Peter Szulczewski

A University of Waterloo math alumnus and CEO of an e-commerce startup valued at $3.5 billion has been named to the 2015 Forbes Top 40 Under 40.

Peter Szulczewski co-founded Wish with another Waterloo math alumnus, Danny Zhang, in 2010. Forbes named Szulczewski as the 25th richest entrepreneur in America under 40 years old. He shares the Forbes’ distinction this year with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, golf pro Tiger Woods and another Waterloo alumnus, Apoorva Mehta, who is ranked 40th. Mehta is also in the online shopping space with Instacart, a mobile app that lets people order groceries online and have them delivered within an hour or two.

Wish learns consumers’ interests and sends them direct, attainable products to their smartphone. With over 31 million active users, Wish is on a steady incline as one of the top 10 mobile apps for Android and iPhone users.

Both Szulczewski and Zhang give back to the University through their Wish scholarships for students and their support of our Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) teams' participation in the International Collegiate Programming Content competition each year.

Alumni Relations recently sat down with Szulczewski to talk about building a company and giving back to Waterloo.

Can you tell us why you and Danny decided to leave your careers working for companies like Google to venture out and co-found Wish?

The main reason Danny and I decided to leave the security of working for large corporations, was the realization of the impact we could have if we ventured out on our own. In risk-adverse companies you often have to wait to get really innovative, whether from waiting for projects to get underway, or for a certain smartphone to release. In a start-up, you have to innovate to survive and that was very appealing to us.

Can you tell us about Wish and why you think it is revolutionizing the online shopping experience?

Wish focuses on shopping through your smartphone. People carry their smartphone with them all the time and so Wish makes shopping for the consumer effective through the device they use so often. Like Instagram, Wish allows you to start browsing reasonably priced goods instantly. It is basically like walking into a shopping mall of products tailored to your likes, optimizing your shopping experience. Wish learns the items a consumer wants to see, and gives it to them directly.

If I went into a shopping mall and tried to buy my wife a present for our anniversary, I would pick items, and probably fail at all of my attempts. But if I went to the mall with my wife just once, and saw what she was looking at, I would then know what to get her for our next anniversary. That is the way Wish works, it learns what the consumer likes, and optimizes their experience.

You and Danny have established a Wish scholarship for Waterloo students. Can you tell us what motivated you to do this and why you think it’s important for alumni to give back?

I was very lucky to be a beneficiary of a scholarship when I went to UWaterloo. I was so grateful for it and it helped my family and I tremendously. Being in the position Danny and I are in now, we have the unique ability to give back to something like a scholarship for the next generation of students. We can now make other students’ education easier in some way helping them become the next generation to create impact. We thought to ourselves, why wouldn’t we give back?

This is just the beginning for us too, we want to be able to give back to UWaterloo in a variety of different ways.

Can you tell us about the working environment at Wish?

The first ten employees at Wish, were all UWaterloo grads from the math program. So the environment is very analytical. We settle debates through proof and are very embedded in a culture of logic. We now have around 400 employees in our California office.

What advice do you have for students or alumni looking to venture out on their own and start their own company?

If you have an idea, talk to as many people as possible who have knowledge in that area. Talk to a lot of people who have seen many companies fail and succeed. Just go out and do it, but have a healthy, flexible perspective on things and realize that consistency is the most underrated virtue in entrepreneurship.

Wish hires many Waterloo co-op students. Why is this so important at Wish?

Wish looks at students from many different schools, but we believe that the students who come out of the UWaterloo co-op program are able to come here and just dive right in, being productive from day one. That is unique to UWaterloo co-op students and it is extremely valuable. High-tech companies in the valley like Google and Facebook are picking up on this too, and that’s why the competition for UWaterloo co-op students is so fierce here.