Avi Schiffmann wants to change the world.
For some 17 year-olds that might sound like a lofty goal. But Schiffmann, a Mercer Island teen whose website for tracking coronavirus has garnered visits from across the globe, has a good start.
His website – https://ncov2019.live – has been visited by residents from every country on earth. About 60% of the traffic is from outside the United States. The site is basically a one-stop-shop for any information one could be seeking regarding the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). It contains global and local stats, a preparation guide, a question and answer section, and an embedded map of outbreaks. His information is sourced from the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and BNO News.
Some of the success of Schiffmann’s website is attributable to his propitious timing. When he launched the site in December, coronavirus had not yet left China.
“I noticed there was so much misinformation … it was so hard to just get clear and concise data. So I thought, ‘Well, I can do better than the government,’ so I just made it,” Schiffmann said. “I reached out to news agencies, just for fun. None of them replied. And now they’re coming back to me, which I find so funny.”
Schiffmann was first profiled by GeekWire. He’s been interviewed by the Seattle Times and The Today Show, but he declines most interview requests. He receives thousands of emails a day and is staying up into the early morning most days to work on the site which now takes up most of his time.
Despite the fame and success, he is like other 17 year-olds in at least one respect – a desire to be done with school. Schiffmann attends Bellevue College part time and spoke candidly about school interfering with his projects.
“I wish I could graduate already and just be done with it,” Schiffmann said. “There are times where I’ve just had to stop working on things just because I have these math tests.”
Schiffmann said he’s received hundreds of internship and job offers from the health sector, startups and investors. Schiffmann also said he’s gotten offers from “local tech companies” in the Puget Sound area.
The site has some 3,000 visitors at any given moment according to Schiffmann. The congratulations he receives – including from people at the CDC – balances out the stress of keeping the site both accurate and usable for that many visitors.
“I’d say the worst part – I wouldn’t say it’s a bad part – is that it takes up like the vast majority of my time. There’s so much international pressure,” Schiffmann said. “The fact that people from all around the world use my site and trust it for information. In the past 24 hours, there have been like two and a half million visitors.”
Schiffmann learns quickly. Data security becomes increasingly important with that much traffic, so Schiffmann taught himself basic security in one week. He’s been using Cloudflare to protect against breaches. Security companies are rarely mentioned in a positive light during news segments, as it is most notable when these companies fail. When Schiffmann mentioned the company in a positive light during his King 5 interview, Schiffmann says Cloudflare reached out with their thanks.
While he’s grateful for all that has come to him from the website, Schiffmann spoke a lot about his dreams for the future. Money and fame, however, are not the motivators for those dreams. While folks ask him if he wants to be the next Bill Gates of Microsoft, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook or Larry Page of Google, Schiffmann eschewed the comparisons for both idealistic and pragmatic reasons.
“The next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. The next Larry Page won’t create a Google search engine,” he said. “I want to make my own thing and I want to be my own person.”
Of all the tech companies to highlight, he pointed to the impact of Napster as a bar to reach.
“(Napster was) a terrible company. I mean, they got sued, like, out of the world, but they changed the music industry forever. Everyone knows Napster,” Schiffmann said. “I want to make something like that. I don’t necessarily want to get sued by everyone that’s ever made music … but I want to change the world. I want to make something really cool and I want to keep doing it again and again.”
Recently Schiffmann was asked to be a video guest in a teacher’s class. The teacher told him that her class was interested in coding, but the school didn’t have the budget to offer a coding class to its students. Instances like that, helping those with less opportunity than have been provided to him, are what Schiffmann says motivates him in his desire to change the world.
“I’ve been trying hard to stay humble with all these things that have been happening. A lot of the money I get I plan to donate,” Schiffmann said. “I mean, if I end up becoming really rich, like (Mike Bloomberg or Jeff Bezos of Amazon) … I just don’t see why I have a use of that much money.”
The popularity of his site is driven, in some part, by the fear of those who feel they don’t know what is happening. Those people could go to the effort of checking statements from numerous health departments, or they could stop at Schiffmann’s site.
Beyond the stats, Schiffman’s site has a FAQ, a travel advisory compilation and recommendations for prevention. Information he hopes can help the average citizen move from fear to proper caution. Knowing all that he knows about coronavirus is probably why Schiffmann has no fear of getting sick.
“I probably already am (sick). I don’t mean to scare anyone, but at this rate – most definitely,” Schiffmann said.
If Schiffmann does contract, he knows he is likely to be alright. He said his concern is for the elderly and the immunocompromised, those who are high risk according to the CDC.
After finishing this project, Schiffmann should probably catch up on sleep – he has stayed up numerous days straight on more than one occasion, he said – but he has more plans to get to. He named several business ideas in less than an hour interview. Next, he wants to start his own company, graduate, and take a gap year to work on other projects.
He said he’s grateful for every note he gets complimenting the site. Some compliment the clever coding and some compliment the user-friendly design. All of that comes together to give visitors the information they want.
“(This website) was mainly just to get the data clear and concise,” he said. “It shouldn’t be hard in a global pandemic like this. You should, as a citizen, be able to get the information you need.”