On Monday I interviewed Michael Karnjanaprakorn, who is a rock star in the social entrepreneurship space. He co-founded The Feast and All Day Buffet, and is now working on a new venture, SkillShare. Mike radiates intensity and competence.
He is also fond of Kanye West and has been known to order the truffle mac n’ cheese at Spitzers in the Lower East Side. He and I sat down for an intimate chat over Skype.
Milena – Tell me what you’re working on these days.
Mike – Right now I’m working on a tech start-up called SkillShare which is basically a platform to learn anything from anyone. So if you want to learn to play poker from an expert or learn to cook your favorite dish from a professional chef, you can use our platform to find a class in your neighborhood.
The problem we’re trying to solve is that many people stop learning after they graduate from school. Or like the Sir Robinson Ted Talk pointed out, many stop learning while they are still in school. We want to change that.
Milena – Is there anything that you were hoping to learn which inspired you to start that platform?
Mike – I can attribute my own success and the success of many of my friends to the fact that we are really curious, trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible. There are definitely things like cooking that I want to learn. But there’s also a lot of things that I don’t even know exist. If there was a platform for me to peruse and browse, I think I would take a lot more classes on interesting things.
Milena – Maybe you’re an aspiring juggler but don’t even know it, until you see that the opportunity is there.
Mike – Exactly. I think you only know what you see, but there’s so much stuff that you don’t see. And we want to bring people to those opportunities.
Milena – This is not your first venture. What was your turning point as an entrepreneur?
Mike– I think a lot of entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking they should quit their job; that if they have an idea, they should just jump into it and expect to become highly successful. I just had breakfast with Zach Klein who started Vimeo, College Humor, and now works at Boxee. We were just talking about this – how entrepreneurship is a long process, and there’s really no rush.
I think there’s a ladder you have to climb. In the corporate world, it’s really easy to figure out how to climb that ladder. You start off as a junior analyst and work your way up to be a Managing Partner. I think that holds true for entrepreneurs as well. People should start with really small ideas and learn how to execute those. Learn how to gain traction. Learn from your mistakes. And eventually the ideas you pursue get bigger and bigger and bigger. So where I am today is the evolution of me going up that idea-scale ladder.
The only way for your filter to get higher and for you to climb up that ladder is by doing shit. Making ideas happen.
Milena – Do you have a favorite social entrepreneur or company that you’d like to highlight?
Mike – There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in the tech space. I approach my work similar to Bill Gates – I want to use my skills to do good and run a profitable business. I love the Charity Waters of the world, but my interest is more with companies that solve some type of problem while making money.
I really like Profounder, Jessica Jackley’s company. )
I really like Kickstarter, which is Perry Chen and Yancey Strickler’s company.
I really love BankSimple which is a new tech start-up that launched in Brooklyn and is going to disrupt the banking industry.
I really like CatchAFire, Rachael Chong’s company that links up skill-based volunteers to nonprofit organizations.
I pretty much like companies that disrupt the status quo. Even if they fail, which I hope they don’t, they are paving the way for future companies to disrupt that space by learning from their mistakes. These companies might not have the greatest social impact since they’re not “solving the education crisis” but I think they are disrupting huge industries through technology. And I don’t think that should be overlooked.
Milena – Do you have a favorite quote that has inspired you over the years?
Mike – I have lots!
Milena – Maybe you can give me two.
Mike – There are two quotes that I live by. The first was the quote I closed with at “The Feast” which is from Jim Rohn: “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” I think that’s the explanation for why some people are successful. If you surround yourself with really negative people, your outlook on life is going to be negative. If you surround yourself with really positive people that are changing the world, disrupting the status quo, pursuing their passions, then that is going to seem very normal to you. People ask me how I’m able to take so many risks, and I think it’s because I’ve surrounded myself with people where it’s almost normal to launch a company or be an entrepreneur. Surround yourself with really smart people and you can’t go wrong.
The second quote is, “You need to know where you’re going before you go there.” I think the most important decision you ever have to make for yourself is what you want to do in 5 years; what stake you want to put in the ground. But through exploration, through trying a lot of different things, through understanding yourself (because the most important relationship you’ll ever have is the one you have with yourself), you can make the commitment. And once you understand that and are ready to make the commitment, great things happen. Too many people simply don’t make the commitment. Push yourself towards your commitment. Know where you’re going. Know your end goal.
To learn more about Michael Karnjanaprakorn, check out www.mikekarnj.com. Michael is the CEO/Co-founder of Skillshare, which is a platform to learn anything from anyone.
Milena Arciszewski lives in NYC. She is starting the organization PandoProjects to unleash human potential and help people create a better world. She likes camping, reading, and cupcakes. You can follow her on Twitter at @pandoprojects or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.