When CAS sophomore Shuaib Jewon is at NYU’s Leslie eLab, his love for fun and teamwork is at its peak. One Friday, he led a meeting to discuss the latest ideas for CastMe, a startup he co-founded with CEO Phillip Chavira. Alongside Chavira and Jonathan Demar — the startup’s national sales manager — Jewon discussed marketing, software, curating Facebook posts and graphic design. A 12×12 room is hardly enough to contain Jewon’s confidence and ambition, and over the coming years, his platform will only grow.
“There’s no one who does what we do now,” Jewon said.
CastMe, which is currently scheduled to be in beta testing this summer, plans to make communication between producers and actors easier. Despite the fact it hasn’t even launched yet, the app has already tallied over 550 likes on Facebook.
But while the preliminary success of the app may seem like Jewon’s life has been smooth sailing, things haven’t always been so easy. Jewon was born with cleft palate, a birth defect that occurs when the mouth’s tissue doesn’t form properly during pregnancy. He faced adversity from a young age, having to work to overcome subpar social skills and a speech impediment. But with a limited social life came opportunity. He was enthusiastic about technology from a young age, tinkering with his father’s laptop in his home country of Mauritius, a small island nation located in the Indian Ocean. Though his father passed away when he was nine, Jewon’s love for technology continued to grow. He was fascinated by the interconnectivity that went into his family’s desktop, and this experience proved to be the central lesson of his early years.
“The most important thing I learned from my childhood is collaboration,” Jewon said. “If I cannot have the chemistry with the other team members, it’s not going to work.”
At 14, he began performing freelance coding jobs on the Internet for a small fee. Through his educational tutors, Jewon turned what was a private hobby into a feasible future. He found out about the Junior Chamber International Creative Young Entrepreneur Award, which recognizes the the most innovative entrepreneurs under the age of 30. His friend convinced Jewon to give it a shot and three months later, the pair took home second place for TravelArcher, an application that provided marketing strategies for the travel industry.
“I was like wow, I did this on a whim, but maybe I can seriously do this,” Jewon said. “Maybe there’s something here.”
With the intention of learning more about entrepreneurship, Jewon and his friend set their sights on the United States, but even when he was accepted into NYU after his cousin convinced him to apply, Jewon was short on tuition funds. Desperate, he sought help and eventually secured several donations, including an approximately $50,000 scholarship from GML, an important economic power in the Indian Ocean with over 300 subsidiaries and associated accompanies.
But four months before he came to New York, Jewon’s first major surgery for cleft palate failed, putting him in a coma for about a day. With his mouth now shut for a month, Jewon was forced to literally relearn how to speak with college just around the corner.
His first year in college was a year of reflection. After a difficult first semester, Jewon gradually came out of his shell and met Tisch sophomore Jake Rosenberg. A playwright, Rosenberg and Jewon collaborated on an experimental app that would make rush ticketing easier. Though it failed, the two remained friends, and Rosenberg asked Jewon to join him at a play. It was here that he got his first taste of theater. He learned about theater production firsthand, assisting Rosenberg in one of his plays, “Brothers.” Rosenberg credits Jewon with saving the production.
“As soon as I asked Shuaib aboard, he turned us around, reorganized our entire mode of operating and made sure every choice we made was making financial sense,” Rosenberg said.
Three months later, Jewon was introduced to Phillip Chavira, the brain behind CastMe. Since then, building the app has been his top priority, but he knows he can’t do it alone.
“You cannot do everything,” Jewon said. “The key to building a startup is having a perfect team with imperfect members.”
Jewon is currently collaborating with Rosenberg on a new play, “The Jews,” which will be traveling to Poland in 2017. The Jewon today is far happier than the Jewon from freshman year, though at times he is still uncertain what the future has in store for him. He refuses to narrow his window of opportunity though — for him, anything is possible as long as it’s fun.
“I don’t think we are currently living in a world where technology has caught up to Shuaib’s ambition,” Rosenberg said.
Read about more of this year’s Up-and-Comers here.