Podcast 14: Ryan Orbuch, A Teenage Startup Prodigy - Craftsman Founder

Podcast 14: Ryan Orbuch, A Teenage Startup Prodigy

Ryan Orbuch’s not your ordinary teenage kid. Ryan built Finish, an iPhone app used over a million times. It is known as “the to-do list for procrastinators” and was featured #1 in productivity in the app store.

After he received an Apple Design Award in 2013, it was covered on New York Times, TechCrunch, Forbes, CNET, The Huffington Post, and more. Ryan was also featured on Bloomberg TV and Fox News.

Ryan gave a TED Talk and was hired at Techstars Boulder. He is also deeply passionate about education reform. This week we get into his mind a bit and get to know what makes him tick and what gets him excited.

What Motivates You to Build Your Ideas (6:13)

Ryan tells us he didn’t have much to lose by trying. If he wanted to stop, he could because he didn’t have money into it. He never thought it was going to be a big thing.

People systematically overestimate risk in some areas and systematically underestimate risk in others. If a person is supporting a family it may not make sense to take the same risk that a student in high school could take.

Ryan’s TED Talk (8:50)

He was going to do a TED Talk “What you suck at is awesome.” Ted said they liked him but , “No”. Well they didn’t say, “no”, but they asked him if he was sure he didn’t have anything better.

Ryan tells us there is a difference between sucking at something or being fairly self aware that you suck at something.

How He Built a Company by Accident (11:00)

Ryan thought it would take a month to build the app and it would magically work. In the early stages, the business plan was to sell it at $0.99 and sell 2 million downloads and buy a new laptop.

The process; they started off 10th grade finals week. He was struggling with studding, procrastination and what he knows now as the metacognition week.

His friend Michael was engineering, Ryan considers himself 90% designer. They played around with it in the spring, and he kept wondering if it was going to become one of those ideas that you decide was a bad idea. It never became that, so he kept going.

By the way, he did buy a new laptop after they launched.

The Social Side of Ryan (19:00)

Ryan likes to stand back and watch a while when he first arrives at a social event. He shares how it is interesting to watch how general grouping trends happen all over the place. As example, he shares a dance; no one knows how to dance, so they start jumping. Then they start grinding and everyone is grinding.

He talks about statistics of high schools. There are 19 million high school students in the USA. +-1million depending on how you count them. A fairly significant percentage don’t show up every day. He mentions that we seem to be ok with that.

You have a say about where you work, you have options more so than at a school. He joined the board of a non-profit called, Student Voice. They realized there is surprisingly little reason for students to be self aware, and if they were aware, there is very little place for them to go with that energy.

Student Voice feels it is a problem, that about 36% of high school students feel like they don’t have a voice in the decisions that impact their lives and their education. They are doing a lot of fun things to help. They have lots of partnerships with big brands like Dell, Microsoft, Skype and lots more.

Ideas to Fix the Education System (24:15)

Ryan has been consulting with Ed Tech innovators and investors in San Francisco. The pure lack of actionable student perspective in decisions of education is very little.

There are a couple of companies that are building platforms to help. There is a lot preventing it from getting close.

The core idea is to fix high school by trying to utilize the self awareness of students towards something useful.  All these high schoolers are so close to the problem, and they know how to fix it but no one seems to care.

Finish (29:00)

Finish is an initial experiment to Ryan, he asks, “What can we do with high school students that are motivated and how can we build software and technology to help them be or stay or take resources.”

Finish is used by many successfully. Ryan built it knowing it would work for high school. He thinks it may have been wise to allow the marketing to be more than high school only.

Advice for 16 Year Old Self (32:55)

What you’re worrying about right now are probably not the right things to be worrying about, so stop worrying and start doing.

How to Contact Ryan

Twitter: @orbuch


Why 36% of high school students feel like they don’t have a voice in the decisions that impact their lives and their education.

Can we fix high school by trying to utilize the self awareness of students and use it  towards something useful.


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Show notes written by Fiverr’s ginakane

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Lucas Carlson

About the Author

Lucas Carlson

Lucas Carlson is a hands-on consultant, author and entrepreneur. He helps founders discover opportunities for growth, both for their companies and for themselves. He was the CEO and founder of AppFog, a popular startup acquired in 2013 after signing up over 100,000 developers and raising nearly $10M in venture funding from top angels and VCs.

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