Ingredients for a Multi-Million Dollar Idea
Instead of hoping for a multi-million dollar idea in the future, you may want to consider revisiting your past. Don’t waste time reminiscing about the good memories. Lean into the challenges that made you who you are today. Why? If you explore the countless success stories of entrepreneurs, you’ll quickly discover a shared relentless pursuit of improving others’ lives. The level of impact scales significantly when the concept is personal to the entrepreneur. But wait, there’s another ingredient to a multi-million dollar idea worth discussing — keep reading to find out.
Today, we’re unpacking Cliff Weitzman’s story. In 2017, Cliff was named on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Cliff learned of his dyslexia as a kid, but it didn’t deter him in the ways you’d imagine. He was able to reinvent his relationship with reading in a profoundly unique way, which led to the invention of Speechify. Speechify is currently the world’s leading text to speech app that uses artificial intelligence to read text out loud. Take a picture of a PDF or page from a textbook, scan, and suddenly a high-quality voice will read to you at your preferred pace. This isn’t just a hack; it’s a strategic approach to boost both your listening and reading proficiency. Your eyes track the words as they are spoken to you, enabling users to decode quicker and eventually sight-read — a notoriously difficult task for people with dyslexia. Speechify is used by several million people and supported by a team of twenty engineers.
It started with one story. Most people aren’t fond of middle school. Imagine navigating petty drama and a severe learning disability, all while acclimating to a new country. Cliff’s family had just moved to the United States from Israel when he was first introduced to Mr. Bloom, who was rumored to be the most challenging history teacher alive. Each day, students were expected to produce an outline of an outrageously long history chapter assigned the night before — Cliff’s worst nightmare. Rather than succumbing to fear of the impossible, he reimagined what the assignment could look like: “How about we make a deal? I’ll come to school ten minutes early and verbally summarize the chapter to you every day.” Mr. Bloom: Deal. Science teacher: Deal. English teacher: Deal. Problem solved; that’s until Cliff arrived at college. Suddenly, most textbooks didn’t have accompanying audiobooks. He figured his second-best option was to build a speech tool that would enable his computer to read anything aloud. Gifted with an unmatched level of enthusiasm and optimism, Cliff went on to devise and engineer a total of thirty-six products ranging from 3D printed skateboard brakes to various apps. But nothing satisfied him quite like the first.
Cliff believes starting a company is both altruistic and selfish because they bring about an unparalleled sense of gratification. His equation for satisfaction is as follows: the amount of value created multiplied by how similar the person aided is to the entrepreneur. Cliff feels most connected to those with dyslexia and people who are extremely intellectually curious. His favorite type of user is someone whose innate curiosity is hampered by their learning disability. Sound familiar?
Notably, while we may seek to connect with people we perceive as most similar to ourselves, we are never far from discovering commonalities amongst those we may otherwise write-off as too different or oppositional. You’ve just got to be curious enough to find out! Even if common ground is not guaranteed, there are real advantages to leaning into experiences that invite us to connect with people we disagree with. Just the other day, Cliff joined an Instagram Live whereby a friend shared bold opinions about the importance (or lack thereof) of masks and Bill Gates’ secret ploy to manipulate the human genome for personal gain. Cliff strongly disagreed. But rather than publicly debunk the man’s points, he messaged him privately, told him how much he appreciated their friendship, and supplied ample concrete evidence as to why he thought differently. He asked thoughtful questions and provided an opportunity for his friend to reevaluate his stance.
Cliff successfully shifted his friend’s opinion because he led with compassion, conveyed respect, and chose to look at the problem with his friend. He moved to the same side of the table, just like he had done with Mr. Bloom years before. Together, they reimagined and reinvented a mutually beneficial compromise. There’s a lot of talk about intelligence quotient (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EI), but, according to Cliff, the most important is adversity quotient (AI): “AI is how good you are in situations where there is no easy way to win, and you have to persevere.” Cliff may very well continue to gain the most satisfaction from helping those most similar to himself. However, his multi-million dollar idea stemmed from adversity focused conversations that led to compromises made with people of different ideologies. If you want to make a successful business of your own, bring personal adversity into conversation with others less similar to yourself.