A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Marketo Summit in San Francisco with my Foundant marketing friends, Kristin Laird (Marketing Communication Manager) and Darah Moore (Events Coordinator). Marketo is the marketing automation software we use to send you our Foundant Connections newsletter, invitations to events, email notifications on upcoming releases, and more.
I know each of you open your email every morning excited to see what’s come in from Foundant! Okay maybe not, but that’s how I’m going to picture it.
At this conference, over two days, we had the pleasure of listening to some very inspiring keynote speakers.
First was Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, who told a personal story about pushing herself to the point of burnout and as a result collapsed one day in her office. She said that as she lay there alone and bleeding from the head she asked herself… “Is this really what success looks like?” This incident made her realize that productivity and success doesn’t necessarily mean pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion. She has written a book on the subject called “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder” which looks to redefine what it means to be successful in today’s world. One tip she gave which stuck with me is: “live life like everything is rigged in your favor”.
Next up was singer John Legend, who not only sang to us (yay!), but also spoke about his initiative called #FreeAmerica which focuses on eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline. I also loved hearing that before he became an award winning artist, he worked as a consultant in Boston where he spent a lot of time with excel spreadsheets (we have something in common!). Another fun fact, John writes about 80 songs for every 12-song album he releases!
On the second day, Salman Kahn from Kahn Academy spoke and humorously told the story of how, when living in Boston, he tele-tutored his cousin Nadia in New Orleans. He helped her catch up in math after her mom revealed to him how she was struggling in that subject. He knew the importance of how “getting it” at a young age could set the foundation for learning throughout her entire school years.
Teaching Nadia quickly grew to tutoring 10-15 other cousins and the cousins’ friends which forced him to scale and start recording the sessions on video and putting them on YouTube. As the YouTube views climbed, so did his vision for offering “a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere”. Sal believed in this vision so much that he took a leap of faith and left his hedge fund job to focus on building online classes from his office (aka – walk in closet) to offer to his cousins and the world via YouTube.
It was not long before his wife’s patience and his savings began to dwindle, but Sal had chosen not to sell or charge for these video classes. He also chose not to accept the multiple offers from venture capitalists to invest in his venture because he knew that if he did, his control over his vision of offering the classes for free, forever, would decrease.
What he did instead to keep his dream alive was to seek out individual donations so he could continue building video tutorials and create a website, called Kahn Academy, to house the videos. He would receive $100 here, $500 there from individual donors – but nothing substantial and nothing consistent. The payments he did receive consistently though were in the form of feedback and stories from those who had learned from his video classes. Stories from parents thanking him for stoking the fire of excitement about learning in their child, letters from teachers telling him how they are using them in their classroom and making an even bigger difference in the lives of children across the globe, emails from high school dropouts who found a new love of learning, messages from adults who were learning about calculous for the first time, and emails from children throughout the world who didn’t have access to education, but through his videos were able to learn and apply those skills to change the course of their lives and the lives of generations to come.
Sal was changing the world, but he wasn’t sure how long it could go on with the small amount of funding he was receiving from individual donors. Then one day, he received a $10,000 donation from a woman who became a champion of Kahn Academy. Soon after, this same woman was at a conference whose keynote speaker was Bill Gates. Toward the end of his talk when asked a question about what internet sites were exciting him, Bill started talking about Kahn Academy and how his kids had used it and so had he. When Sal heard this his thrill was matched with panic because Bill Gates was watching his videos! As he put it – “my videos were made for Nadia, not Bill”!
This was the turning point for Kahn Academy. Within months, Sal went from wondering how long he could continue his endeavor, to receiving a grant from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Kahn Academy is now purely funded from grants from Foundations and organizations just like yours. Sal has been able to continue his dream to offer a world class education to everyone in the world, for free, forever. Kahn Academy has thousands of video classes offered in multiple languages and has changed many lives throughout the world.
Without organizations like yours who give to great causes and without people like you doing what you do, Sal and his dream may not have been able to continue.
Thank you for all you do, you inspire me!