Keivan Shahida: From Rejection to AppDev
By Keivan Shahida
July 19, 2018
It’s important for me to share that when I first applied to LaunchX, I was rejected.
Building my Experience
But that initial rejection only made me more determined to prove to the LaunchX team that with their support, I could solve real problems through product development.
Instead of taking that summer off, I used it as an opportunity to hone in on my skills as a developer. I spent the summer attending Make School’s Summer Academy – an 8-week immersion in iOS application development. In my eight weeks at Make School, I was able to develop an app that later went on to be a Top 100 Free Sports Game in the App Store. After watching tens of thousands of people download my first app, I was more eager than ever to start working on new products, but realized I still needed help understanding how to properly assess the viability, feasibility, and need for the products I wanted to build.
Acceptance and Attendance to LaunchX
With more experience under my belt, I applied to LaunchX for a second time…
This time I got in.
At LaunchX, I was equipped with a new toolkit for assessing my ideas and turning them (after rigorous assessment and testing) into a reality.
Applying my new LaunchX Skills
A couple years later, I found myself at Cornell University, still wanting to build products that solve real problems. I joined Cornell AppDev, an engineering project team, that builds mobile and web applications for the Cornell community and beyond. During my time in high school after attending LaunchX, I found that my peers didn’t share the same enthusiasm for entrepreneurship as I did. Once I joined AppDev I felt like I was back at LaunchX.
I found myself surrounded by incredibly talented product developers and designers who had worked everywhere from Google, to Robinhood, to NASA’s JPL, and beyond. Everyone shared the same passion for developing products that truly solve real problems. Ironically, it was immediately clear that the first project I was assigned to did not solve a real problem, so it failed.
I discovered that AppDev is essentially a startup embedded in Cornell where team members are ‘paid’ in course credits. After shipping my first product on the team, I was able to determine where the true holes in AppDev’s ‘businesses’ were. The team had a history of quietly building products and then assuming that “if they built it, users would come.” This could mainly be attributed to the fact that when the organization was first started, they built a product and then the users came. AppDev needed to switch mentalities from simply building products to building products that solve real problems.
So, as a freshman, I developed a master plan for AppDev and proposed it to the organization’s President. We would increase the level of attention put into selecting products to work on, as well as build our first marketing team.
My plan was given a green light and, thanks to the incredibly talented and hardworking AppDev team, we went from linear growth to exponential growth.
We went from building products on our own and shipping one product at most a year to gaining sponsors like Google, Microsoft, and Airbnb and shipping four products in one semester! Our apps now have thousands of monthly active users and Amazon even posted about us!
So, how was AppDev able to create a pipeline for product development and placement in industry? Well, taking from what I learned at LaunchX, I was able to help AppDev leadership create a framework of its own with three key pillars – Teaching, Training, and Placement.
We offer three university-approved courses in iOS development, backend development, and digital product design to increase the strength of our applicant pool. To date we have taught hundreds of students, many of which have gone on to join the AppDev Core Team.
After joining the Core Team, you are immediately immersed in the AppDev Pod System. A “pod” is a group of frontend developers, backend developers, and designers working together on one product. These products range from Ithaca Transit, which helps students on campus use the local transportation system, to Eatery, which helps students find where the want to eat on campus. All of our projects are open source (contribute to them if you want!) and we ensure that industry practices are maintained throughout the design and development process.
Over the years, AppDev members have gone on to work for companies around the world, which has afforded us the ability to create a seamless pipeline to industry. We have developed an in-house tool for visualizing the AppDev alumni network and their connections throughout the industry to help current team members easily connect with alumni at the companies they like.
Scaling Leadership and Impact
Alright, Keivan, what’s the deal with all of this talk about AppDev and why should I care?
Well, as a sophomore I was given the opportunity to become AppDev’s Product Lead, a position responsible for overseeing all of product development on AppDev from ideation to implementation and adoption. Unlike previous Product Leads, I have added a new kind of product to our pipeline… AppDev itself.
Over the next semester, my team and I will be creating a scalable model for product development within higher education institutions around the world. One of our core values on AppDev is to be open and share. That’s why all of our projects are open source and why we are going to turn AppDev itself into an open source product for developers and designers to iterate on.
If you are interested in more details on what we do at AppDev, want to talk about bringing AppDev to your school, or just want to chat, feel free to email me.
If you want to follow me on my journey through product development, you can also follow me on Instagram @keivanshahida.