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EdTech: Ryusei Best of Reach Best On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact On…

EdTech: Ryusei Best of Reach Best On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact On Education

Just start. I agree with Paul Graham in that you have no way to tell whether you are ready to undertake your own venture. Unlike math, sports, or musical instruments, where you can kind of guess whether you have a shot at pursuing them, for startups you have absolutely no way to tell other than by doing it. So, if you are on the fence and have the spirit to try it out, just do it!

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course, many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. In this particular installment, we are talking to leaders of Education Technology companies, who share how their tech is helping to improve our educational system. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryusei Best

He is the Founder & CEO at Reach Best, a UC Berkeley-founded startup to help high schools send their students to their Dream Universities using AI. He founded Reach Best when he was 17 years old as a high school student in Japan. Ryusei is now on a mission to build the Era of AI-assisted Education.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

Thank you for having me! I’m half-Mexican, half-Japanese. I was born and raised in Mexico City, and then at 15 I moved to Japan for high school, and I’m now studying at UC Berkeley. So I’ve been exposed to a lot of different cultures throughout my life, which has had I think two main impacts on who I am. First, it made me value adaptability very highly. Growing up with a unique identity, it was very difficult to find people with a similar background so in order to make friends I had to learn how to be flexible to meet their cultural understanding and learn to adapt how I communicate my identity so they could more easily connect with me. Second, it made me set very ambitious goals for myself. Rather than think about how I can have an impact just on a single country, I like to think about how I can have an impact across the whole globe.

I became interested in technology when I was 2 or 4. My parent’s took a picture of baby me sitting in front of a 2004 Windows computer and it looks like I’m trying to figure out what the buttons below the monitor do, which looking back seems like it was perhaps the starting point for my interest in (reverse) engineering human-machine interfaces and the algorithms powering them.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Well, I can tell you the origin story of Reach Best. I was the first student from my high school in Japan to ever apply to top Universities abroad like UC Berkeley, and being an international student during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, I had very limited support, so if I wanted to realize my dream I had no other choice but to do a lot of it myself. I participated in programs like Stanford e-Japan and did a lot of independent research to learn the mechanisms of University admissions systems.

During the summer of 2020, I came to the realization that many of my friends were struggling with their Universities and I feared that they would end up taking gap years like it happened to the class above us due to COVID-disruptions. So in July I started Reach Best to help them out and I announced it on my social media. The problem was that too many friends from Japan, Mexico, and other places, reached out and I was beginning my senior year, the busiest high school year, so I had to come up with a way to help them in a super efficient manner. That’s when I developed the first algorithms that would help me analyze students’ chances of admissions, which was a super success as it enabled me to solve students’ uncertainty and application plan in just 2 sessions.

What I learned from this experience was the importance of being proactive when pursuing opportunities. I, like all of us, was presented with events and conditions beyond my control and my reaction was to view them as opportunities to take action. I didn’t let my school’s support limit me in my ambition to study at UC Berkeley. I had very little knowledge building algorithms, but I improvised and taught myself because helping my friends was very important to me. So in everything I do and pursue now, I make sure to always seek ways to create opportunities rather than just wait for opportunities to come to me.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m incredibly grateful for my parents for putting an unimaginable amount of energy into supporting me and believing in me. It started even before I was born. My parents spent over 6 months thinking about my name and actually they didn’t know whether I’d be a boy or a girl, so they had not decided what to call me till I was born. They believe that one’s name determines one’s life to an overwhelming extent, depending on how special a name makes you feel, for instance, it’d shape the expectations you have for yourself and thereby affect your degree of ambition and compassion. So, they invested time and energy to make sure they instilled the right meaning behind my name. I was born on December 25th and, according to my mom, with my eyes wide-open and a strong piercing look. They chose to name me Ryusei, which in Japanese means Christmas Dragon, that can convey a sense of being like a mythical powerful creature or a Biblical messiah, which I found super cool! And, they’ve always been immensely devoted to my growth and I can’t imagine who I’d be without the loving support of my parents.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Luck comes to the lucky ones.” I had a very fortunate childhood. I had amazing parents and brothers. I was at the top of my class. I had friends all around the world with whom I shared my passions for politics, video games, soccer and piano. But, I didn’t appreciate all the fruits of my life enough and I wasn’t taking full advantage of my unique upbringing because I was living comfortably. When I was 15, I ended up without a spot at my high school due to an unexpected inflow of student admissions, and I for the first time felt like the cards were stacked against me. It reckoned my view of the world and my role in it, making me reflect on just how lucky my life had been till then and this new event threatened what I had now come to consider as my identity that “only great things happen to me”.

One year later, I was diagnosed with Tuberculosis — the only student from my entire class — and when I got my positive blood test, I lost all sense of direction. Tuberculosis was like a magic mirror that showed me what the next 80 years of my life would be like if I continued living my life normal: another name washed away through the passage of my time. In my mind, I felt a disconnect between all the special circumstances that I had lived so far and the unexceptional future that I saw for myself. That’s when I began searching for ways to control my own destiny.

I started taking action and setting ambitious goals for myself in an attempt to change my life course, but I was still tainted by my diagnosis and I was very afraid that I’d continue my unlucky sprint and face worse and worse obstacles. I went back to what I learned from my parents: the mind is very powerful and you’ll attract what you put your mind into. And so, my answer was to reframe my high school incident and diagnosis as lucky events in my life, by trusting that down the line they’d be the dots that connected me to the successful future I want. The truth is that all events in life are in itself neutral, and we are the ones that make them positive or negative through our reactions. When I was 19, I wrote “Luck comes to lucky ones” in a post-it to remind myself of the power of my thoughts and that I can achieve anything, which continues to motivate me today as I lead Reach Best. Ultimately, life is what you make of it.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I’ll tell you the one key trait that I think has been instrumental in my success and that very few people talk about: the ability to do independent analysis and come up to individual conclusions in a business setting. There’s this huge problem among business leaders of superficial thinking, where you just copy competitors’ strategy or adopt the latest technology because everyone says it’s cool. For instance, in the 1980s hard disk drives were the thing everyone wanted to work on, or in the 1990s it was the dot com boom, or in 2007 it was the real estate boom, or in 2021 it was the blockchain and web 3.0 hype, and now in 2023 the AI hype. Looking back, it’s really easy to determine who was destined to be successful and who was doomed to fail, and a lot of it has to do with how much they were able to think independently and critically about these innovations. Those who blindly repeated what some influencer said about this new technology usually ended up failing, and funnily enough MBA grads tend to be a group that follows this tendency very closely.

So, I think it’s really important for business leaders to devote more time to thinking, analyzing and coming up with their own predictions. For me at Reach Best, for instance, I started working with algorithms and AI back in 2020 and 2021, when it wasn’t in fashion. I had founder friends who were telling me to switch to blockchain because investors were giving away money like crazy for web 3.0, or that I should switch to online video learning platforms because that sector was booming during the pandemic. They were right, you know, my friend who was doing blockchain ended up dropping out of Berkeley because he raised $6 million, but I didn’t switch because I was betting on a grander vision. I don’t just want to put my color on an existing solution, I want to fundamentally revolutionize an industry and you can’t just predict that future with a single tweet. Because of that, I consider my primary job and responsibility as founder of Reach Best to think for myself and set the right vision for the company.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our educational systems. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

We help high schools send their students to their Dream Universities by providing AI tools that facilitate the process of college research and applications. We focus on the problems of the students. The biggest problem they face is that choosing Universities is a very personal decision and process but the technological solutions out there are not personalized enough. Students can use online database apps like Naviance but they are really hard to use to solve the problem of getting into University because they’re not personalized nor very smart softwares, so they end up using Google search which is time-consuming and often biased. The implication of this is that many students end up burning out at some point in the process, which also affects the counselors and the school environment, and can exacerbate mental health issues and impair the teenager’s socio psychological development.

How do you think your technology can address this?

We provide personal AIs that do all the research, so students can focus on making decisions confidently when 1) choosing Universities, 2) checking admission chances to build their profile, and 3) optimizing applications and essays. We help counselors track their students’ University lists and application profiles so they along with their parents can more effectively support them. Thanks to Reach Best, students can be more effective and confident in their Universities and save 6 months of research time, and schools can save money on college and career readiness as well as mental health resources.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about education?

I’m not exactly passionate about education in the way that most people define it. A lot of people tend to assume that education means the same as schooling, but they are different and the former supersedes the latter. When I say I’m passionate about education I mean I’m fascinated by enhancing the cognitive capabilities of mankind and the potential to create superhumans! I dream about a future in which I can process information and think at nearly the speed of light, and learn how to fly a helicopter in mere seconds with the press of a button.

As for what inspired me, I think it’s been more of a gradual process that has built up my passion for education over the years. It started with being amazed by the concept of the force in Star Wars to an obsession for metahumans after watching The Flash, which led me to engage in more profound metaphysical discussions about the feasibility of creating Halo’s Master Chief or The Matrix. The moment I connected all of that with education was when I was 14 and I got frustrated that my math teacher couldn’t teach me how to solve a problem of multivariate simultaneous equation, nor a lot of other basic topics I had previously asked her about, which made me seek out resources outside of school to further my learning, making me reconsider the necessity of schooling.

How do you think your technology might change the world?

Our vision is to bring about the Era of AI-assisted Education. The AI systems we are building are getting more and more personalized for each student, and very soon we’ll be able to assist the student not only with college research and applications, but also on other academic domains such as learning math or history, or memorizing biological concepts, or inquiring for a personal video game project, or making decisions based on matches with online data. What motivates me to work on AI-assisted Education is that I want to accelerate the rate of human evolution. Education enabled the development of the industrial revolutions, but we’ve come to a point where machines are increasingly outperforming humans not only physically but also intellectually and creatively, and if we don’t start investing in enhancing humans we risk extinction when sentient machines emerge. I see AI-assisted Education as the first step towards bridging that gap, and in the near future this should enable us to transition to Neuro-immersive Education where we can just use human-machine interfaces to upload any knowledge to the mind, which should be a pretty exciting future!

Keeping the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

That’s a great question! From the people I’ve talked to, students and parents seem generally excited with some reservations about AI-assisted education because they like the personalization and how it opens doors to pursue one’s interests more easily, but they’ve also told me that they still want human relationships at the center of education. Educators are usually the ones that are somewhat more worried about the implications of AI because today it can do a good amount of the repetitive tasks of a teacher like instruction of knowledge and answering questions, and can end up disrupting the old schooling model of education.

I think, though, it’s still too premature to predict how AI-assisted education will play out and that most of the promises and concerns we envision are probably not going to unfold, at least not in the way we think. My biggest worry is the use of AI-education for ill-suited purposes, mainly the indoctrination of the youth and working adults by people in power which undermines the acceleration of human evolution.

How do you envision the landscape of education evolving over the next decade, and how does your technology fit into that future?

When trying to predict the future, there are 3 types of macro trends to watch out for: 1) technology, 2) market (i.e. the social structures of consumers), and 3) industry (i.e. the institutional dynamics of the suppliers and regulators). So, it’d be incorrect to assume that technological innovations are the mere drivers of change.

Answering your question, I think that the biggest change in education over the next decade will be the inevitable integration of technology for intellectual and creative tasks, hopefully, inside schools. Up until now, technology has only been integrated at a superficial level in education, usually for record keeping or as digital workspaces, but the act of learning and teaching has been a purely human-driven activity. The emergence of online learning platforms like Duolingo and the development of AI systems that can carry out complex creative and intellectual functions coupled with the growing social preference of younger generations to learn independently through online resources, suggests that education is shifting from physically constrained learning to fluid on-demand learning. Our AI for college research and applications fits nicely into these macrotrends as we are spearheading the shift from college consulting to on-demand AI college counseling. If we play our cards right and we manage to grasp a solid market foothold, our technology should be at the forefront of AI-assisted education as we rapidly expand to cover academic subjects.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

1 . Bet on decade-long futures. Paul Bucchheit says that when you are picking an idea to pursue, the first question you should ask is, “what is going to be drastically different in my industry 10 years into the future?” Then, whatever answer you end up coming to should inform the goals you should be aiming for and the kinds of technology you should be betting on.

2 . Anticipate whose happiness you’ll need to succeed. Paul Bucchheit continues his discussion saying that the next question you need to ask is, “whose happiness will make your business successful?” It’s actually a very tricky thing to determine because making your end user happy is not necessarily what will make you successful, it could be the purchaser as in the case of schools or enterprise software, or the network as in the case of Facebook. What makes it even more difficult is that there are many types of end users, purchasers and networks, so reverse engineering success will change for each context, and the key is to nail this question so you focus all your resources on the key “customer” that will make your company take off.

3 . Invest in technology at the frontier. If you want to build a giant company to have enormous amounts of positive social impact, your job as a leader is to find blue oceans and situate yourself in a way that you have to compete with less people because that will raise your odds of success. One of the mistakes people pursuing this goal make is that they invest on the widely available technology rather than the technologies at the frontier of knowledge, the untested innovations, but the problem is that doing so 1) makes you have a ton of competitors and 2) makes you utterly defenseless to drastic technological shifts. Founders rushed into LLMs today building all sorts of wrappers around ChatGPT, and when OpenAI released its new features this Dev Day, a bunch of these “stellar companies” are about to die because they have no way to defend their business any more. So, at Reach Best we are actually building our AI models from scratch to ensure we are defensible today and tomorrow.

4 . Timing is key. The degree of success you enjoy in making a positive social impact is largely dependent on having the right timing. You might have the right technology and the right team, but maybe the consumers were not ready to make a change to adopt your solution, or maybe there were external issues that shifted people’s priorities away from the problem you were solving, which could limit the positive social impact you can achieve. So, it’s also important to remain humble and confident.

5 . Just start. I agree with Paul Graham in that you have no way to tell whether you are ready to undertake your own venture. Unlike math, sports, or musical instruments, where you can kind of guess whether you have a shot at pursuing them, for startups you have absolutely no way to tell other than by doing it. So, if you are on the fence and have the spirit to try it out, just do it!

In the realm of EdTech, there’s often data collection involved. How do you ensure the ethical handling of user data, especially when it concerns students?

For the U.S., FERPA (The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) is a great guideline for how to collect and handle sensitive data of students, where the main things are that you should only collect the information you need and for the data you do collect it should be stored safely and your should not go around disclosing that information to third parties , and you should allow students and parents to see and manage their records. On top of all of that, at Reach Best — because we use AI which can get students’ personal preferences and is subject to data poisoning and bias reproducibility — we deem it really important to process all data internally to protect the online footprint of our users and to safeguard our community from third parties wanting to target students with ill-intentioned or promotional purposes.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

What I tell my undergraduate and graduate student friends, as well as high school students, is that you are never too young to start! You might not have all the experience or knowledge at first, but today it’s really easy to learn it so you can get 80% caught up in a specific topic in a few weeks and you’ll grow a lot more by trying it out than just doing nothing. So I say, why wait?! Find something you like doing, and just join or start your own project!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love to have lunch with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elon Musk or, if it was a few years ago, Steve Jobs, because they were the ones that inspired me to be a visionary.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can check us out at our website!

I like posting updates on my LinkedIn, so they can connect with me or follow me there too!

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

EdTech: Ryusei Best of Reach Best On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact On… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.