Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur is Dave Wilkin, who Founded TenThousandCoffees.com to revolutionize the way people gain access to opportunities. Find out how his company does exactly that and the inspiration behind the idea in today’s profile…
Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
My team and I are on a mission to create a global marketplace of opportunity that allows anyone to have access to the conversations and experiences they need to move their careers forward. Through TenThousandCoffees.com we are helping tens of thousands of leaders from 30+ industries connect with the next generation to share ideas, exchange knowledge and gain insights.
Our goal is to revolutionize the way people gain access to opportunities. And opportunity can mean a number of things, whether it’s conversations, jobs, new experiences, networks, group chats, volunteer experiences, information, etc. We provide opportunities beyond coffee conversations and are working with government, companies, non-profits and industry leaders to make Ten Thousand Coffees the go-to place for the next generation to find these meaningful opportunities.
Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
The inspiration for Ten Thousand Coffees came to me after many years of working with global brands and industry leaders. As a young entrepreneur and a ‘Millennial’ many leaders would ask me how to better connect with my generation. My solution to them was simple – talk to them, ask them questions. What I realised was that these leaders were totally open and excited to speak with young people and I knew that my generation would jump at the chance to speak with these leaders – the challenge was that they did not have a way to access each other.
It was many years ago over a coffee conversation with Mia Pearson, Co-founder of North Strategic, that I got the idea, advice and confidence to start my first company at 21. Since launching Ten Thousand Coffees in January of 2014, we have seen amazing things happen when people go for coffee conversations; it’s those stories that drive our team forward to expand and improve our platform.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
My job is amazing because not only do I get to go into work everyday to collaborate and innovate with my team but we also get to hear of all the great opportunities that people across Canada are accessing through coffee conversations. We’ve had an aspiring astronaut get the opportunity to work in Germany at the German Aerospace Agency. We’ve heard from top industry leaders who have actually changed their business models and marketing strategies based on the information they learned speaking with the next generation. People have changed careers, gained access to new tools to help their businesses. Most of all people are meeting people outside their direct networks, people are having conversations and people are getting excited about the future and that is what keeps me going. The most challenging part of my role is prioritizing all of the great ideas and insights that we get from our community of users. Our team is eager to build the best experience possible, but we always need to make sure that we make changes in a thoughtful and strategic manner.
What is one sign that you’ve seen over the years to suggest that your work/life balance is off?
I’m a naturally energetic person and when I’m working on something I’m excited about it only fuels me to keep going. However, if there is one thing I have learned it’s that regular exercise is really important for me to clear my head and get a fresh perspective. Whether its playing hockey, going to crossfit, a yoga class or going for a run I try to do something active every day – it really does help keep me sane!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
If I had been asked this question 5 years ago, I would have been way off. In 5 years I’d like to continue having the opportunity to work with driven, talented and innovative people, on the world’s biggest challenges, and having some fun while doing it.
What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
I think one of the biggest challenges was right after one of my coffee chats with Mia. I went into that meeting hoping to get a summer job. Instead she told me, a 20 year old bio chemistry student, to start my own company, but first there were three things I needed to do, choose a name, get a business card and sign my first client. She told me not to contact her again until I did that. After that conversation I had two options, to do it, or not do it, but then I thought, if Mia believes that I can do this, then I should believe I can do this. My conversation with her gave me the confidence and drive to start my own company. A few months later I called Mia and told her I signed my first client and she told me to get on the first train to Toronto.
What does success look like to you? Does Money = Happiness?
Success to me is being able to provide each and every person across the globe with access to the right types of conversations to help move them forward, regardless of background, experience and education. There are so many amazing ideas out there waiting to be uncovered, and I believe that enabling people to have conversations with people they otherwise would not have had access too is the way these ideas and innovations are going to come to life.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Definitely launching Ten Thousand Coffees. It was an idea I’d had for years – enabling conversations over coffee. It took a lot of courage to shift my business from a youth marketing company to a technology company. From my own experience, I knew the power a coffee conversation could have, but it wasn’t until I had many conversations with many people that I knew this was the right direction for my company and me.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Get out there and talk to people. Talk to people your age, to people a few years older, to people much older. Talk to people in your field, talk to people outside your field. But most important make sure you’re offering mutual benefit. Don’t go into these conversations just thinking about what they can provide you, think about what you can provide them. You have to give to get!
Where is your favourite place to wine/ dine in your city and why?
I can often be found at Soho House in Toronto. It’s the perfect place to get work done while eating good food and having a few drinks.
When you’re not working how do you love to spend your “Me” time?
I’m from a small town an hour north of Sudbury called Lively and my family also has a cabin on Manitoulin Island. Being up in northern Ontario and spending time on the lake with my two dogs Max and Sophie is my paradise. Whether its ice fishing in the winter or boating in the summer it’s the perfect place to get away and unwind.
Where is your favourite place to travel? Why?
I’m an adventurer. I would rather see different parts of the world than go to the same place twice. So I always like to switch it up.
If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?
Ha, I would have to say Anything Could Happen by Ellie Goulding. That song just gets me going.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
Coming from such as small town I grew up thinking there were really only a few options for a career – I could be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher or do a trade. Since I liked science I decided, hey, I’ll be a doctor – so that is what I went to school for. If it wasn’t for that coffee conversation with Mia I would probably be a Doctor today. It’s great on so many levels because in all honestly I don’t think I would have made a very good Doctor. There are so many different careers out there and the only way to discover them is to have conversations with different people.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
I support a number of different charities and non-profit organizations both personally and through the Ten Thousand Coffees platform. Young people today are cause drivers and change makers. I love hearing about how these people are using the platform to further their initiatives, either by seeking advice from other professionals or through posting opportunities that other young change-makers can get involved in.
What to you is notable?
To me notable is the entrepreneurs who are working on solutions to problems that will change the world we’re living in.
Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
Android – always.