Alexa Kayman - 16

Year 16 is a big year, starting to take on more responsibility as you inch closer to the big 18. This article is here for you if you’re turning 16 soon, to read what a talented young builder went through looking back at this crazy age. Take a few lessons from their experience and save yourself the trouble, you’ll need them!

Who are you?

If you are on this website then you’re my kind of person. I’d love to meet you - I’m Alexa Kayman, a 17 year old autodidactic and sometimes awkward builder from NYC.

What are you interested in? What work do you do if any?

I’m currently Founding Growth at Bloom, and was previously the Marketing Director of Alect Political and Founder of The Generation, where we helped students unapologetically chase their passions.

Has this changed in the past year?

In the past year, my goals, systems and way of life has shifted, as cheesy as it sounds. My experiences might seem shiny on paper, but each day, quarter and transition had its own twists and turns: balancing life, work and school, occasional existential crises in the face of comparison, and struggling to form guiding principles. I hope my experiences will be somewhat entertaining if not humorous and most importantly provide perspective to help you navigate your own journey.

Most of the micro interests stay within the realm of tech, or anything that I can pick up for free with the help of YouTube, but the differing pursuits seem to be motivated by 3 factors that make up my North Star.

What’s your north star?

Minor interests change in the context of life events, but the macro stays the same: building for energy and impact. These three terms form my north star.

  1. Building = any kind of creation: websites, buggy programs, writing, relationships.
  1. Energy = anything that excites me or someone else: mostly building or improving on skills and occasional chaos for more active adrenaline rushes.
  1. (Positive) Impact = intentional behavior I’m proud to look back on: feeling good about progress, spending time with family + friends, or in general, making someone’s day more fun or interesting.

The principles above contribute to most of my decisions, especially my habit of “hobby jumping.” The takeaway is to be curious and interested in everything, or at least, create as many interests as you can by doing.

What are some of your biggest takeaways from your year as a 16-year-old?

Consistency, depth and speed of learning have changed based on a few transitions.

The largest transition was from Sophomore (10th) → Junior (11th) year of High School, and balancing academics plus perceived vs. actual value of my education.

If you deeply explore the tech or entrepreneurial world, or maybe you just disliked proving that triangles are in fact triangles like I did, you’ll come across discussions about the education system. Thanks to the digital renaissance, solo-learning has never been more effective and accessible. As you slowly master the art of teaching yourself, other systems can begin to feel redundant and even draining.

Here’s how I initially dealt with it:

  • I tried to try everything at the fullest. This looked like cramming 10-15hrs of relatively low-impact work into my day, and quickly failed.
  • I subconsciously rejected and doubted the system I disliked. This looked like participating in 0 clubs after 1 bad club experience, spending lunch off campus, etc.
  • I felt trapped, mindlessly submitting my schedule, time and mental effort to something that felt like an obligation vs. an opportunity. This meant achieving the bare minimum academically and sacrificing opportunities to learn beyond the curriculum/what was on the test.

Here’s how I’ve adjusted:

I use momentum. My heart will constantly pick Bloom / passion projects / building random stuff over school work. But, it’s hard to fully enjoy something with another task looming in the back of your mind or calendar. . .So, purely for the purposes of optimization, I start with what’s quick and simple. Small actions of any kind contribute to progress, and progress contributes to consistency. Momentum is also about energy. I do what absolutely sucks when I have the most energy (noon-ish), and then do energizing/fun work when I had medium energy (evening). A quick run or facetiming a friend is a great way of rejuvenating as well.

I am super intentional about my time and what my “high school experience” looks like. I try to spend as much time with friends as possible yet at the same time, I have 0 qualms with saying no to events/people, and 0 issues with leaving parties early. Remember that “no one” cares about you, in the best possible way. Vanquish any moments of “Everyone thinks X, or Everyone is watching me do X,” since it’s irrational: everyone is just worried about themselves and will forget about you + anything embarrassing as soon as you are out of sight/mind. Also, have fun, don’t be afraid to look stupid and “be a kid” as much as you can.

I try to make the most of the situation. I first identified the personal value of my traditional education and now (try to) remind myself of these benefits. It’s almost impossible to replace the feelings, effects and intricacies of being in a group of people you didn’t choose.

A) Friends are your self-selected family; an awesome supportive + constructive feature of your life. Settle down with a small group of people. And for the rest of your high school? Tolerance is a life skill. Tolerance of redundant work, and tolerance of other people.

B) While many STEM pursuits can be self taught, it’s hard to replicate the energy and discourse of a classroom filled with others. Even though liberal arts are often dumped on, if done correctly, these contribute to your development and understanding of the world around you. Understanding people is a superpower and a difficult pursuit; there’s a reason why some of the most influential people in the startup world majored/co-majored in philosophy.

C) The more you pay attention in class, the less time you have to dedicate outside of school to get the same results. Maximized attention + effort is purely a logical benefactor.

What do you find most important in life?

1) Work Life

The cold application to Bloom in June 2021 has gone a long way. The 1 year mark was amazing and continuing to see the company grow is even better. The transition to hybrid, in-person work in NYC has created a new sense of independence and routine I love: Wake Up → Classes → School Work → 15 min walk to WeWork + Coffee → Bloom + Office Dog + Ping Pong → Home.

Other notes:

  • No role is beneath you: role transitions I was first dubious of have now heightened my sense of the product and led to new skills.
  • Take advantage of the people around you, and look for ways to take initiative + learn to grow: I’ve been lucky enough to have amazing leaders (major thank you to Sonny and Allan) who constantly look for ways to include me in new projects and skillsets, especially as I oriented myself to my first real workplace. Few managers will do that, so be ready to take responsibility for your own growth. I’m no longer hesitant to spam the feedback channel, ask silly questions and listen in on calls to learn.
  • Washing my hands after picking up the office dog has also reduced my allergic reactions.

2) Career / Founder (?)

Officially transitioning away from The Generation was and is still the most puzzling change for me. “Founder” status, even for something small, is really the feeling of ownership and building something for real people. As The Generation (job platform for high school students) faded as more students returned in-person, and therefore less students could work outside of school, the claim I had to “Founder” also faded.

Reasoning for the transition:

  1. Gaining experience in a new industry and placing building blocks for my future.
  1. Accelerating the learning curve by observing the work of other founders.
  1. Even though it hurts to admit it, I’m taking a slight break. Even the time + mental dedication towards a fast-paced startup doesn’t fully match the same weight of my own project/organization. The respite is still productive + worth it.

3) Friends + Family

Around my birthday or the new year, I always feel like the end of my childhood creeps closer and closer. If this hasn’t happened to you every year for as long as you can remember, maybe you’ll feel it at 16: 2 years until 18. Fortunately, people like Jack are there to tell you life keeps getting better, but still make the most of the time you have now. I wish I spent more time with loved ones in the past, and still struggle to do so in the present.

What do you have to say to people just turning 16?

Here’s an attempt at an organized and actionable conclusion.

  1. Micro interests change drastically, but your macro interests/north star stays constant and emerges over time.
  1. Make the most of every situation, especially your education.
  1. Eradicate the sense of judgment, especially feelings of comparison or “being behind”.
  1. We don’t get to relive our memories. Maximize present moments to create good memories instead.
  1. Run your own life, not the other way around. In situations where you don’t have control, see #2.
  1. Use momentum to get sh*t done, even things you don’t want to do. In most cases, you can control your energy. Take energizing breaks when necessary.
  1. Shape your own “high school experience,” don’t be afraid to say no or leave early, and just be satisfied and proud of how you spend your time.
  1. In terms of “productivity tips,” just pick a system that works for you. Nothing will optimize your schedule more than doing things that energize you. I time block my tasks using Sunsama (paid) or Amie (free).
  1. If you feel like you don’t have 1 specific tangible interest, try identifying an underlying reason for existing forms of personal entertainment. Or, just let YouTube take you down a rabbit hole of website development, graphic design, the dreaded Blender Donut Tutorials, sound design, etc.
  1. Enjoy the last two years of official childhood. You don’t get that time back.

Wrap it up, Alexa

I meant what I said in the beginning. If you’ve read this, especially if you’re a teen builder or just a curious mind, I’d love to meet you. Always happy to chat.

about whatever chaos you’ve read here, balancing work, life and school, self-taught development, latest tech tools, or anything in the startup space : )

Disclaimer: This article is written from the experiences Alexa has had in his life. Her life will not be perfectly applicable to yours. For that reason, don’t take what she says as law.