Rostam Zafari has more zest for life than any other 19-year-old (or adult for that matter) we’ve ever met. Aside from the fact that Zafari is only halfway into his sophomore year at Emory, he has also helped kickstart two separate startups, one of which was REDS, a fast medical screen test for Ebola.
After working on REDS, Zafari continued with his entrepreneurial quest and launched his latest startup, Mystro. The mentoring app has made unbelievable progress in its short life including new digs, a hunt for more developers, and an updated business plan. Zafari has accomplished more in a year than we have in ten, so we sat down to find out what makes his heart and head tick.
Background/Role with REDS + Mystro
I am a 19-year-old Iranian-American studying social entrepreneurship & creative writing at Emory University. As a social entrepreneur, I’m especially interested in designing impactful solutions in the fields of healthcare and education. At 18, I helped create a strip test for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) for which I was awarded the 2015 Cyrus Prize. Currently, I am the President & Co-Founder of Mystro, a platform that connects high-achieving college students with local high school students for tutoring in standardized testing. We are excited to begin our launch in Georgia at Emory University, Georgia Tech University, Georgia State University, and the rest of the Atlanta area.
Why the interest in startups and the technology field?
Startups dare to do what others can’t even imagine. Technology empowers that dare through the level of connection and exposure it provides. However, some startups dare more than others. I was lucky to intern at Hyperloop Tech where I saw a group of people dedicated to building a future no one else could even see. They weren’t building dog-walking apps, but rather redefining and redrawing the physical dimensions of our world. Technology is just a tool like any other. It can be used to build dog-walking apps or it can be used to build a better world.
What are your best technical or creative skills?
My best skills are listening and storytelling. As an entrepreneur, I have to remain fluid, flexible, and dynamic. I try to seek out the best people in every field and really listen to what they have to say. I’ve never been the smartest kid, the most talented, or the fastest learner, but I’ve always been able to listen to people and soak up their insights and experience like a sponge. As a writer, I rely on storytelling to inspire and invigorate my team, to frame our mission in a greater context, and to create an emotional bond with all who interact with who we are and what we do.
How are you helping students with your latest startup, Mystro?
My Co-Founder, Mehul, and I met through poetry and our professor, Richie, taught us a concept that would change the course of our lives. He said that the best poetry has a balance of ground and sky. Ground is the concrete: it’s a heartbeat, a grain of stardust, the weight of a book. Sky is the abstract: it’s love and wonder and heroism.
Mystro seeks to empower all of us with both ground & sky. Right now, taking risks like dropping out is not realistic or even optimal for most of us. Some of us are the first in our families to be able to secure a good job or go to college. But what if all of us could spend less time doing what was expected and spend more time chasing our own skies—building start-ups, crafting poems, and designing a world we’d be proud to hand to our children.
Perhaps, the balance that makes the best poetry and the best learning makes the best people, too. We are ground: students, readers, writers. We are sky: lovers, dreamers, seekers. When we find our balance, we become our best selves. And though many of us are taught to unlearn our dreams, though we are told that change is unlikely, when we learn to harness ground & sky, what we are taught and told fall apart in the light of the one thing we truly know: we are here. Our only test is how well we can make that matter as much as we dreamed we would.
What motivated you to launch two startup projects?
I know the greatest issues of the world: hunger, energy, water, education, healthcare, and many others can be solved using the compassion, creativity, sustainability, and scalability that social entrepreneurship embodies. These problems are not inherent problems that have to exist. They are design problems. If we can design a better world, we can attain it.
What’s your vision for the future?
Three years from now, I want Mystro to give millions of students the ability to to spend less time chasing grades and more time building their dreams. Three years from now, we will fulfill our motto: Meet anywhere. Learn anytime. Master anything.
How does Atlanta weave into your story?
I began working at Emory University in Atlanta doing research at 14. That same research empowered me with the knowledge to help create REDS 4 years later, which in turn led me to Mystro. Most of my mentors, friends, and even my co-founder Mehul come from the Atlanta area – a growing tech hub we’re all excited to be a part of. But most of all, Atlanta is home.
We are currently looking to hire a brilliant iOS programmer determined to change the world of education to Mystro’s team! If you or anyone you know is interested, please email me for details.