Spotlight on Matt Friedman

Meet Matt Friedman: A high school student on a mission to create a self-sorting waste receptacle with his company Green Pigeon Co.

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What inspired you to get into your line of work?

I've always had an interest in the environment and sustainability, but I could never trace where this interest sprouted from. Maybe it was my constant use of Green Edition Snap Circuits, or perhaps it was the solar-powered toys I often ran out into the sun with. But no matter the root, I had always cared about the environment. My education in environmental sciences was reinforced this past summer at a University of Pennsylvania environmental studies program, but it was one moment that truly got me interested in the eventual creation of my startup, Green Pigeon Co. I was sitting in a meeting about my school's sustainability, and they mentioned how the district pays unreasonable sums of money in fees to the local recycling plant. I learned that these fees come from the high prevalence of non-recyclable waste intermixed with our recyclables, clogging up machines at the recycling plant. This quickly grabbed my attention as the school's budget is already so tight, so a fee like this should be addressed immediately. I am Co-President of a council at my school devoted to implementing educational grants at the school, and having more money to use by limiting these fees would be enormous to the education of students in my area. Although these fees seem completely unavoidable, proper recycling education of students has never worked in the past, so why would it now?

So, I pulled together a few of my peers that had varied strengths, from finances to coding, and worked to create a self-sorting waste bin that would automatically sort disposables into paper recycling, non-paper recycling, compost, and landfill waste. The receptacle uses image recognition and neural networks to decipher what kind of disposable it is, and place it into the respective bin. We severely underestimated the difficulty of this task, and there were so many aspects that we overlooked, but taking on such an extensive responsibility opened my eyes to the comprehensive planning needed to complete such a task. I am only a high school student, so I lack this necessary experience but am happy to be learning it now. 

Since then, I have worked with my school's principal to help get this product implemented as soon as we can while making sure it is fully integrated into the school. For example, we would use the compost, which normally isn't collected, to help enrich gardening programs at the school. I have also been working with my area's sustainability board to help make this product viable for the local shops.

What are your best hacks for productivity?

This took me a VERY long time to figure out, especially taking into account my school as a junior in high school takes up the majority of my time, but I have reached a point where productivity is so necessary in my life that I have mastered it. 

The first thing I have learned is to create a very organized list. There are tons of planners that many in my startup use, but I use an online productivity tool called Things. Creating lists of to-dos and upcoming tasks seriously made me a much more productive student and young entrepreneur. My workload often involves random tasks just thrown at me, and not all of them will stick, especially if my schedule gets particularly hectic, so having a place to put those down is critical. A business isn’t just the major actions, it is the sum of tinier actions coming together to create something greater, and if you forget those little tasks, your startup will suffer.

Another fundamental way to tackle productivity is trying to isolate what is distracting you, which seems simple, but it is so much more critical than you might think. What I realized distracts me the most is random and irregular noise, so playing music or white music keeps me on focus for any task, even late at night. Making sure you block websites that aid your procrastination is also critical. My productivity kryptonite is Youtube, so barring that site from my computer helped me immensely.

If there is one way to increase your productivity, it is to ask yourself, with every action, “is this necessary?” I’ve caught myself far too many times answering the question with a no, and it helps bring you back to the reality of your task at hand.

How do you create a work/life balance?

Creating a work/life balance is difficult. What’s even more difficult? A work/life/high-school-junior balance. The most critical way I have kept this balance is making sure to let go of some things. I might become super invested in 3-D rendering of a new product design, or redesigning my startup’s website, but when I take a step back, wouldn’t I rather be sleeping right now? Or talking with friends? Or finishing my English essay due the next day? Can this task wait? Often, this task can wait.

Making sure to take a step back might be the most crucial way to balance something. Giving yourself a new perspective is like having a second set of eyes on anything you need to complete. Although tough at first, this strategy is critical great for people like me, with such a varied and demanding workload.

Apple or PC: Apple
Words you live by: "____like no one is watching." You could fill that blank in with anything you want to put your mind to, judgement free.
Sunday afternoon nirvana: Honestly, still sleeping since I'm probably up late the nights before doing school work or waiting for a 3-D model to render.

Alex Gordon