Seth Raphael at his desk.
(Photo/Courtesy Debbie Raphael)
Seth Raphael at his desk. (Photo/Courtesy Debbie Raphael)

14-year-old tech CEO wants to make sure you’re on time to your next Zoom meeting

A freshman in high school, 14-year-old Seth Raphael plays ice hockey, tennis and the piano, and he’s just started learning chess. A poster of the periodic table of elements is on his bedroom wall, along with a framed image from his 2020 bar mitzvah.

He is also the CEO of his own tech company.

Seth founded LinkJoin during the first year of the pandemic when his seventh-grade class had to move online. Overwhelmed with ever-changing Zoom links, assignments and all the distractions available at a computer, Seth often showed up late to his classes — despite being at his computer five minutes early. “I start coding or checking my email or doing something else,” he explained. “Then I would forget to join until I ended up being late instead of early.”

He knew there had to be a better way and started looking for an existing program to solve his dilemma. When he couldn’t find one, he decided to come up with his own. (His mom, Debbie Raphael, said he’s always been a problem-solver.)

After some trial and error, Seth developed the first version of LinkJoin on his own computer. When he copied a scheduled Zoom link into the program, it would open the meeting automatically at the start time. No matter what Seth was doing, he would appear in class on time. The program also was able to organize the many Zoom links he was receiving from his teachers, keeping them all in one, easily accessible place.

He wanted to share the program with his friends, but it was too big to send as an attachment. The best way to share LinkJoin, he decided, was via a website. So he designed one and took his idea public.

“It was very rudimentary at first,” he said.

Two years later, LinkJoin has over 12,000 users and Seth has presented the program numerous times, including at the EDUCAUSE conference, an annual event that brings new tech to the education sphere. LinkJoin won the 2021 Congressional App Challenge for the 11th Congressional District, where Seth lives with his parents and younger brother. More recently he presented LinkJoin at the #HouseOfCode demo day with other student apps in April.

Seth presenting LinkJoin at the 2021 EDUCAUSE conference in Philadelphia. (Photo/Courtesy Debbie Raphael)
Seth presenting LinkJoin at the 2021 EDUCAUSE conference in Philadelphia. (Photo/Courtesy Debbie Raphael)

Amid all his triumphs, one of Seth’s biggest obstacles has been his age. EDUCAUSE, which supports IT innovation at colleges and universities, accepted his bid before checking his birthday. He was two years under the age limit, and his father had to escort him to the event.

Debbie and Robert Raphael were not tech people before their son began building LinkJoin. She is a psychiatrist, and he is a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at UCSF. They got Seth in touch with a trademark lawyer, and in February LinkJoin was registered as a stock corporation in California. Robert acts as company president, since minors can’t hold such positions.

“All of this is kind of learning by going,” said Debbie Raphael, who helped Seth set up a LinkedIn profile so he could connect with people across the industry.

“Our involvement is limited to the things that Seth can’t do,” she said.

Because LinkJoin is free, the company has no revenue or employees, but those are the next steps. Seth wants to implement a subscription program and said he has been in talks with an all-virtual university in Minnesota to adopt LinkJoin. He and his dad have discussed hiring a more experienced CEO. Seth’s primary goal is to make LinkJoin a default program in the virtual meeting industry.

“I really just want to get it out there and get more people using it,” he said.

In his free time, Seth serves as head tutor at the Congregation B’nai Tikvah religious school, where he teaches Hebrew to prepare students for their bar and bat mitzvahs. He also participates in Better Together, a Contra Costa Midrasha intergenerational program that pairs Jewish teens with seniors in the community.

Midrasha programs director Julia Babka-Kurzrock has known Seth since he joined the youth group in July 2020. She said she has watched him connect with the seniors and even “tried to teach them how to code.”

LinkJoin is Seth’s primary business focus at the moment. He also runs a second website, ExplorePython, that teaches users the coding language Python through instruction and practice.

More than anything, Seth said he wants to help people. As one of few teenage CEOs, he wants to be a model for others.

“I hope that I’ll be able to inspire some other Jewish teens someday,” he said.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene is a J. Staff Writer. Originally from Vermont, she has a BA in political science and an MA in journalism from Boston University. Follow her on Twitter at @lilsleygreene.