OSU Freshman Builds Software Company Developing Apps for Autistic Children

Not a lot of 18-year-olds can say they are CEO of their own company. But one OSU Freshman has been creating apps as leader of Pufferfish Software since she was 15.

In three years Megan Holstein has developed and expanded the company’s offerings to five apps aimed at helping autistic children.

“All the apps take recognized therapy tools used with special needs children and put them on the iPad,” Holstein says. All of the apps are customizeable and represent shells of typical therapy techniques. Customization is key as special needs children require almost everything tailored to their individual experience.

Pufferfish apps have roughly 12,000 total downloads already. Holstein is looking to expand the tools’ reach by partnering with autism societies and educational institutions.

Holstein’s personal experience steered the direction of Pufferfish’s apps. She has a 16-year-old brother who used to be autistic and a 12-year-old brother who still is. While development time means she can’t quite ¬†catch up to her brother’s needs, downloads show the apps have a significant reach.

Pufferfish uses market testing to drive app concepts. During development, the company talks to users to figure out what they want and what they need. Extensive marketing and testing goes into each app.

“Half the battle is in the marketing before and after,” Holstein says.

Owning and starting a business at a young age has been quite a journey for Holstein. At 15 she was attending online school and playing a lot of video games in her spare time. When her dad told her it was time to do something…she decided to build an app. A flip through a programming book proved that the coding was not for her, but resourcefulness kicked in and she knew she could hire a developer.

Posing as her dad online, Holstein hired her first Programmer. She completed the graphics and six months later, the app was born. A handful of apps and a handful of developers later, and Pufferfish was in business.

“I always talked about owning my own company as a kid,” Holstein says. “It snuck up on me.”

At 16 she was submitting Pufferfish to competitions and events for high school students. Holstein was a finalist for the TechColumbus Student Innovation Awards for the 2011-2012 year and the company snowballed from there.

Starting a company at any age comes with a lot of trial and error. But starting at 15 means learning and building everything from the ground up. Holstein went from no job experience to owning her own company.

Age has presented a challenge as the company evolved.

“It’s not that I’m younger, I’m younger than anyone I want to work with,” she says. However, as she’s moved on to college, the age gap is closing. Holstein is able to sense who will and won’t be ok working with a younger leader.

As Holstien earns her degree in Business Administration at OSU, she’s focused on building structure within Pufferfish to better set-up the company for one day being acquired.

“Having a structured business almost always makes business better,” she says.

For more information, visit pufferfishapps.com.