Return to site

Why This Ex-Google Design Exec is Building a Startup with Crazy Whiz Kids

Why my latest project — Peak — has been supercharged by the contributions of high schoolers and recent college grads.

“Become friends with the youngest person you can find at work.”

This was the advice Tom Kelley gave to the audience of a design conference I was attending and speaking over a decade ago. Tom was sort of an idol to me, having been part of the founding team at IDEO: the most admired innovation and design consultancy in the world. But honestly his advice sounded strange to me at the time.

Maybe it was because at the time I was one of the youngest people on my team at Microsoft (still in my 20’s :). Or maybe it was because young people didn’t have as much access to technology as they do today. Whatever the reason, I finally understood the power of this advice a few summers ago when I was leading a 14,002-mile cross-country road trip to the nation’s top universities and maker spaces to learn about how to best create Google’s Project Ara.

The Project Ara research team (that’s my 14yo son next to me :)

It was the first time at work that I felt OLD. But I also felt even more inspired by the vision and skills of a new generation of designers and engineers. What might have normally sparked a mid-life crisis depression spiral turned out to give me insights into Project Ara that I could not have seen in a traditional tech company environment. And some incredible teams have launched incredible products after working with us.

So when I started my own agency three months ago, I decided to let go of any biases or notions of what it meant to be a “seasoned professional”, and focus only on collaborating with like-minded innovators of any age. This led me to a partnership with David Khavari, a recent Stanford Computer Science grad who shared my passion for helping people form better habits.

Working out of Tech Shop with my co-founder David Khavari

David and I bumped into the amazing Quin Etnyre at MakerFaire, where he gave us his Qduino mini board to play around with (shown in the photo above). I met him when he was 13 and he came to the first Project Ara Developer Conference. Now that David and I were making our own hardware, we asked Quin (and his equally amazing parents :) if he could help us with our prototyping efforts. They enthusiastically agreed, and both Quin and his friend Cesare have been an extended part of our core team. And if we reach our Kickstarter goal within the next 30 days, we hope to get as much of their time as possible to collaborate on making Peak a reality.

It is kind of amazing that I need to make sure that members of my extended team have enough time for homework and sports — but it also gives me great joy to know that I’m able to work with the best minds and hands in the industry, regardless of age or any other traditional bias.

So here’s my advice to you:

Collaborate with anyone who shares your passion and vision, regardless of your biases.

All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!