In the first of our collaboration with #RiseUp15, we reveal the story behind one of the event's speakers, Stacey Ferreira, a game-changing entrepreneur herself who founded a cloud-based platform when she was only 18 and works to challenge the negative stereotypes associated with Millennials.
In July 2015, Stacey Ferreira went on stage at a TEDxNYU talk and smashed a widespread idea about Millennials, the so-called “Generation Y” that has been often labelled lazy, narcissistic, and entitled. “When you look at world population statistics, you realise that Millennials are the largest group of individuals to ever graduate into the workforce. Right now, there are two billion people under 20, growing up and getting ready to enter a workforce where 52.3% say that they don’t like their jobs,” she says. “So what happens to us?”
As she looked around, she didn’t find lazy individuals but rather changemakers who defy generational barriers and open up paths to turn their passion into a way of life. She discovered that among her counterparts there were hundreds of initiatives springing. Olympians, teenage entrepreneurs, Disney channel actors, award-winning scientists, non-profit founders, and other inspiring stories hailing from over twenty countries whom she met, interviewed, and compiled in her internationally acclaimed book 2 Billion Under 20: How Millennials Are Breaking Down Age Barriers and Changing the World. The book, now touring across 35 countries, has turned into a movement where entrepreneurs and gamechangers under 20 network and share the stories of how they turned their dream into a way of life.
“I grew up in Arizona and was exposed to computers at a very young age, as my father worked at IBM. When I saw my brother lose all his information after his computer crashed, we thought of solving the problem and helping others do so as well,” she says, recalling the inception of MySocialCloud, the startup she created together with her brother when she was only 18 years old.
The platform, a cloud-based bookmark vault that allows users to log into all of their online accounts from a single, secure website, proved a success when she and her brother were approached by three companies who offered them an acquisition, and became the youngest investments of Richard Branson and Jerry Murdock.
A 20-year-old entrepreneur who had built an incredibly successful startup at the age of 18, Ferreira realised most of her Millennial counterparts were doing the same thing. “I began reaching out to other entrepreneurs through Facebook groups, and within two weeks got 500 stories,” she tells CairoScene.
“In the United States, it wasn’t widely accepted at that time that you could start your own business and make it happen at such a young age, so I wanted to share those stories of really young people creating change in the world,” she says. The book gave Ferreira unexpected visibility, as she was selected as one of 10 US State Department “Millennial Expert” Speakers to travel the world and speak about Entrepreneurship in America.
Among the stories, Ferreira particularly recalls one child talking about his journey when to obtain an iPhone through a challenge established by his father. “His dad had set up a challenge for his sons, promising they would get the latest iPhone if they did well in school. But his brother ended up winning, but he wasn’t really focused in school as he didn’t like to just sit in class; he had more of an entrepreneurial spirit, so he began buying iPhones to resell them and ended up making $100,000 to buy one on his own. I like his story because it was kind of hacking the system to get what you want,” she says.
These stories, the entrepreneur stresses, are powerful not only because they show how young Millennials are crafting their own professional careers through following their passions, but also because they underline fundamental changes shaking up the international economy. “With entrepreneurship, we are starting to see change, from a model where large corporations exploited people, to a model where smaller companies are employing less people as contractors doing part time work. It’s a more fluid model, where people tend to bounce around from business to business,” she says.
One of the most promising aspects is, however, the change in the nature and scope of the businesses that see the light. “The reason why people are starting businesses is not to get a big pay check, but to fundamentally change the way things are because they believe in it,” she stresses. “There are more belief based ideas as opposed to money making initiatives. People are socially minded first, and focus more on how it will impact users and customer experience." The arrival of social media, she adds, has also turned businesses into more socially minded and accountable entities, as users can blast out a bad experience.
The entrepreneur continues, “One thing I realised throughout the writing of the book is that the one thing everyone wants now is flexibility in their work, but at the same time, they still need to make a baseline salary to live, so the danger of being a consultant is that you never know when the next job is coming.” The thought triggered an idea in the Ferreira’s mind, who began building a platform to help freelancers know the baseline salary for different industries.
Her new startup, Forrge, gathers on-demand work opportunities in a determined city, offering freelancers the possibility of scheduling their work where, when and how they want. “We have an app where store managers can upload their schedule, so that freelancers can browse the job openings every morning, and see the hours and hourly salary offered in order to select the job opportunitiy and hours that they would like that specific day,” she says.
Adapting – and re-shaping — new market trends, where young workers are driven by their passion rather than a mere search for financial gain, Ferreira is excited to take this company further in the coming months, catering to a workforce with attributes to which she has more insights than anyone else.
“I once asked someone how to balance work and life, and they gave me the best advice ever: ‘only work on things that are worth unbalancing your life for’. It was the most life-changing thing someone ever said to me. If it is not worth giving up everything for, then it is not worth,” she concludes.