- 21-year-old Michael Sayman started working at Facebook at the tender age of 17.
- Now, he’s a product manager at Google.
- He’s also a millionaire.
- Sayman’s unconventional career path has taught him valuable career and money lessons.
- Some of his top tips include not depending on anyone else for your success and spending money in a way that goes along with your values.
At age 13, he built his first smartphone app.
At 17, Facebook offered him an internship that led to a full-time job.
It sounds like a charmed life — and although he’s living it, Michael Sayman can hardly believe it, either.
“It’s insane, because my overall life trajectory has never been one where I could imagine anything that’s happened,” Sayman told INSIDER. “None of this has felt real. This all just kind of feels like this is all just a dream and I’m just going to wake up and return to my normal life. The idea that I’ve worked with Mark Zuckerberg is just so freaking strange to me. Or being able to be at companies like Facebook and Google.”
Although his life seems enviable, Sayman’s journey has not been without hardships.
When the 2008 recession hit, he had to help his struggling family pay the bills — using the money he made from designing apps.
His difficult childhood and whirlwind career taught him a lot at a young age — and we can all gain something from the lessons he’s learned about career and money.
You don’t have to be a genius — you just have to take initiative.
Those who have called him a “child prodigy” or a “genius” are way off the mark, Sayman said.
“The thing that bothers me the most about that is that it implies that there’s something inherent to me that I was born with — that others are not born with — that has propelled me to where I am, rather than the opportunities that the internet has simply made available to me and that I’ve been able to just take advantage of and learn over time,” he said.
Being a self-starter — plus a bit of luck — is what got Sayman to where he is today, he said.
He taught himself to code by looking up tutorial videos on Google, he said. Over time, he started building apps, selling them, and figuring out other monetization strategies.
When Zuckerberg approached him about an internship, Sayman had already created a popular free game app called 4 Snaps that shot to the top of Apple’s App Store, beating out apps such as Starbucks and Fitbit.
Don’t depend on anyone else for your success.
Although he’s been mentored by one of the most powerful people in the tech industry, Sayman considers himself to be in control of his own destiny.
“The biggest thing I think I learned over time was to never really depend on anybody for my success,” he said. “No matter what, no matter how nice somebody is, no matter who they are, if they’re related to me or not, whatever the case may be — never to put my success dependent on somebody else’s actions.”
If your success depends on someone else doing something, you have to figure out how to change that and do it yourself, Sayman said.
“And if someone does come along the way and help you or does something that you didn’t expect that contributes to your success, that’s great,” he said. “But never rely on it.”
Your unique background can be your strength.
Sayman describes his early life as “one of the most stressful childhoods” imaginable.
The 2008 recession was a huge blow to his parents, who owned a small chicken restaurant in Miami.
“People would stop going to eat at the restaurant,” he said. “My parents would stop having income to be able to pay for the bills and everything.”
When he started making money from his apps at age 13 — making $ 100 to $ 200 a day from the very first week — he started pitching in and eventually effectively supporting his family as a teenager.
Sayman said he’s transparent about his background because he “was able to learn a lot from the pressure of having to maintain a family at an age like that.”
In fact, he attributes much of his success to his childhood circumstances.
“Because there was so much of this existential crisis in my family at times where we didn’t know if we had enough money for food some days or to pay the electricity bill or things like that, the necessity to generate income, to create something big and to kind of take things onto myself were huge,” Sayman said. “So those, I think, who live without that pressure have a disadvantage, because there’s not that existential crisis that chases them throughout their childhood.”
Taking risks is usually worth it — even if you’re scared.
Sayman’s family’s tenuous financial situation growing up made him unwilling to risk losing stability later in life, he admitted.
“I am the most risk-averse person on the freaking planet,” Sayman said with a laugh. “Honestly, when I hear others saying like, ‘You’re 21. You can go out there and just have fun and enjoy it!’ They’ll tell me these things and I’ll just sit there and be like, ‘I can’t do that.'”
An underlying fear of ending up in a similar situation to what he was in as a kid is always at the back of Sayman’s mind, he said.
“I think every financial decision that I make or career decision that I make is largely impacted by that,” he said.
One risk Sayman didn’t end up taking was to start his own company when he was 18.
“It was my second year of working at Facebook and I had this idea to maybe just go out there and build my own company, start up my own company again and kind of raise some money in the valley and just start off my own thing,” he said. “And a bunch of people were telling me to just make the leap.”
But he couldn’t — out of fear that he would lose everything. Over time, he has done his best to rid himself of that dread.
“I don’t think at that point in my life I was ready to make that jump,” he said. “[But] that’s maybe one situation where if I would’ve done it, who knows what would have come out of that?”
But Sayman is getting better at taking risks, as evidenced by his decision to leave Facebook and go work at Google in September 2017.
Although the people at Facebook were “like family” to Sayman, he went to Google to force himself to lose the fear of “just making some leaps sometimes,” he said.
Before Google, Facebook was the only place Sayman had ever worked.
“And I thought, well, maybe if I do this leap and it doesn’t work out, I’ll learn from it,” he said. “But regardless of what ends up happening, it’ll be an experience that I hadn’t had before.”
So far, Sayman loves working at Google — even though he’s not allowed to say exactly what he does there.
“I would say it’s one of the most exciting opportunities I’ve had in a long time,” he said.
Spend your money in a way that supports your values.
Like many 21-year-olds, Sayman doesn’t follow a strict budget.
“I tend to be more spontaneous with things,” he said. “I tend to live, I guess, basic enough on the day-to-day that when I do have these moments where I’m like, ‘Let’s go to Disney World!’ and we all just go to Disney World, I can do it without a problem.”
His relatively frugal lifestyle makes this spontaneity possible, he said.
“For me, growing up how I did, the only things that have truly made me happy are being able to know that I can pay the electricity every month without a problem,” Sayman said. “Being able to know that I can pay the phone bill every month without a problem, knowing that I can buy food every day. Just as long as I have the basic necessities… That’s kind of the only thing I really require in my life.”
He said he spends money on things that will make his life more convenient, but not necessarily on things that will make it more luxurious.
“Extravagance isn’t something really I prioritize, but convenience is,” he said.
For example, if Sayman didn’t have a car to get to work or there was no shuttle provided, he would be fine with paying $ 15 for an Uber everyday, he said.
Saving money is a skill you have to learn.
Sayman’s parents never taught him to save money.
“Nobody really taught them to save money,” he said. “So we’re all just kind of winging it and hoping that something’s going right. And so far, I think I’ve done a decent job with that.”
In the past year or so, Sayman has gotten more serious about planning for his future, writing up a will and talking to a financial advisor.
But although he has a career far more developed and successful than most 21-year-olds, Sayman doesn’t want to have to be a responsible adult 100% of the time just yet.
“Part of me, my Gen Z 21-year-old self, it’s very much a kid still in some sense,” he said. “I still kind of just want to go out and have a drink sometimes with friends and just kind of go crazy and be irresponsible once in a while.”
You should be constantly learning and improving.
Sayman reminds himself all the time that he’s not a genius and he’s not special.
“…There’s millions of kids out there who are smarter than me, who know how to code way better than I ever did, who are better designers, better engineers, and they don’t have what I have,” he said.
If he keeps that in mind, Sayman said he will be able to constantly improve and get better at what he does.
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