Why I Walked Away From $1 Million

Four years ago, I walked away from Amazon and a million dollars — thousands of stock options. I was a twenty-something kid running a billion-dollar team but I wanted more.

I started Vittana, a non-profit trying to end youth poverty. I wanted to help people like Ana Lizbeth, a mother who dreamed of becoming a programmer.

Since launching in 2009, Vittana has helped over 8,000 youth in 12 countries on four continents. After getting a $713 Vittana Loan, Ana Lizbeth graduated in 2011 — she doubled her income and already fully repaid her loan.

In fact, the average Vittana graduate triples their earning power. 99% repay their loans. This year, we’ll be a $5 million organization.

And Seattle? You rock! Dave Schappell took my first meeting when I was a wide-eyed wantrepreneur. Glenn Kelman gave me the best advice ever in 2010: “You should’ve asked for more.” In 2012, Rich Barton is helping us scale even more. Tim Ferriss just donated his birthday, raising $130,000 in 10 days to fight youth poverty.

Today, with GeekWire, we’re launching the Geeks Give Back challenge. Already teams have raised $5,000 $7,000 $17,000 $32,000+ (!) and CEOs like Alex Algard from White Pages and Kevin Merritt from Socrata are matching their teams dollar for dollar.

Why should you join their ranks? Your company will get counted towards Seattle’s most generous organizations. If you win, you’ll be honored on stage at the GeekWire Gala on December 6. And not to mention get all that good karma!

So sign up today. With a few dollars, you can help someone like Ana Lizbeth escape youth poverty.

Ana Lizbeth — A Mother's Dream & Determination
Ana Lizbeth — A Mother’s Dream & Determination

So why did I walk away from a million dollars? For me, education was a second chance at life — I wouldn’t be here without my education. Would you? As a tech geek, it was a chance to do something about a real, tangible problem in the world.

I’m blessed to be part of a community and generation that has the means and ability to really change the world.

Not only do I not regret it, I feel lucky.

Cross-posted from GeekWire, our wonderful partner for this year’s Geeks Give Back challenge. Buy your tickets for the GeekWire Gala today!

UPDATE 12/01: Wow, thank you for the kind words — hundreds of FB posts & tweets.

UPDATE 12/05: Picked up by Huffington Post, Nick Kristof, Vinod Khosla, Tim O’Reilly and many others. Feeling very honored, humbled. Thanks guys.

Hard-Headed Idealism

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about Vittana’s values. What do we stand for? What kind of organization are we trying to build?

Hard-Headed Idealism — Vittana Values #1

There is one quote that was on our first business plan, strategic plan & every other document since founding:

Ridiculing idealism is shortsighted, but idealism without the rigors of pessimism is misleading.

We need very hard-headed idealists who can look into the worst and best of humanity and can create and implement strategies of success.

State of the Future 2007, Millennium Project

At its heart is the idea of hard-headed idealism. It’s an idealism grounded in the brutal facts of reality, one willing to make the tough decisions while relentlessly fighting to achieve its original aim — a better world.

You can’t separate the two.

You can’t just be a mercenary corporation, arbitraging market gaps to make a buck. What’s the point? You can’t take all that money with you in the end.

You can’t just be an innocent non-profit, believing good things will come because you’re a good person. To create real change at scale, you have to make the tough calls.

In the end, how do we create the world we want to live in? By having an unshakable faith that our world is possible and putting in the hard work & tough decisions to make that world a reality.

Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real.

— Tupac