As a preschooler, Cliff Weitzman wanted to be a billionaire, the prime minister of Israel, and a pop star. Though his career path changed slightly over the years, his ambition never waned. The recent college graduate is the founder of Speechify, a text-to-speech app used by people who run the gamut of learning abilities, ages and professions — and he created the technology for it after teaching himself English and overcoming dyslexia.
“My goal is to ensure that reading is never a barrier for anybody who wants to learn, regardless of their circumstances,” said Weitzman, who was born and raised in Ra’anana, just north of Tel Aviv until he was 13, when his family moved to Marin County, just north of San Francisco.
Weitzman taught himself English by listening to audiobooks (he “read” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 22 times, developing a bit of a British accent when he started speaking English) and voraciously consumed hundreds of audiobooks. After he got into Brown University, he created a basic text-to-speech app, further refining the technology over the course of his college career. In 2017, he officially founded Speechify.
The app caught on quickly, and it didn’t only interest those with learning differences. Mainstream college students began using it, and then graduate students and professionals, who all loved that Speechify helped them better manage their time and consume more information.
“The average American reads 200 words per minute, but with Speechify, the average user can easily train himself to listen to 350 words per minute,” said Weitzman, who listens at 600 words per minute.
Weitzman, now back in San Francisco, lives with his younger brother, Tyler, a Stanford “dropout” who left school to run another successful startup (overachieving is clearly a family trait). He and his four siblings regularly get together for Friday-night kiddush at their parents’ home.
“At Brown, I had many wonderful experiences meditating on my role in the world, and I forged a strong spirituality,” said Weitzman.
Weitzman also sees his work as complementary to his religion. “God made man in His image,” he said, “and the best way I can practice Judaism is create as much value as possible in the world and elevate the collective quality of life.”
Flipping out: Weitzman begins every public speaking engagement by first performing a backflip to capture everyone’s attention.