At the end of each month, I write in my schedule for the month ahead, color coding each activity. It may sound weird, but the last thing I see before I go to bed is my whiteboard calendar and it’s the first thing I see when I wake up, and I love it.
Naomi Benenson, at age 14, is making a splash in the world of development and entrepreneurship, conceptualizing and releasing her first app this summer. In this exclusive interview for IdeaMensch, Naomi describes her journey thus far and details a few of the lessons she has learned.
Where did the idea for wish2wish come from?
I started dancing competitively when I was seven. Every dance was accompanied by a debate: costumes, colors, shoe brands, etc. Frequently, there’d be no real consensus, with the majority vote going unnoticed or willfully neglected. I thought the only way to know what the majority of the class wanted, was to write down our choices, then tally them. But that’s impractical. I knew that there had to be a solution. Luckily, for my 12th birthday I got my first smartphone. I quickly realized that a smartphone would be a perfect device to organize the chaos – turn the usual ballyhoo into a ballot.
Most ballot votes boil down to an expression of a wish. For instance, voting for the president is a wish for a specific person to become a president. I also realized that “keep fingers crossed” is a common expression of hope, so I thought that it would be natural to use that gesture to show support for one’s wish.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I have been contemplating this project for two years now – sketching it out and doodling ideas. I started implementing the project last June after school ended.
When school started, I would wake up at 5 am and work on the project before my school day officially began. Because we have people working on wish2wish across the globe, I would begin work at 5 am, during their working hours. I would go over the Basecamp comments, Trello tickets, and Skype with each developer, discussing the issues and assessing the progress. Balancing school, dance, and wish2wish is hard. To keep me on track, I use Google Calendar to organize every aspect of my life. Developing a real product and learning about software technology in the process is very exciting. That is what motivates me to stay focused and be productive.
How do you bring ideas to life?
For two years, I visualized how the app would look and function. I emailed hundreds of developers and designers explaining my idea. The majority of people turned me down, I think because of my age they didn’t take me seriously. However, a few replied and agreed to work with me.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m generally into technology, especially new apps and gadgets that help productivity. One trend that I’m really excited about is artificial intelligence. I believe that artificial intelligence will be able to satisfy the finite material needs of human society while giving people an opportunity to explore the infinite world of arts and sciences and pursue self-growth.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Every minute of my day is filled with an activity. Aside from going to school, doing homework, and participating in clubs, I dance competitively, practicing twenty-five hours each week, and I play piano. I allocate two hours every day to app development, so my only free time is sleep. I have to stay super organized in order for this to work. I use every possible digital tool to help me, but my whiteboard calendar that hangs above my desk is my favorite. At the end of each month, I write in my schedule for the month ahead, color coding each activity. It may sound weird, but the last thing I see before I go to bed is my whiteboard calendar and it’s the first thing I see when I wake up, and I love it.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t fall into the trap of hiring overly confident people. I was always told that confidence is key. When I first started looking for and interviewing designers and developers, I hired the ones who were assertive. They turned out to be very difficult to collaborate with, and I wasted a lot of time and energy trying to facilitate communication with them and the rest of the team.
Later on I learned that those who were the most inquisitive about the technical details were the most qualified for the job.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Besides having both virtual and physical calendars, I also write daily To-Do lists. Although dancing and playing piano are rigorous activities, they give my mind a much-needed break from school and app development. I really recommend switching from one activity to another that are equally important to you.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
My startup is still in its infancy, and its story has yet to be told. We believe the app has a lot of room to grow in terms of the user base and unique features. The app will become more fun and enjoyable with a larger user base and will thrive to the benefit of its users.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Looking back at the development process, I now realize that the first signs of miscommunication and incompetence should be taken very seriously and not treated lightly.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Magnetic board games are available in travel size, but they would be just as useful in regular size and they would solve a lot of “family-game-night” problems. I’m specifically referring to Scrabble and Monopoly – my two favorites.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I contributed $100 to help fund a Kickstarter campaign to create a community wireless network. (Meta Mesh: Community Wireless Networks for All). I believe in the project and I think it is a great idea that will be very beneficial for society.
On a more personal side, I recently bought a Fitbit. I love how it’s designed and that I can track all of my physical activities.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I love Behance for inspiring art and design. Stack Overflow is a great community of software engineers that provide free, helpful technical advice. I love using Trello and Basecamp for project management and collaboration. And everything Google because it works great!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I re-read it every year to remind myself that anything is possible. The book is an autobiography about a girl (Jeannette Walls) who is raised in a dysfunctional family and overcomes obstacles against all odds. It’s inspiring, intriguing, and taught me a lot about the world.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Sara Blakely is a huge inspiration of mine both as a person and entrepreneur. She’s smart, enthusiastic, and has a great sense of humor. Last year I started watching a HBO show called Silicon Valley. Although it is a comedic show, it taught me a great deal about managing software development and various personalities. It also taught me to approach difficult situations with a humorous perspective. I now follow the show creators, Mike Judge and Alec Berg, on Twitter.
wish2wish App on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/US/app/id966010742
wish2wish App on Google Play Store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.wish2wish
Naomi Benenson on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/naomi-benenson/b2/518/99a