Long time engineer and product designer Michael Sayman has been building apps since he was a kid, leading to roles on Facebook, Google, Roblox, and most recently Twitter, where he was often tasked with developing products aimed at teenage audiences. Sayman was only 17 when he joined Facebook, but had already built several apps – an experience documented in his book “App Kid† Over the years, Sayman has contributed to high-profile products such as Instagram Stories, WhatsApp Status, YouTube Shorts, and the Roblox Graph, among others. Now Sayman is looking to leverage his understanding of what users expect from their apps with the launch of his new startup, Friendly apps†
The startup’s thesis is that its generation, Gen Z, understand that many of the social apps built to date could be harmful to users’ health and prevent people from achieving their true goals. Friendly Apps’ mission is to create a series of apps with a different set of values that aim to help people in new ways with both their physical and mental health.
Before starting Friendly Apps, Sayman worked at Twitter. In fact, the founder just joined twitter in March, where he wanted to help the social network by building new product experiences for teens through the 0–>1 team.
But after the Elon Musk acquisition was announced, internal product development efforts slowed, he says. That situation gave him a push to finally break out of Big Tech and work on his own thing.
“It takes a billionaire trying to take over a company I’ve worked for to finally do this,” Sayman says with a laugh.
The idea for Friendly Apps is something he’d had in mind for years as he watched technology companies develop their products.
“Many social media products use retention tactics that slowly degrade the well-being and mental health of their users because of the way they are designed,” explains Sayman. The companies encouraged the wrong behavior of their users and have become popular because they are addictive, he says.
“They have tactics to let people in.”
He suggests that the problem lies not only with product design, but also with the internal goals and metrics that companies are pursuing.
“The structures and incentives within many of these social media companies are not set up to encourage longer-term thinking about the well-being of the person using the product,” notes Sayman. “If someone is not doing well on the platform…if they feel anxious, depressed or insecure, they will stop using the product over time. In a different way they will try to find other avenues or other ways to communicate or connect with the people they care about,” he says.
Sayman wants Friendly Apps to be different. While the startup will draw lessons from social apps and products it helped create for teens, the apps aren’t just aimed at Gen Z users.
The apps themselves are not yet created. Despite that fact, the startup has raised a $3 million seed round in about a week. It seems a lot of people were willing to bet on Sayman, starting with Weekend Fund’s Ryan Hooverfounder of Product Hunt.
“I’ve known Michael for eight years. It was clear that he would eventually start his own company. He has a very rare ability to understand human behavior in depth, translate his ideas into clean design and build quickly,” says Hoover. “We are committed to investing pre-product, pre-deck.”
However, Sayman has a few different product ideas. He imagines that one app could focus on helping people achieve their physical fitness goals — even if they’re not a regular gym-goer, runner, or some other sort of hardcore fitness advocate.
Another app can help remind people to prioritize their real-life relationships and encourage them to spend time with people they care about in the physical world.
“Everyone does so many things that we end up not catching up in person for a while,” Sayman says.
As time goes on, friendships can deteriorate as people know less and less about each other, which can affect mental health. Today’s social apps don’t help — they just further isolate us, he explains. Instead, we experience relationships through “a small window of filtered photos,” he notes.
“We didn’t evolve to live that way — like we all do now,” Sayman says. “So I think a lot of the mental health problems that we’re starting to see, especially in younger generations, are a result of a lot of that isolation and that ‘small window’ view of the world.”
The founder also plans to bring his worldview as a second-generation Latino immigrant into Friendly Apps’ product experiences, and sees the potential to address specific hurdles that new immigrants to the US may have to overcome.
But concepts like this may or may not be one of the first apps to launch. Instead, the startup plans to test a range of products, experiences, features, and even various design elements before bringing anything to the public.
Sayman can build apps quickly. But as the sole founder, he will need some time to get the products off the ground and test them. He hopes to have something released to the public in about six months, he says.
Seed investors in Friendly Apps include BoxGroup, Weekend Fund, Shrug Capital, Day One Ventures, Betaworks Ventures, SRB Ventures, 305 Ventures, CoreVentures, plus founders and operators of Snap, TikTok, Instagram, Meta, Google, Tesla, Things, and others .
The company also wants to take the perspectives of people outside of Silicon Valley into account, Sayman says.
An angel investor, Hayley Leibsontold gotechbusiness.com she was “extremely pleased that Michael was prioritizing the onboarding of female angel investors like myself, and others, including teachers, mothers, students and immigrants from diverse backgrounds.”
“The tech industry doesn’t really gather a lot of investors from places that aren’t the tech industry,” says Sayman. “If we think about how we can make products that help people’s mental health and people’s physical well-being…I think we can have opinions, feedback and input directly from people who are not in the tech world.”