Building an App to Advance Productivity

Pictured above is Rucha Mehendale (left), the Co-Founder / CFO / CMO of Sloth and Lilian Hao (right), Co-Founder

Introduce yourself: Name, age, where are you from? 

Rucha Mehendale, 16 from San Jose, CA

Lillian Hao, 17 from San Jose, CA

What is Sloth? What is the story behind the name?

Sloth is a high growth startup which offers a smart time management and productivity-focused tool. When coming up with a name for our start-up, we were thinking about naming it after an animal so we came up with a bunch of different ideas such as Marlin and Armadillo. However, none of these names really resonated with us until our teacher, Mrs. Lin, suggested Sloth. Sloth is such a fun and  modern name and we wanted to emphasize that through using Sloth. You manage your time well so that you have time to be a Sloth. 

What are all of the features?

Sloth will provide users with special features in addition to the typical planner app’s features (including calendar scheduling, tasklist, etc.).

Sloth will organize user tasks and events efficiently by class and due date, but will also offer a productive timer which will let users set periods of time to work productively, with the option to block distracting apps such as social media platforms.

In addition, Sloth will provide weekly metrics for users based on their completed assignments, time spent on their phone, and their overall productivity. Sloth’s simple yet effective UX will also provide ease of use to users and reduce wasted time. We know how hard it is for students to stay motivated, which is why Sloth will provide various incentives and rewards through our partnerships and we will also offer app customization. Sloth will continually update all users through push notifications and reminders, helping to keep students productive throughout their day even if they have a heavy workload. There are a few more features that are still in the works though, so definitely look out for more updates about Sloth through our social media pages! As shown through our range of features, Sloth is focused on helping users set realistic goals, alleviate procrastination, develop good study habits, and be organized + plan ahead. 

Tell us more about Sloth’s Journey. How did your experiences as students contribute to your inspiration for the idea?

In the beginning of the VCHS President’s Business Challenge competition, our teacher asked us to brainstorm ideas about possible business solutions to problems we encountered in our daily lives. My partners and I immediately went to work and thought of ideas ranging from a house inventory app to a self-cleaning container, but nothing we came up with truly resonated with us. We took a step back and asked ourselves, “What do I struggle most with?” All three of us answered saying, “time management.” We realized, at that moment, we found our problem. Now, it was up to us to create an effective solution. We interviewed 50+ people from middle school students to professional workers for market research.

Through our interviews, we found that, like us, many other high school students struggle with time management, do not feel motivated to finish their tasks, and have a hard time steering away from distractions.

Several students we talked to described how it was difficult for them to schedule and manage all of their after-school extracurricular activities as well as their packed academic course loads. Upon more research, we found that 87% of high school students struggle from procrastination and poor time management. As high school students, we can very much relate to these situations and we want to provide an organized, compelling, and useful solution to help students stay accountable for their goals. Thus, we created Sloth: a smart time management and productivity-focused app. We pitched our extensive business plan including a mockup, 5 year go-to-market strategy, projected financial statements, and more to venture capitalists and industry leaders in several rounds of the PBC competition. In the final round, we pitched to a Palo Alto venture capital firm called Radar Partners and we were later announced as the winner of the 2020 VCHS President’s Business Challenge. This entire experience was absolutely incredible and one that my partners and I will forever cherish.

What is the process of developing an app and getting it out on the app store? What tools did you use to code and design it?

Lillian: Right now, we haven’t launched our app on the App Store, so we’re not really qualified to answer that, but the ongoing app development of Sloth has taught us a lot about UI design and software systems. The tools we utilized to build our app include the Flutter frameworks and Firebase/Firestore database integration (both offered by Google). Any IDE that works with Flutter & Dart programming is fine for coding the actual app, i.e. Visual Studio Code, Xcode, etc. In order to create the mockup of our app, we also used and Notability to create a prototype and model app screens for Sloth.

Did you code the app yourselves or did you hire developers? If you coded the app, where did you learn how to code? How did you get through when you got stuck? If you hired developers, where did you find them and why did you choose them? 

Lillian: Right now, our team is coding our app ourselves. However, in the future, we hope to recruit more experienced software developers as our app continually updates and becomes more complex. I first learned to code in C++ at a competitive coding camp--the basic concepts of variables, syntax, loops, logic, functions, etc. Later on, I also took AP Computer Science A and AP Computer Science Principles to strengthen my coding foundations and learn Java. After that, I began coding more often on my own, self-studying Python and Dart. At school and other summer programs, I also worked with Arduino and a multitude of sensors, coding in C. When I got stuck coding, I would either take a temporary break to clear my mind of frustration and be able to look at the code later with an open mind. Other times, I would go to my teacher or other students for help, and they’d often help me realize a mistake I made or an area that I didn’t address with my code.

Did you have to look into any sources of funding for the product? If so, what advice do you have to other aspiring entrepreneurs who don't know where to start with the financials?

Through the VCHS President’s Business Challenge and NYES Tech Cluster, we received a total of $1,450 in seed funding so I would definitely recommend that aspiring entrepreneurs should look into participating in start-up/pitch competitions for possible funding. 

How are you effectively able to spread awareness about your app on social media? What methods do you use to engage with your online audience?

We definitely try to post regularly on our social media platforms such as Instagram and LinkedIn. We also host and take part in many different Instagram takeover events so that we get more exposure and connect with our audience. Lastly, we reach out to student-led magazines and blogs to get featured on various platforms.  

What differentiates Sloth from other time management resources?

The main difference between Sloth and other time management resources lies in the process.

With Sloth, we focus on encouraging the user’s intrinsic motivation through a variety of incentives to allow them to build long-lasting, beneficial study habits.

This ensures that the user’s time management improves in the long run, not just while they’re using the app. Furthermore, we aim to simplify the process of scheduling and assignment organization as much as possible, honing the convenience aspect of Sloth for every user. Instead of spending their time tediously planning out everything, we streamline their planning through one of our soon-to-be-released features.

Did you have any mentors to help you in the process of establishing Sloth? If so, how did their guidance contribute to your efforts and success? 

We have several mentors who have helped guide us through our journey with Sloth. One of our main mentors has been our business teacher, Mrs. Lin. She has taught us everything from marketing to finance and she showed us how to implement the business concepts we learned in class into a real start-up. Mr. Wang, a private investor, has been another great mentor who has really helped us especially with our projected financial statements and the logistics of our start-up.

What are your other interests and hobbies outside of developing Sloth? How have you been occupying yourself during quarantine?

Rucha: Aside from my involvement with Sloth, I am the Outreach Director in Girls Play Global, a non-profit initiative that focuses on empowering girls in India and educating them about the UN Sustainable Development Goals through sports. I am also a Marketing Officer and the Student Ambassador Director for The Amal Foundation, a non-profit initiative that aims to educate youth in Lebanon about design, entrepreneurship, and engineering. At school, I am the Captain of the Varsity Tennis Team, President of UNICEF Club, a Club Officer of DECA, and part of two other clubs. From co-founding a start-up to being part of non-profit organizations focused on youth empowerment, I am dedicated towards finding innovative solutions to problems faced in daily lives of people from around the world.

Lillian: My main hobbies include dance, art, and biking! During quarantine, I’ve been either taking a walk or biking outside everyday, and it really helps relieve a bit of stress. Other than my at-home hobbies, I also code software systems for our school’s MATE ROV team, which is a marine robotics competition. Before the pandemic, I was also president of the Code For Change Club. Our club learned app development and applied what they learned to bringing about meaningful social reform. My role included overseeing club members, their projects, and our weekly app dev lessons.

If you could be anyone for a day, who would you be and why? 

Rucha: I would love to be Elizabeth Douglas, CEO of WikiHow, for a day! She was one of the people who actually inspired me to become an entrepreneur after I heard about her story as a female entrepreneur during the 2019 Young Women's Leadership Summit hosted by Stanford Women in Business. Douglas’ story especially resonated with and motivated me to pursue my passions and never back down from a challenge.

Lillian: This might sound odd, but I would love to be a student growing up in the UK or France. I’ve always wanted to explore the difference in culture and society between the US and Europe. Sometimes, the political climate of the US seems so divided and it seems like even people from slightly different backgrounds are vastly different in their perspectives and beliefs. As much as I would love to experience the lifestyle of a celebrity or vastly successful person, I think that just being born in a completely different location would be more beneficial in expanding my worldview and shape me to be a better person.


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