ZeeMee Founders Juan Jaysingh and Adam Metcalf with a student who was accepted into Stanford using ZeeMee.
A series featuring up-and-coming innovations born or growing up in Wyoming
Members of the Wyoming Business Council staff hear it all the time as we travel the state: We have so many great ideas and companies flying under the radar right here in Wyoming. I wish more people knew what was going on.
The Great Ideas series is our effort to tell those stories that make Wyoming proud.
If you know of an original, innovative business picking up steam in your neck of the woods, get in touch with Baylie Evans at email@example.com.
As a teacher at Sheridan High School, Adam Metcalf got to know some remarkable kids.
Big standardized tests were a breeze for some, but many were overcoming significant personal obstacles or learning differences just to make it to graduation. They had inspirational stories and never-give-up attitudes, but, often, less-than-stellar test scores.
And yet those test scores often determined their options – or lack thereof – for life after high school.
“A lot of my students had unique stories to share,” he said. “I wanted to celebrate the stories of those students to help college admissions people see their value, even if their test scores weren’t stellar.”
So, in 2013, he and a team of three other friends came up with ZeeMee (a clever twist on "see me,”) a free app that allows students to share videos with colleges in the application process, with the goal of helping students be seen as more than the sum of their test scores.
The app guides students through making videos about themselves. Students can simply record their answers to questions like “who is your biggest inspiration and why?” or “how do you keep yourself motivated, even when things don’t go your way?” and upload the raw videos. Or the app will help them show off their creativity by adding animation and narration.
The ZeeMee teammates started developing the idea and raising money from friends and family, eventually gaining the attention of venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. With the promise of funding, and the big-city dreams of some of the teammates, the group moved to California to develop its product.
There, the company grew to about 20 people, and the team now works with about 250 colleges that ask for ZeeMee videos in their application process.
“It has been a heartwarming experience to celebrate and showcase kids who have been disenfranchised from testing culture,” Metcalf said.
Charlie Heckman is one such student.
“Charlie has autism, and his parents shared with me that the ACT, SAT and standardized tests in general were always extremely challenging for Charlie,” Metcalf said.
Charlie created a ZeeMee page and recorded his answers to a long list of questions that allowed him to thank his parents for their encouragement and sacrifice for him, as well as enthusiastically quote Muhammad Ali as his inspiration.
“ZeeMee allowed Charlie to showcase his empathy, character and passions in a much better way than any test score ever could,” Metcalf said.
Another such student is Hannah Chapman, who created an animated ZeeMee video with hopes that her self-aware sense of humor might give her an edge into to her dream school, Elon, a liberal-arts college in North Carolina. Chapman was even featured in a 2016 Time Magazine article about her experience with ZeeMee and the growing preference among college admissions offices for well-rounded, if imperfect, students.
Today, several-hundred thousand kids have used the app to showcase who they really are, Metcalf said.
The team continues to develop the app and add more features, such as creating communities of students who are interested in the same college to help them connect, make friends and even find roommates.
Last year, Metcalf and his family moved back to Buffalo, Wyoming, where he works remotely for the company he helped create.
"Wyoming is such a great place to live,” he said, adding that the safe neighborhoods and affordable cost of living sealed the deal in his decision to move back.
Remote work has become a very realistic option, he said. In fact, ZeeMee has engineers working from as far away as Russia and Lithuania.
Investment capital spurred ZeeMee’s move to California in 2015. Since then, Wyoming has invested in initiatives like Kickstart:Wyoming and SBIR/STTR matching dollars to help keep such companies growing and thriving in Wyoming.
As of January 2019, $977,000 has been awarded to 14 Wyoming companies through these two programs.
Wyoming is getting better and better in terms of offering opportunity and potential to start and grow a company right here, Metcalf said.
“Hindsight being 20-20, and without my teammates’ preferences to consider, I probably would have stayed here in Wyoming to build ZeeMee,” he said.
The more creative, innovative thinkers in the state, the better. And there are big ideas popping up in Wyoming all the time, he added.