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How a 17-year-old entrepreneur in Poland accidentally made the Apple Watch easier for deaf people

Five app mateusz machFiveThe Five hand sign app on Android and Apple Watch.

Like a lot of Polish 17-year-olds, Mateusz Mach is into hip-hop.

“It is something I identify with,” Mach says.

Unlike a lot of Polish 17-year-olds, he decided to turn his appreciation into an app business. After six months of work, he released Five — a messaging app for Android, iPhone, and Apple Watch that lets you and your friends throw each other custom hand signs, like the kind rappers throw.

It’s meant to be quick, easy, and above all, fun. Mach says that his friends using the app use it to tell each other how far away they are, using a commonly-accepted translation for each hand signal. You can even send your custom signs via Facebook Messenger.

“It’s faster than typing,” Mach says.

It’s a little bit like Yo.

“We are better than Yo,” Mach says. “Definitely better than Yo.”

Mach and a team of two other contract coders spent the last six months working on Five, with the funding coming from a local investor for whom he had done some work before. His last app, the currently-down, had 10,000 users at its peak, Mach says.

The thing is that this silly app is finding some real-world use, according to the feedback Mach is getting from his users. On the Apple Watch, using hand signals lets you convey more meaning without an onlooker being able to guess what you’re saying.

And perhaps more importantly, it’s a really great engine for communicating in International Sign Language (ISL). Mach says he’s heard from deaf users who are using it to quickly communicate in a way that makes sense to them.

To that end, Mach is working on building-in an ASL dictionary into the Five app, to quickly select words and their equivalents. If that works out, Mach isn’t ruling out the possibility of making Five into a more complete ISL translator.

For now, Mach is splitting his time between working on Five, and his time studying at an International Bacculereuate (IB) school — when I spoke to him, he was staying up late in his dorm.

In the future, Mach is taking Five on the road, preparing to show it off to customers and investors at the upcoming Bitspiration Festival in Krakow, Poland.

He knows he wants a career in technology, and certainly wouldn’t mind if Five is the engine that gets him there.

“That might be cool, yeah,” Mach says. “If only I can get money.”

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