The older I get, the more I think about death, how finite and fragile humanity is, and how I constantly feel like time is running out.

Interview with Maddie Wang

On Friday evening, March 6, I created an account and downloaded the Chrome extension of Sesame (www.sesamecall.com), a video-chatting service that allows you to hang out with your friends virtually and casually for hours on end. I got to chat with the founder of Sesame, Maddie Wang, who was inspired to create the platform because she missed her friends from college after everyone got sent home to quarantine. Currently living in Houston, Texas, Wang, 22, is a queer Chinese American woman and a senior at Stanford University studying computer science.

“I guess I’m someone who’s devoted much of my life to cultivating communities,” Wang says. When she was 12 years old, Wang started playing Minecraft, as many shy 2010s kids with overprotective parents did. Except for Wang, she created a server that ended up making over $60,000. “That’s been my cornerstone,” Wang adds. “Tech can create communities as it has for me.”

Years later, Wang started an Amazon business, where she got up to $120,000, but she didn’t feel the same type of fulfillment. She went back to community and started QueerChart, a social network where LGBTQ+ and nonbinary students from Stanford can interact and find one another.

All of this leads to the creation of Sesame, which weaves Wang’s core values of incorporating and maintaining community within technology—especially during a time when everyone’s physical sense of community was taken away at the start of the pandemic.

“Sesame revolves around co-presence,” Wang says. “You [can] just be doing work while having friends in the background…[the team and I] wanted a really warm, friendly, intimate vibe.”

Unlike any other video-chatting platform, Sesame lets you know if your friends are free to talk. While applications like Skype can tell others that you’re online, you may not necessarily be available to chat—plus Sesame has a lot more approachable feel.

“When you open Sesame,’ you see a list of your friends, and the open-door symbol means, ‘Yo, I’m actually free,” Wang explains. “The closed-door symbol means, ‘Oh no, I’m busy—I’m in class right now!” You can also integrate Google Calendar into Sesame, so the platform automatically closes your door if you’re busy.

Regarding the culture of Sesame, it’s normal to be on calls for either hours on end or to call someone to ask a quick question. There’s a sense of spontaneity to the application that makes it shine. “That culture of spontaneity and co-studying, I can’t find anywhere else,” Wang says. Wang shared several instances where she met someone on-campus and became best friends with over Sesame, emphasizing that the intimacy of spending so much time with someone can be replicated online.

Sesame seeds are symbols of good luck across many Asian cultures, and that imagery truly encapsulates what Sesame is all about. “Growing up, I had issues sharing [my true self]—being vulnerable and being intimate,” Wang adds. “I was really passionate about Minecraft, [but] I was really scared people [of what] real people would think…so, Sesame was inspired by my Asian upbringing and my love of looking for open communication.”

When discussing what it’s like to start something from the ground up, Wang states that “It is really hard to go out alone…I guess other part-time folks, it is hard to get [the same resources] like at Facebook. It is hard to convince our friends to not choose 200K from Facebook and join us in our vision.”

Wang goes on to talk about how Asian women are often stuck in this box of what their parents want them to do with their careers and how they’re not encouraged to take risks. “The biggest thing that’s holding us back is [the] lack of belief in oneself and not wanting to be the nail that sticks out…My parents told me to be a doctor…[and then] asked, ‘Why don’t you just go work for Google after college, work there for 10 years, and then you can start your own thing, and you have enough experience’ […] It’s the financial stability versus dream thing…I’m lucky to be able to do [the dream path] because of my parents’ support of food and clothing, to be able to pursue something that I wanted to do for the longest time.”

Wang’s advice for Asian girls who want to pursue their passions—their dreams over financial stability—is to not feel forced about loving something. “My parents told me what I liked—they told me I liked viola. They told me I like tennis. It took me a long time in college to figure out what I actually liked, which wasn’t viola—although tennis is really cool. Figuring out what you actually love in our passion makes you feel great excitement—like 10 out of 10 level. It’s what you would want to spend a lot of time doing.”

“Ask yourself what problems boil your blood. What problems do you face, and what projects would you want to do to improve those problems? I find that is the most satisfying thing in life you can do [with your passions]— taking back whatever pain you felt.”

You can download Sesame now at www.sesamecall.com as a Google Chrome Extension. You can also follow their Instagram and Twitter (both @sesame_call) for updates.

Maddie Wang, a senior at Stanford studying CS, cares about creating belonging in a lonely world. With no friends in middle school, she created Cheesium, a Minecraft Server Community, to make more. It eventually grew to house a hundred other kids every day with its custom game modes and perks and made $61,000 along the way. In college, after feeling invisible as one of the few “out” queer womxn on campus, she created QueerChart.com. Shortly after, 220 more queer Stanford students joined her community, visualizing connections across the queer community and forging new ones as well. Now, she’s working on SesameCall.com, which helps friends and communities co-work & chill together every single day, even in silence. Through QueerChart, Sesame, and other future endeavors, she hopes to create a world where everyone can belong.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

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