Ben Simon ’11 and Valentin Perez ’18, computer science alums, shared their experiences and processes of developing tech startups during an online forum hosted Tuesday by the Department of Computer Science’s Industry Partners Program.
Simon and Perez have both achieved success in their companies but have explored different visions and leadership styles, exemplifying to interested students what Simon believes to be true: There are “lots of ways to do it.”
Simon worked at Google before deciding that he was “ready for the next big thing.” He teamed up with one of his friends from Brown, Carlos Ormachea ’09, to found the multi-million-dollar fitness app Down Dog.
He combined his passion for yoga and his computer science background to “create workout sequences on demand” through the app, using over 60,000 yoga configurations to create unique yoga practices each time a user opens the app. In addition to yoga, Down Dog offers high-intensity interval training, meditation, barre and prenatal yoga classes.
Perez, a self-described lifelong learner, wanted to make online learning more dynamic and engaging, which inspired him to co-found the education platform Monthly, offering celebrity- and artist-led classes.
Simon was drawn to the idea of a startup because he found the freedom and control over his projects and code alluring. Even though his app has been operating for over six years and has over 700,000 users, he still prefers working with a small staff of five and spending no more than 20% to 50% of his time doing activities other than coding.
“Both me and my co-founder were most interested in startups in terms of being more free than you get to be at any other job,” Simon said. “This is still the job that we get to do where we have the most autonomy to create what we think is good.”
Perez has had a slightly different approach. Since formulating the idea in March 2019 with co-founder Max Deutsch ’11, Perez has been actively recruiting and expanding his operation, which is fully remote. Over time, his role in the company has shifted to more managerial duties. Perez said that not only did his academic and extracurricular experiences at the University shape the way he leads his company, but the relationships he formed on campus remain with him to this day. He recalled how he met his co-founder while working on a team project and the time they spent working together in the Ratty on weekends.
“It’s not only your co-founder, but also the team you’re going to build,” Perez said, adding that most of his engineers come from Brown.
Both Perez and Simon met their co-founder on campus and found that the coursework and community prepared them for their startup endeavors.
“Brown is an amazing learning environment,” Perez said. “You’re with a lot of your friends. You’re working on classes that are project-based. The professors are amazing.”
Perez and Simon advised students to not be afraid to take risks and to be willing to learn from any and all experiences. Simon said that University students have the “highest chance of that risk paying off.”
“Getting close to the thing (you want to pursue) helps you identify whether that’s the objective that you think you want,” Perez said.