. This is the same reason why Google doesn’t really have competition in search, if someone else could do it better then them, they would. If you’re always building for the future, then there’s no opportunity for competition. It’s along the lines of the popular Gretzky quote, “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” That’s why I admire Netflix so much, they fail to leave consumers wanting more. I think that philosophy is something I care a lot about and strive for.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Spencer: We got an email a little while ago about a high school student coming home, using WeDo, and crying because of how much WeDo has helped them with relieving the stress and pressure of school. Educational software historically has been build for and used by educators. It’s typically pretty ugly, hard to use, and solves one problem. Which is the wrong perspective we feel. We’re building the first life management app, that is a product that is intended for students, but not siloed for just homework, or classes. We’re helping students build the life skill of planning, and forming positive habits in their life, that ultimately will not just lead them to a greater chance at academic success, but also career, relationship, and of course, life success. Empowering that, is something I think is bringing a lot of good into this world.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.
Actually I have 6
- Follow your gut. I’m still learning everything on this list, but this is the one that is still the hardest for me to do. Being young, I question myself a lot about my gut. “Is what I’m feeling the right decision? Is what I think we should do, due to a lack of experience? Do I really know what I’m doing?” What I do now, is I write down all the things my gut tells me in a note app, and I review them a few days later, or a few months later, and I see if I still feel that way. If I do, I bring it up to whomever I need to, if I don’t, I leave it and move on.
- “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” One of our investors had a conversation with me last year that really stuck with me: He basically said in more words, ‘it’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing and you have questions… we didn’t invest in you because we thought you had all the answers, we invested in you because we think you can figure out the answers.’ I previously would be afraid to ask a question about business, product, money, a lot of the time because I felt like they would look at me and think, “we just gave this kid how much money? and he’s asking THAT question?” I learned to feel comfortable with the unknown, and how to find the answer from the resources around me.
- Failure is inevitable, success is an option. There’s a similar quote that says, “Success is inevitable when failure is not an option” by Wayne, that says the same thing, except it makes success sound like the default option. The way I think about it, is you will fail unless you choose to succeed every day. Failure is the default option, success is what you have to work for.
- Use stress strategically. Stress is generally unhelpful and it can lead to irrational decisions, and stress everyone else around you leading to more of the former, but it can also be used to move quickly and get things done. The difficult part is most the time it’s like being in fog, where you only realize you were in it only once you’re out of it. So becoming aware of if you’re stressed, why you’re stressed, and deciding if you feeling stressed is going to be helpful or not is critical.
- Build something you are going to use. WeDo has pivoted a few times, and it started with us trying to build a product for a demographic we didn’t understand very well, but we knew had a problem we wanted to solve. We had a hard time improving the product, keeping it simple, and marketing because we weren’t the end consumer. Once we made the decision to make a product everyone wanted to use and could use for a demographic we understand and deeply needed this product, the product got a lot better, we were able to get a lot more users, and it become easier to build the product.
- Just ‘good’ companies don’t exist, unless they’re a necessity. When we started WeDo, we built a good product. The basics worked, and some people liked it. I learned that there are very few things left to build in software that don’t have a substitution. Even while we build the category of “Life Management,” a lot of functionality of our product has substitutions.
Yitzi: Wow, this was inspiring. Thank you Spencer!