I can pinpoint the moment when the euphoria of selling my first startup evaporated. It was when I heard the words, “You need to get to a hospital. Now.” It was May 2012, and I was taking time off after selling my company to travel with my wife and son before the arrival of our second child. We had just settled into a quaint house in Holland and were excited about spending our summer exploring the Dutch countryside. After 5 years of stressful startup building, when I was finally having a chance to relax and when it seemed like nothing could go wrong, everything did.
An innocuous fever morphed into a mysterious paralysis of my hands. A casual visit to a physician ended with a surprisingly stern admonishment to go to the emergency room. And so began a series of tests, one of the first of which was an MRI. I was strapped down on a gurney, unable to even wave goodbye to my wife and son with anything other than a tear in my eye before being whisked away in an ambulance to another hospital.
If you haven’t been inside of an MRI machine before, don’t rush to have the experience. Just know there’s not much room to move around. And for the scan to be clear, you’re not allowed to move, or even swallow. As the magnets whirred and clanged around me, I starting thinking about my family, what makes me happy, and how precious, fragile, and fast moving life can be. I decided then that if I were to regain the use of my hands I would devote time to making the world better.
Thankfully my hands recovered about a week later. When we came home to the Bay Area I was quickly reinserted into the flow of the local tech scene, along with the usual flurry of stories of venture capital financings, new product launches, and acquisitions. I kept wondering – Where are the inspiring stories? Why aren’t more people talking about entrepreneurs doing good? About software changing lives? About people changing the world by devoting themselves to a cause?
I then reconnected with a classmate of mine from business school, Sal Khan. Sal had started tutoring his niece online, then more relatives, and eventually started recording videos for others too. Khan Academy now educates over 10 million people a month – all with a staff of less than 50. This is the type of inspiring story I wanted to hear! How incredible that software and the web provide such enormous scale, quickly, even inside an area like education that is typically thought of as slow to change.
Accelerators and seed/angel investing have exploded recently, helping those who want to start a for-profit tech company. But what about one to do good? Where is the support for the next Sal who wants to apply technology in pursuit of a charitable mission?
Meet Fast Forward. We find and assist entrepreneurs who want to make a difference. We provide financial and human capital to help scale technology solutions geared to solving some of the world’s tough problems for which there is no market solution. In the process we create more stories of entrepreneurs who inspire others to devote themselves to good.
As we look to donors for financial support, industry experts for mentorship, and talented people to start and lead innovative software nonprofits, I hope you’ll join us in creating a vibrant community around applying technology towards solving some of the world’s tough problems.