This 18-year-old CEO in Poland is making the first messaging app for deaf people
Today, on Monday morning, Mach announced that his app, Five, had raised the equivalent of about $150,000 in funding - no easy feat in Poland, where venture capital cash can be hard to find even for seasoned entrepreneurs.
Five started as a silly app, designed by Mach and developed by a bunch of freelance coders, that lets you and your friends send one another custom hand signs, like the kind rappers throw.(Mach is a big hip-hop fan - he says his prom was fun, but was disappointed that they didn't play the new Kanye West single.)
Now, thanks to this cash influx, Mach is turning Five into something seriously useful: "The world's first messenger for deaf people," as Mach puts it. And the new, improved Five is coming to the United States this summer, he told Business Insider.
"It will be a proper company," Mach says.
When Five was first released to the world in 2015, Mach was expecting people to use it on their Apple Watches and phones as an easy, funny way of communicating simple concepts. For instance, Mach and his friends used it to communicate how far away they were, using a commonly-accepted translation for each hand sign.
But soon, deaf users started coming to Mach, thanking him for making an app that actually let them communicate in International Sign Language (ISL). For something like 80% of the deaf community, Mach says, typing isn't a natural mode of communication, since they lack any kind of internal "voice."
And so, seeing opportunity, Mach hit the road, winning local startup competitions and attracting some media interest as a promising young entrepreneur. Once he had a little bit of buzz, he started hustling for investment cash, which isn't easy for a CEO when you're still in high school and don't have a network of contacts."I simply messaged almost every venture capital firm in Poland," Mach says.
The meetings with the investors themselves were very stiff and formal, contrary to how Mach imagines Silicon Valley venture capital pitch sessions go - "They wore suits and et cetera," instead of hoodies and t-shirts, he says. Similarly, those venture capitalists are often tied up with nationalized funds from the European Union, Mach says, meaning that it's a lot more complex and difficult to get cash in Poland than in California.
Getting the money required Mach to really immerse himself in business plans, pitch decks, term sheets, and all the other stuff that CEOs of promising new startups have to deal with. He had to show the stuffed shirts that he was up to the challenge of running a company, despite his age and inexperience.
"I think when investors look at an 18-year-old boy, they can't say they trust him," Mach says.
Now, with the money locked in, and investor and designer Piotr Polanski brought on as a co-founder, Mach says that Five is going to focus on hiring ISL experts to build out the app's features. And he's secured a partnership with the United Nations, including the employment of a New York-based ISL interpreter, to help with the development and distribution of Five in the United States.
Through all of this, Mach plans to continue his studies even while serving as CEO of Five: He'll graduate from his Internation Baccalaureate high school program this spring, and he plans on enrolling as an economics major at the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University later this year.
Juggling the demands of entrepreneurship with a college education may be difficult, but Mach says that he fully intends to finish out his degree, no matter what precedents were set by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, who never graduated college."I don't believe in the college dropout philosophy," Mach says.