Kick Starter

by Katharine Reece MFA '12

A basketball player calls it “in the zone,” a writer says it’s when time stands still, and Zach Doege ’15 and Connor Miller ’15 call it flow—the sweet spot when a challenge meets your skill level, and you disappear into a pure state of concentration and optimal productivity. Doege and Miller channeled their mania for flow into a business idea that won the Judges’ Choice award at Sarah Lawrence’s inaugural FinalPitch entrepreneurial contest this May.

Doege and Miller met last year on the crew team and quickly discovered their mutual obsession with efficiency and productivity. Indiana-born Doege kept saying, “I watched Mad Men last night and that’s just how you have to live your life—like Don Draper.” (Presumably because of the ad man’s capacity for self-invention, not his questionable moral fiber.) For the two of them, being professional and doing one’s job exceptionally well are more important than anything else.

The pair started meeting for breakfast every morning in the Pub to share daily goals. (They also sometimes just discuss girls—but through the lens of setting a goal to talk to certain ones.) “Eventually though, we ran out of things to talk about,” says Miller. “We had talked about our lives completely, and we wanted to build our friendship and make it profitable, so I came to breakfast and said, ‘We should start our own business.’”

The pair made lists of their skills, including Doege’s programming talent and Miller’s knowledge of psychology and education. Inspired by their accountability-oriented Pub meetings, they decided to create ChallengeMe—an online community where users support one another in achieving their goals. Challenges vary widely: running a marathon, memorizing poetry, learning how to juggle, and streaking are just a few examples (Miller has achieved both of the latter). The site doesn’t include an extrinsic rewards system; Doege and Miller agree that the satisfaction of completing a challenge is rewarding enough.

Doege and Miller developed their idea as part of SLCeeds, an entrepreneurship program that launched on campus in December 2012. Participants learned how to create a business plan through workshops and mentoring. Doege and Miller presented at PitchFest in February and at FinalPitch in May. Trustee Tracey Riese ’79, who helped start SLCeeds, praised ChallengeMe’s “crowd-sourced encouragement.”

As one of FinalPitch’s winning teams, Doege and Miller were sent to a Kauffman Foundation Startup Weekend event in June to develop their idea further. They plan to launch ChallengeMe this fall—and continue meeting for breakfast.