Spencer Shulem is the founder of WeDo, a productivity app that allows users to keep track of almost every aspect of their lives. It can include your schedule, extra curricular activities, movies and shows you want to watch, bills you need to pay, even things you want to buy. He says the idea was inspired by his personal struggle to keep tracks of all these things in school; “there were always so many things I needed to remember, so many things I needed to get done, and especially for someone with ADHD it was really hard to keep track of all this stuff.” He attended college for one semester for business design and computer science, but school just was not for him. At age 19 he ended up being the youngest employee at Mobile and Desktop, a billion dollar tech company in Santa Barbara, where he was hired as Head of User Experience. After a few months there, he decided to start his own company, which became WeDo. This was all after starting a review blog called Elite Nerds at the age of 12, which got over 1.5 million views in the first month, and starting a software company called Unparalleled Software at age 14 that made a number one selling medical app and a top 10 selling productivity app.
Growing up, Shulem says he was “originally diagnosed with OCD, ADHD, and dyslexia, and none of those work well together.” He found out later that he does not have dyslexia, but having both OCD and ADHD was difficult because they fed into each other. He says, “I couldn’t really pay attention or focus because I was counting or obsessing over something, and that fed into me being distracted in general and just not wanting to pay attention.” Having learning differences as a child was hard for Shulem because the way the school dealt with it ended up making him stand out as being different. He says, “It really hurts, and it really puts you into this bubble where you feel different, and in a bad way from everyone else.” He would be called down to the principal’s office twice a day, and “that was shameful…you’re kind of publically chastised for having something and it’s almost better to be in detention than to go and take a pill.” High school did not get much better, but he was able to control his OCD more effectively and get good grades by making connections with the teachers. He says, “these are just people and they have families and they have husbands and wives and there’s nothing special about them, and if you come to them with a serious problem that you’re trying to deal with and you’re trying to be a good person about, I guarantee you they will go out of their way to make sure that you succeed.”
If schools want to better accommodate for students with learning differences, Shulem believes the best approach is to make changes that would benefit the general population of students. He says, “interestingly enough, if you look at things that work really well with people who have quote-unquote ‘learning difficulties’, they’re a lot of things that would really help anyone.” Strategies such as having more one-on-one time with students, giving less homework, and having more interactive and engaging topics in the classroom are all things that would benefit any student, including those with learning differences. Shulem says, “to me, it’s less a problem of how do we fix ADHD, it’s how do we fix education in general.”
Shulem believes there are a lot of positives to having a learning difference. He says for him, having OCD “helped with certain business things - if anything bugs me about the business, I just stay on it until it gets solved.” Having ADHD helps, as well, because he is able to focus on so many things at once. He says, “running a business, and running a start-up especially, I can’t just do one thing or else the business will die. I need to be diverse, I need to be able to pay attention to a lot of things that are going on.” Generally, Shulem says just being different and being able to focus on a lot of things are two big benefits of having ADHD. He also says, “there’s a lot of things that you can just do that most people can’t,” and you just have to figure out how to best make those things work for you.
Shulem has three main pieces of advice for younger generations with learning differences. First, he says to “use your differences to your advantage,” and understand what about those differences allows you to do things that no one else can. Second, he says to “understand how to build an environment around you where you’re able to use those abilities.” Finally, he says “when you’re in school…understand that you can do a lot of things to make your situation better, and just ask for help.”
To learn more about WeDo, click here.