Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur is 28-year-old Jordan Axani, Founder and Executive Director of a charitable movement called A ‘Ticket Forward’, which works with donors, brands and organizations to send survivors of abuse, cancer and warfare on transformative travel experiences…
Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
Everything I do is about paying it forward and helping others connect with the world. I am the Founder and Executive Director of a charitable movement called A Ticket Forward. We work with donors, brands and organizations to send survivors of abuse, cancer and warfare on transformative travel experiences. We’re also getting into the social enterprise space to develop innovative products for all travellers that reduce barriers to seeing the world. Outside of that, I’m writing a book, working on a TV and/or digital concept, and am starting to do a bunch of speaking – but that’s a whole other story for over a glass of wine sometime.
Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
It was purely serendipitous. Something I wrote on Reddit went viral last year. During the chaos, I received thousands of notes from people all over the world sharing their fears that they would never have the chance to step outside of their own city or country. A huge amount of these people were struggling with devastating health, emotional and other pragmatic barriers. In essence, these letters were asking, “How can I experience the world, too?” But I didn’t have an answer – and there were no charities in this space. I had long believed that seeing the world is a right of passage for every person. So we created a charity in partnership with a world-class philanthropic team in California, corporate partners, and – most recently – a global community of passionate travellers that are dedicated to paying it forward. The social enterprise and other avenues came naturally out of that. Wild, right?
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
My best part of each day is connecting and meeting new people, ranging from survivors of cancer to CEOs. The most challenging part is leading a large (and rapidly growing team) between four continents and building a truly sustainable organization in the process.
What is one sign that you’ve seen over the years to suggest that your work/life balance is off?
Know that feeling where things just don’t feel real – like you are an actor in a play that you don’t direct? Like you are spinning so fast that you can’t think clearly? That’s how I feel sometimes. And so, I’m working diligently on some changes to keep me grounded, including daily meditation, eating well, working out a bunch, and seeing a rad (yes – rad) psychologist to help me reflect, learn and grow.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Trying to push boundaries to make big, ambitious things happen that help others. My grandpa said something to me on his deathbed that I now live my life by: “Never settle. I didn’t and look what I got.” He was a beloved family man, WWII veteran, community leader and entrepreneur – and he never settled for mediocrity. In 5 years I recon my attitude will be the same as it is today, but I’ll be working on a whole new set of challenges.
What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
Aligning my personal and professional purpose was a notable (ha!) challenge. Last month, I was at this leadership program in Silicon Valley with a bunch of tech CEOs, seasoned philanthropists and wildly bold venture capitalists (like, folks who invest solely in emerging technology that will allow us to have manned settlement on Mars – no joke). I was hilariously out of place. The goal of the program was to have all of us work towards aligning our personal and professional purposes – so that we would have one unified life purpose to work towards everyday in all that we do.
Not too hard, right? It was freaking awful. I had just come off of this whole viral mania and my world was upside down. It took weeks after the session to rethink my entire life, why I am here, and what I want my mark to be. After a week of isolation, a couple emotional breakdowns and a lot of time with our family dog, Howard, I came out the other end swinging – and now everything I do, and will do, aligns and is headed for one clear direction. (But that, again, is a whole other story).
What does success look like to you? Does Money = Happiness?
Not even close. Being comfortable is important, but that’s about it. (However, I do want to buy my parents a condo in Florida. Beachfront, ideally). To me, success is seeing someone flourish and live out their dream, while having balance within their life and within themselves. (If your dream is to make a boatload of cash, dream bigger – or enjoy a life of angst).
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
First, taking the leap into the unknown to establish a charity and, now, social enterprise. It’s confusing, scary and messy – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Second, building a world-class team that is passionate, driven and focused on helping others.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
One, never settle for mediocrity. It’s a waste of your precious life. Two, build meaningful relationships personally and professionally with others where you give more than take. Value, nurture and respect everyone around you. Three, know what you want – and then ask for help to get there. You’ll be amazed by what happens next.
Where is your favourite place to wine/ dine in your city and why?
Hmm! That’s tough. In Toronto, I love Woodlot. It’s the right balance of cozy and fun, without being pretentious. Ascari Enoteca is up there too for the exact same reasons. And Pizza e Pazzi because it’s just so damn great. Real good people run all three, which adds to the appeal and deliciousness.
When you’re not working how do you love to spend your “Me” time?
Cooking and podcasts, or a combination of the two. (Uh, can we talk about Serial for a bit? Adnan’s appeal… what!). I also run poorly and paint on big canvases (abstractly – er, poorly). I’d like to get back into endurance mountain bike racing this year and do the Colorado Trail Race. Also, trying to get back into recording and playing music.
Where is your favourite place to travel? Why?
Not to wave our national flag too much, but I actually really love travelling in Canada. A lot. I’ve done more cross-country trips that I can count. Otherwise, I’m loving major Asian cities right now like Singapore and Hong Kong.
If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?
Machinehead by Bush X because, let’s be honest, 90s grunge was the apex of all modern music. (Or maybe Motown was – whatever). Tweet at me and we can debate it.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
Listening to Machinehead on repeat. Kidding. (Not really). I’d like to think that I’d be following my gut and proceeding with a career that makes me happy and that contributes to our city. As they say: do something you love everyday if you want to make the world a better place.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
I am advising a couple social enterprises right now that have solid philanthropic mandates. But I am considering joining a couple charities as a board member, too. I’ll be getting very involved in the philanthropic community in LA later this year, and I’d love to free up some time to help new charities get off the ground however I can.
What to you is notable?
People that have the vision, the smarts and the heart to accomplish brilliant things, while being graceful in the process.
Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
I have both right now. I’m not sure if I underestimated Android or overestimated myself, but I’m having a heck of a time getting the hang of it. So iPhone. Or, better yet, I’d prefer no phone.
Jordan’s all about connecting and collaborating. So reach out! He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter and Instagram at @jordanaxani.com. You can also learn about A Ticket Forward at www.aticketforward.org, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aticketforward or on Twitter at @aticketforward.