Cliff Weitzman, a Brown University senior, last month made Forbes’ 2017 30 under 30 class, a collection of the leading young changemakers and innovators in the country. Weitzman, who was featured in the education category, talks about being named to the list and his plans for the future. He also founded Speechify, a software program that translates text to speech, with help from his team and two fellow Brown students.
PBN: Were you surprised to learn you are one of the Forbes’ “30 under 30?” Why do you think you were nominated?
WEITZMAN: Yes. They told me it's because of my track record of building 35 products as an undergraduate at Brown and winning most of the top startup competitions in the U.S., because of the very real impact Speechify can have on hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people worldwide, and because my story really resonated with them.
PBN: Where are you from? What are you studying at Brown, and why did you choose Brown?
WEITZMAN: I grew up in Raanana, Israel, and moved to Marin County in California when I was 13.
I study Renewable Energy (a mix of physics, computer science and engineering) – an independent concentration I designed and got approved. I also focused a lot on biotech and philosophy as well as studying design at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design].
I chose Brown because when I visited, everyone was smiling. I got into conversations with people about history, politics, economics, engineering and so much more that left my brain spinning with ideas. I chose it because I learned that it was ranked … as the happiest school in the world and because it made me feel at home. After my first three months as a student at Brown, I built more close friendships than I could have ever imagined and my cheeks started hurting from smiling so much.
PBN: Tell me about Speechify and how it got started. I know that you created it with help from your team and fellow Brown students, Jared Siskin ’19 and Noah Picard ’18.
WEITZMAN: It was difficult for me to keep up with the reading at Brown since I'm dyslexic. So, I set up my own system that allowed my computer to read out everything to me – this let me go through material three times faster than normal reading. Then I added the ability to turn any text into an audiobook that appeared on my phone so I could listen to my philosophy readings while longboarding to class and while eating breakfast instead of straining my eyes the night before. Other people started asking for copies of the software and it steadily gained more and more momentum from there onward.
Speechify is software that lets users turn any text into an audiobook instantaneously. It's designed for auditory learners who love being productive.
PBN: When did you speak at TedxBrownU, a student-run event, and what did you discuss?
WEITZMAN: I was invited to speak at TedX when I was a sophomore in college. I spoke about “How to Turn Big Ideas into Reality.” The video can be seen here.
PBN: What are your future career plans?
WEITZMAN: My goal is to create as much value as possible in the world and to elevate [the] collective quality of life. For me, that means making Speechify ubiquitous so that every person in the world who wants to grow and be productive is empowered by it, and uses it to save time and learn more.