Q&A: Sophia Latessa, MemeStream

Sophia Latessa is a 16-year-old tech entrepreneur and Founder & CEO of MemeStream. She’ll be joining our Youth Panel on stage at YMS, giving her views on the brands that 16-24s love. Here she tell us her story so far...


1. Tell us the story behind MemeStream…

Being a tech-savvy teenager, I enjoy scrolling through feeds on social media. In doing so, I became fascinated with my friends’ online behavior and communication. When it came to events, conveying emotions, or commenting on popular culture, they were re-captioning popular and trending memes. As a result of my observations, I did extensive research and found that there wasn't a platform that allowed users the ability to re-caption photos online, let alone a platform solely dedicated to the 'meme culture' that has been spreading for years. I thought, revised, and thought again. Then, I spoke to my mom and said, “I'm going to start a company, and I need your help.”

2. What made you decide as a 15-year-old to set up your own business?

From a young age, I was taught that nothing was out of reach. The support around me allowed me to take risks, and I sought to challenge myself through creating and building products. As a 10-year-old, I started my own business making and selling chewing gum to my classmates. At 13, I ventured into the beverage industry, concocting my own version of a healthier sports drink to replace Gatorade for teen athletes. To formulate my drink, I sent out 36 emails to various universities in the Boston area, where I am originally from. The two responses I received were from the department heads of pediatric nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, whom I subsequently met with to discuss the concept. I put this project on hold after I discovered that Gatorade was launching an organic sports drink as well.

Soon after, I discovered my passion for technology. I collected my family’s old phones and gadgets and began disassembling them, trying to understand how the internal hardware functioned. I then moved on to software where I taught myself to code in Java, Python, and Racket and started my technology business, Thatechgirl LLC, at 15 years old.

3. And how are you finding juggling high school and running a business?

I am a strong believer in being passionate about what you do, and I’ve worked hard to manage my school responsibilities to allow time to focus on my business. Since I’m still in high school, I schedule most of my business calls and video conferences with my team members before school or during my lunch period. My typical morning consists of checking my servers and admin dashboard for user reports before I head off to school. As the CEO of my company, my role changes every day: one day I scroll through bug reports, and the next I am designing new wireframes for next update.

4. Why do you think memes have become so popular with young people?

Memes have become increasingly popular with Gen-Zers and Millennials. Born after 2000, Generation-Z likes to consume information in small bits. The content we consume is typically in the form of an image. A caption and an image is equivalent to reading about current events from a news source. My generation is plugged into current events and pop culture through social platforms that communicate news through memes feeds on various apps or hashtags. We Gen-Zers don't typically read newspapers or watch current events on TV--we like things much faster than that. Memes have allowed for my generation to express global issues in an instant form with a one-sentence caption.

5. What tips have you got for brands getting involved in meme marketing?

1. BE RELEVANT. Memes are a reflection of current culture. If a brand wants to incorporate memes into their marketing strategy, it’s vital that their marketing team stay up to date with the current meme culture on the social platform landscape. Brand marketing creators should start by following popular meme accounts on active platforms among my peer group in order to stay informed about the ever-changing trendy content online. Some brands have even hired “professional meme specialists and engineers” in an effort to relate to my generation.

2. POST FAST. Gen-Z is the first truly “digital native” generation. In other words, we have grown up hyper-connected and primarily reliant on the internet. Keeping this fact in mind, it is important for brands to post frequently and quickly when events happened. Being raised in an on-demand culture, once an event has happened and is posted about, it is, in our minds, it’s old news.

3. RESEARCH and AUTHENTICITY. Understanding Gen-Z’s perspective is key to marketing success. Gen-Zers are attracted to brands that are socially conscious and transparent about their values. We want brands to be socially aware because, as we can see from past ad campaigns—United Airlines and Pepsi, for example—a meme can have a significant impact on a brand’s image, turning consumers away.

6. What brands do you admire that you think have got ‘talking to young people’ right?

From GoPro to KitKat, many brands have incredible marketing teams who recognize online behaviors and incorporate that behavior into their marketing strategies. One I particularly admire is Bai Drinks and the clever use of acronyms on their billboards that are relevant to Gen-Zers. Bai Drinks is able to effectively convey their brand's story in an instant. Even better, their memorable billboards pop into our heads as we pass the drink aisle at the grocery store, making us more inclined to buy.

7. What trends have you spotted when it comes to young people and digital language/communications?

The popularity of platforms like Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and Snapchat mean my generation is using regular iMessage or SMS less and less. We are more eager to communicate through in-app messaging because these platforms create an easier way to connect with friends instantly without having to leave the entertainment the platform provides.

8. What do you think the next ‘big thing’ will be when it comes to young people communicating online or via mobile.

As virtual and augmented reality hardware becomes more accessible to my generation, I believe the next big wave of online communication will be through mixed reality. A major force in this field is Facebook who recently developed Facebook Spaces––a headset system that allows its users to connect in virtual reality. There is no such thing as geographical limitations in my generation because, through live streaming and now mixed reality, any event globally can be experienced with friends, together, online.

9. And finally a few fun questions…what’s been the best moment of your career so far?

Attending Facebook’s Annual Developer Conference was the most incredible experience for a young entrepreneur like me. Growing up using the platform, it was thrilling to hear from company leaders and meet the teams behind the products I use for my app. I even had the opportunity to speak with the team that built Facebook Analytics. I told them how powerful and important their tools were when I launched my app. If you would like to read more about my experience at the conference, I wrote an article on Medium called “8 Things I Loved About Attending F8 2017.”

Another incredible moment in my career happened on my way to school in my sophomore year. I received an email from Apple saying my app submission was approved for the international iOS App Store; my app launched two hours later during my Chemistry class.

10. Favourite app? Why?

I have been studying Japanese for the past two years, and through my school’s program, each student hosts a Japanese exchange student. After spending over two weeks with my new friend from Tokyo, it was time for her to leave the States. Knowing that I couldn’t text her directly when she left, I was sad that I wouldn’t be able to talk to her in the future. But, new mediums such as Snapchat and Instagram have closed the geographical gap between us. The ability to communicate on these two social apps is seamless, which is the main reason why Snapchat and Instagram are my two favorite platforms on the Apple Store.  

11. Something few people know about you?

Besides attending high school and working in my office, I really enjoy reading literature, specifically contemporary Mexican literature. Through the works of authors such as Sandra Cisneros, I feel more connected to my mother’s home and culture. I also enjoy calligraphy and have been lettering since a young age. I was first inspired to try my hand at this art form after reading about traditional Japanese calligraphy styles.

12. What are you most looking forward to at YMS?

I hope that I can add value to the conversation among the other incredible speakers attending and give insight into marketing targeting my generation. I am looking forward to absorbing from the difference array of participates at the conference.

13. What are you working on now that you are 17-years-old?

My passion for science and technology has become driven around one central idea: how can I build products, software, and platforms that create change and help people? Since I’m still young, I’m curious; I want to build whatever I find interesting. Right now, that’s a lot of things, but everything that I’m building is based on answering that question.


See Sophia on our 'Kids that are changing the world panel' at YMS18 LDN.