I graduated three years ago exhilarated by Jeffrey Sachs' seminal course on sustainable development. I've always had a deep, abiding sense of hurt when I sensed pain in others, which has been both a blessing and a distraction in my life. This unflagging empathy for others has always driven me to seek out ways to help impoverished societies prosper, similar to the way that America was for my immigrant parents in the 1970's. From Sachs, I had learned that the major factor in any community's economic development was technological innovation. Though innovation is a wonder to behold on its own, it was the indisputable link between technology and opportunity that most held sway over me. I was entranced by the variety of innovation that enabled the kind of wealth that brought my own mother out of poverty. Wealth, I've come to learn, isn't exactly money, though money is a form. Wealth can include social goods too, encompassing business values, political capital, and equal opportunity. I wanted to build wealth -- a new wealth that didn't exist before.
I took my passion for opportunity-empowering technology to Apple, which had a legendary reputation for bringing technology to the masses. It did this in a different way than its competition, which often competed on price point to capture capital-poor market segments or advanced features that only the technorati could love. Apple, instead, focused on an alternate kind of poverty, that of widespread technological illiteracy, and pioneered innovations that ignited the imagination of toddlers and seniors alike. It was this intense dedication to simplicity and user-friendliness, ranging from product development to customer lifecycle management, that opened personal computing to worlds of new users and to existing users of new worlds. Apple worked on the fringes, the exact kind of place I liked to be. In the Apple Store Leader Program, I experienced firsthand with customers the type of opportunities that Apple worked day and night to forge.
After two years of working with a colossal and global team, I long realized that my dedicated efforts were mostly put to use in maintaining a world-class engine. Though the experience was formative and penetrating, and the leadership some of the best I'd ever had, I perceived that my talents and passion for disruptive innovation could only thrive elsewhere. Creativity was still valued in our retail microcosms, but true innovation often felt beyond my reach in a corporation the size of a small city. I longed for the opportunity to make a meaningful and irreplaceable difference, and succeed and fail with my own ideas -- even at the risk of an unstable lifestyle.
I was deeply influenced by the work of Jacqueline Novogratz, the conservative values of my upbringing, and the downpour of new information about the current economy, in splintered shards of unemployment and disability. As I surveyed the transcendence of social entrepreneurship in a world that used to be neatly bifurcated into for-profit, pro-capital and non-profit, pro-social ventures, I recognized the power that came from a synergistic blend of the two frameworks. (The next era of corporations, I believe, will be as pro-social as much as they are for-profit, as consumers start to self-actualize their consumption patterns to fulfill more than just their more basic Maslow needs, and rally around those companies that strike a human, moral chord with them.)
But another, more piercing reason came into cognizance as to why entrepreneurship became a captivating profession: the Great Recession. Jobs were slaughtered everywhere, and recent grads and middle-aged alike were dumbfounded at the precipitous downward turn of events. All the world turned to the government, as if it were the government's role to generate jobs like a shoe factory manufactures footwear. With role models like Novogratz and Graham, I deduced that most any of us can create jobs when we start to make products or services that people want. (And I don't mean artificially-engineered products like subprime mortgages, but products that are genuinely, enduringly enriching.) Generally throughout economic history, the greater the innovation surrounding a product or service, the greater the job creation output. I realized then that the only thing that would inhibit our society from becoming a social-vocational paradise is if the able-minded, entrepreneurially-capable of us are too entrenched in the siren songs of stability to faithfully take to the streets of entrepreneurship. Could I count myself among them?
I contemplated this philosophical sociology behind our collective career and consumption patterns as I listened to hundreds of mind-expanding TED talks on the daily commute. While I oscillated between staying at Apple and trading a secure income for creative flexibility, Nicole and I came across a woman late in her years with a remarkable life story. It moved and transformed me. The alluring prospect of capturing her story before her death for others to appreciate, however, seemed horribly overwhelming. Then an idea struck, precipitating a week-long spiritual awakening. I had trouble eating and sleeping, and the world looked irresistibly beautiful, beyond all I had ever experienced before. Its intensity never left me, and I knew forthwith that I had to pursue that vision. As the leadership program ended, I took the leap into the rebellious Silicon Valley economy, one powered by entrepreneurship and transformed by software.
The vision that held me captive was to build a dedicated space for families to assemble and discover their family narratives. Its culture would be a blend between the aesthetic sensibility of a museum and the warm ambience of a crowded dinner table. I wanted everyone in their families to more deeply and delightfully connect with the most meaningful aspects of their collective past. I envisioned that the product could give its users a compelling form of identity and a greater sense of belonging, not to mention a storied appreciation for their elders.
I've always wanted to work on the intersection of entrepreneurship and philanthropy, where free-market capitalism experiments with solving the needs and problems of impoverished communities. Families, I posit, may be one of the most underserved (yet most deserving to be served) communities in the world. Just as wealth is not only about money, neither really is poverty. I have come to realize that this next stage of my life is to tackle the poverty of family. This form of poverty is pivotal in that it affects the lives of every level of world there is, from first to third and every situation in between. It spills over into a host of other social ills, spawning or exacerbating them. By creating a dedicated space for family stories, I am hoping to help plug the gaps and heal the wounds that separate families from one another, and in the process forge the bonds that set us free. By assisting in the passage of wisdom, experience, and moral values from one generation to the next, I dream of inspiring greater intergenerational progress in the human race. It is stories that move us along, give us shape, and spark our future. In a world sometimes impoverished with meaning, I am hoping to build my wealth here, in families, in significances, and in the narratives that wrap us all together as one.