Today i interview Michael Furdyk the co-founder of TakingITGlobal,A global online community for young people, engaging hundreds of thousands of youth in over 200 countries and territories.
Michael has shared his opinions about Youth Engagement and experiences as a member of the Net Generation by speaking at dozens of events, including the World Congress on IT, the US Government's National Youth Summit, Microsoft's Anytime, Anywhere Learning Summits, The Business Council, and TED. He has made numerous media appearances, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Time Magazine, Fast Company, BusinessWeek, CNN, MSNBC, and USA Today.
Today Michael speaks to us about his journey as an entrepreneur.
- Making a Millionaire at 17, what he spent it on.
- Why he started TakingITGlobal and how he is planning to change the world with it.
- His Views on personal development.
- Managing your resources during the recession.
- Advices for young entrepreneurs.
Hello Michael, How are you? Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Sure. I grew up using technology from a very young age – my first computer at 2 years old was a Commodore 64. As the Internet exploded in popularity, I had started a technology magazine online with a group of friends that became quite popular. After selling that company in 1999, at age 17, I realized that many young people didn’t have the support (family, friends, school) for their ideas and ambitions that I did, and so I co-founded TakingITGlobal.org as a charitable organization. It’s an online community to network and support young people to get involved in global issues and realize their potential.
How has your business changed to keep pace with the new technology?
We continually improve and develop new features and ideas to support young people in using their social media networks and tools to grow their impact. We developed technology to allow our members to act as volunteers and translate the web site into an infinite number of languages, which now provides an engaging community for youth across 12 languages.
How did you manage your money? You were a millionaire at 17
It was a good learning experience. I bought some of the things I’d always wanted, a car and a boat to enjoy while camping and relaxing in Canada’s great outdoors! But ultimately, I used some of it to help start TakingITGlobal as a charity, and the rest to help purchase my home. Beyond that, after taxes, there’s not much left! Of course, at one point the theoretical value of all the stock options we had was pretty impressive, but I never really thought about it too much. I knew how fragile the markets were, and didn’t count on too much more ever coming my way. I was just happy to have my basic needs met. After travelling in West Africa in 2002, and seeing how happy people were with the basics they had, I realized that I wasn’t too interested in focusing my time on creating another commercial venture, but saw a bigger opportunity for impact in the non-profit sector.
You sold two of your businesses to a big company? Why did you decide to sell them?
We only sold MyDesktop – our second venture raised venture capital, but was not sold. We decided to sell MyDesktop because we could only go so far without more experience and exposure. Imagine me at 16, my business partner Michael at 18 – trying to raise venture capital to scale and grow our business! It’s too bad we didn’t, because we could have been a force to be reckoned with in the sector... but I’m happy with how things turned out and what I’m working on now!
What are your takes on personal development?
I think the amount of knowledge and resources on the Internet provides a huge opportunity for people to take control of their own personal development. Connecting with mentors, developing new skills, collaborating on an idea. It’s all possible now in ways we couldn’t imagine just a few decades ago.
What would you do if there was no internet?
I have quite an entrepreneurial spirit, so I’m sure I would be running some kind of creative venture related to technology in some way, even if the Internet didn’t exist
What are the best ways for businesses especially start-up to manage their finances during tough times especially in this financial downturn?
I think that it’s quite important to preserve resources and find creative ways to get things done with less. In the non-profit sector, we’re definitely very used to this kind of creativity with managing costs. One great thing about recent improvements in technology is that they enable travel and meetings without travel costs, which is saving lots of many for many organizations!
What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
At TakingITGlobal, we strive to create a culture that grows leadership, and provides a democratic opportunity for decision making and influence at every level. We’re quite proud to have won the WorldBlu Most Democratic Workplaces award for the last three years - http://www.worldblu.com/scorecard/list2008.php - which highlights our culture’s commitment to the principles of organizational democracy, including decentralization, fairness and dignity, transparency, and integrity.
How do you find people to bring into your organization that truly care about the organization the way you do?
First of all, we have many more active volunteers than paid staff, so to start with, typically someone willing to support your vision and work on a volunteer basis is doing so because they do truly care about making a difference. Without the critical contributions of our volunteers, we’d never be able to do as much as we do! When we do have a paid position available, we often hire people who started with us as volunteers, showcasing their commitment to our work through offering their services as volunteers. However, ultimately I believe that all of us want to have a job that’s not just financially sustainable, but that provides a connection to a meaningful contribution. The opportunity we offer our team, both staff and volunteers, is a unique one – to run and support educational and cultural programs that reach over 4 million users every year!
Where do you see in yourself and your business in the next 5 years?
I’m particularly excited about the opportunity to help teachers and schools use our learning and community platform to support and enhance global education. We’ll do this by connecting them with schools all over the world, to participate in collaborative programs on pressing global issues. This has been referred to in recent research as “Challenge-based Learning” – and we’re proud to have helped to pioneered this type of learning for students. One recent program we launched, Tread Lightly (http://www.treadlightly.me) provides this engagement for schools on climate change, and included a live video conference with youth attending the COP15 Climate Change summit in Copenhagen, connecting over a dozen schools around the world with those actually at the event.
What advice can you give to young entrepreneurs out there?
I feel like both one of the most important qualities and pieces of advice I can share is to not be disappointed by failure – but instead to quickly learn from it and move on to your next challenge or product. We’re constantly learning from trying new ideas at TakingITGlobal, and I think that’s key for any new entrepreneur. Here’s one of my favourite quotes on this topic from Jeff Bezos: “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate”
How important have good employees been to your success?
We’re so lucky at TakingITGlobal to have so many amazing team members – staff, volunteers, and even members, that are essential to our innovation and success. From the beginning, many of the best ideas that have led to new programs have come from our members or volunteers. Giving everyone the opportunity to contribute their suggestions to every aspect of our work has led to continuous improvements over the years! We’re also lucky to have the support of UserVoice, providing us with an online idea sharing forum for our members, letting them submit and vote on improvement ideas.
Thanks Michael for being so open and giving us some much information about your entrepreneurial journey, We wish you the best in the future.