Harvard Student Surpasses 400 Users in 2 Months With Goal-Setting App

From the outside looking in, Sydney Wiredu, a New Jersey native and son of two Ghanaian immigrants, appears to have ambition and drive hardwired into his DNA.

So it’s no surprise that the circle of peers he surrounded himself with in high school had similar aspirations, including his best friend Aiden Tahmazian.

Over time, his high school friend group started organically sharing their weekly goals with each other in an effort to create and enforce some social accountability. The effectiveness of the approach quickly became undeniable.

And so, in November of 2022, with the dream of sharing their system with the world, Sydney and Aiden set off to create a social goal-setting app called Circlez.

Fast forward to today and the pair have won a number of startup pitch competitions and Circlez has surpassed 400 users in 2 months.

In this interview, Sydney details the challenges of bootstrapping a startup while pursuing dual degrees in chemistry and neuroscience at Harvard, the importance of building and relying on the right team, and the company’s near term goal to scale to 1 million users.

Sydney and Aiden are a force of nature and I look forward to following their journey. Enjoy!

Tell Us About Yourself and the App You Started.

My name is Sydney Wiredu and I am a rising junior at Harvard University studying chemistry and neuroscience.

I am from Williamstown, New Jersey and the son of two Ghanaian immigrants. From as early as I can remember, I have always been obsessed with the brain, and how we can reinforce healthy behaviors using positive stimuli.

More recently, I became the co-founder and CEO of Circlez, a social goal-setting app, aiming to do just that.

Circlez co-founder and CEO Sydney Wiredu presenting as a featured exhibitor at USASBE 2024 in Birmingham, Alabama (January 2024).

Our mission is to create digital accountability circles where young adults have instant access to motivation within collaborative and supportive circles.

We provide our users with the ability to create and track different goals, alongside their friends and family, in order to boost accountability and measure growth.

Circlez launched on the App Store two months ago and it has already amassed an active audience of hundreds of users.

Who or What Inspired You to Start Circlez and How Did You Land on the Idea You Are Pursuing?

Throughout highschool, my friend group used a discord server where we would post all of our weekly goals.

Anyone who did not complete their goals by the end of the week had to run 10 miles.

This system was incredibly effective, and yielded acceptances into all of the Ivy League universities, West Point, and two D1 scholarships for our friend group.

My best friend and I decided we wanted to democratize access to this system through creating a social app. So, in November of 2022, Aiden Tahmazian officially joined me as co-founder of Circlez.

Aiden Tahmazian, co-founder of Criclez.

After spending months doing market research and downloading dozens of productivity apps, we realized that there was a huge gap in the market…

“The apps had quite plain user interfaces which led to low retention rates. They were not gamified nor social enough, causing people to install and delete the apps after just a few days. We also noticed that more people than ever were experiencing burnout in college and quitting their New Year’s Resolutions.”

We ended up deciding to build an all-in-one solution to these issues through Circlez, a gamified productivity app designed specifically for college students.

Screenshots from the social goal-setting app"Circlez".

What Has Your Growth Trajectory Been Like?

We spent about a year trying to figure out how we were going to build out this app.

Despite how simple wikiHow makes it seem, building a consumer app takes a lot longer than we anticipated, especially as two non-computer science majors.

Aiden studies mechanical engineering and math at Rowan University, so he had more experience coding than I did. We ended up making some wireframes on Miro and Figma, and presenting that to several pitch competitions. 

Circlez Team recruiting software engineers onto the team at Rowan University in January 2024.

We then expanded the team, bringing on a couple of software engineers that we met through incubators and our personal networks.

We have Rushil Reddy-Kagithala of Michigan State University and Joseph Oronto-Pratt of Harvard University helping with software engineering and architecture, as well as Kashmala Khan of Rowan University helping with marketing and design.

Christopher Ferreira, an undergraduate at Harvard University, also stepped up to the role of CTO and has played a pivotal role in helping us scale and building out a cleaner product.

With a $0 customer acquisition cost, to dat we have attracted users to the app primarily through organic social media marketing and network effects. Apps spread quickly through college campuses, especially when your friends are inviting you to join their circles.

We launched the app in March of 2024 and have reached 400 users with over 3,000 impressions on the App Store, and acquired a following of 2,000 people across our social media channels.

Our team ended up winning 1st Place at Rowan University’s 2024 New Venture Expo and were selected to represent Harvard at “Pitch-a-Thon: The Beanpot of Ventures”.

Rowan University's Most Promising New Social Venture Social - Circlez was a winner in April 2023 and December 2023.

To date, we have won about $12,000 in non-dilutive funding and grants and won a few pitch competitions.

Circlez is now aiming to raise a pre-seed round of $500,000 this summer.

Describe the Most Significant Failure, Setback or Stumbling Block You’ve Faced Along the Path to Building Circlez.

One of the largest setbacks that we had over the past couple of months has actually been balancing our demanding academic schedules with the startup.

While we are still students, we are all involved in other extracurriculars such as internships and research.

It is incredibly difficult to find time to meet with investors and fellow founders who can help scale the company during the semester due to attending academically rigorous institutions. 

How Are You Tackling the Issue Today?

We’ve been able to grow out our team quite a bit to help navigate these challenges.

We also have Kathy Zhong of Harvard University leading with UI/UX design.

“Through our robust team of highly committed and driven undergraduate students, we’ve been able to zone in on finding product-market fit, which has also been challenging due to low attention span and retention rates from Gen-Z in general.”

It’s hard to attract the eye of a user over more than a couple of days. However, our app’s social nature and modern interface has users coming back day after day.

If You Could Only Choose a Single Lesson Learned From This Experience to Pass On to Other Founders, What Would It Be?

To be a founder is a full-time commitment.

The company can only move as fast as the founding team wants it to move.

Circlez public beta launch in November 2023.

Even if juggling other opportunities, the startup has to be a main priority as your users are depending on you to iterate quickly and efficiently.

Where Do You See Yourself and Circlez in the Next 3 to 5 Years?

In the next year, we imagine scaling to 1 million users as we reach more college campuses and young adults across the country.

To scale to this level, we will grow our brand ambassador network of college students across the country who promote the app to their local communities, while simultaneously asking for micro influencers to create user-generated content on social platforms for us.

We are also working on securing partnerships with big gym chains and university-affiliated programs to offer incentives and rewards to users.

Our goal is to build an AI goal-setting agent that helps navigate goal setting within the app. We are also working on integrations with wearable technology and other apps on your phone.

In five years, we imagine being a staple social app that most young adults have on their phone, just like Instagram or Discord.

What Resources Could You and Your Business Not Live Without?

LinkedIn, Slack, Notion and YouTube to name a few.

We also have invaluable mentors and advisors from Harvard Innovation Labs and Rowan Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Where Can Stumblers Go to Learn More?

Go download Circlez from the App Store!



Circlez Socials:


Keith X. Donovan

Hey, I’m Keith! Since 2011, I’ve been working for and with startups. More recently, I’ve founded a few websites and rediscovered my love for storytelling.  Startup Stumbles is where I get to fuse these two passions. I hope you’ll discover what I have – that failures are often far more informative and interesting than accomplishments.

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