10 Amazing People — My Reply To Yesterday’s School Shootings

Like everyone I know, yesterday was filled with sadness, horror. 27 dead, 20 children.

The only article I read (of dozens) that meant anything to me was Fuck Everything. The Onion nailed it: Why bother? Words can’t describe the tragedy. Why even try?

I’m not going to lobby for gun control or defend gun rights. I don’t want to argue morality or mental disease. There are plenty of people doing those things already.

Late last night, I saw a tweet from my friend Jessica Jackley, one of Kiva’s co-founders:

I remember meeting her years ago and realizing, midway through lunch, that I was going to have to invent a new category of people for her: courageously kind. It’s a different kind of kindness — one that requires strength, one that requires courage, one that knows kindness is often taken advantage of but is kind anyways.

And that’s what I want to talk about instead. Yes, there is evil in the world. Yes, there is death — unfair, untimely death. There is apathy, there is greed, there is awfulness. But, there is also goodness in this world. Real goodness.

Yesterday, someone tried to steal that from us.

Well, fuck that. I refuse. There is goodness, I know this. There is kindness, I know this too. There is courage, genuineness, raw messy inner human beauty — all of this I know.

I know this because, over the past five years of building Vittana, I’ve had the genuine honor (pleasure!) of getting to know some of the most amazing people in the world. I don’t think of them as amazing — they’re just my friends. But, they are amazing.

On a day where some guy tried to steal our goodness from us, I’d like you to meet some of them.

Why? Maybe they’ll do for you what they did for me — remind me that there is real goodness in this world.

  • Jessica Jackley — She inspired the definition of courageously kind. Her TED talk was one of the most courageous talks I have ever seen — you can literally see the love and soul she put into building Kiva. Enough said.
  • Jose Antonio Vargas — He’s one of the bravest men I know. A Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist, he outed himself as an undocumented immigrant last year so he could fight for immigrants’ rights.
  • Jim Fruchterman — I love Jim. He’s one of the dorkiest, happiest, smartest people I know. A rocket scientist turned social entrepreneur, he invented OCR good enough to read all printed text in 1982 and then built reading machines for the blind with it. Oh, and he’s also a certified genius.
  • Rand Fishkin — I want to be Rand when I grow up. Like all founders, he’s gone through heaven and hell, but he’s talked about everything openly — the good, the bad, the awful. He lives and breathes TAGFEE. He’s one of the most genuine, open, courageous tech founders you’ll ever meet.
  • Charles Best — Spend 15 minutes with Charles and you’ll walk away happier, grounded, energized. A teacher in the Bronx, he founded DonorsChoose in 2000 to help his fellow teachers afford school supplies. And because he didn’t know that many donors back then, he secretly funded the first dozen projects… on a teacher’s salary.
  • Alexis Ohanian — He might have founded reddit, hipmunk and breadpig, he might be writing a book that’ll rock your world or be going to the White House Christmas party, and he might also only be 29… but you’d never know that by talking to him — he’s one of the nicest, most genuine, humble guys you’ll ever meet.
  • Eric Stowe — Eric founded Splash in 2006, working to get kids around the world access to clean water. They’re serving 250,000+ kids a day — it’s truly incredible to see them scale.
  • Nancy Lublin — Nancy runs DoSomething.org. In less than 12 hours, they found a way to help the victims of yesterday’s shooting.

    Text HOPE to 38383 to send a prayer to the families affected by yesterday’s shooting. They will be hand-delivered on Monday.

  • Kristina Anderson — Here’s the thing: Yesterday was the second-worst school shooting in American history. Virginia Tech was the worst.

    Kristina is a survivor of Virginia Tech. She was shot multiple times, survived, made it through physical therapy, and has now dedicated her life to fighting for safe schools.

  • A music teacher, a custodian, a principal — A music teacher who saved 15 kids by hiding them in a closet; a custodian <a href="running in the halls, yelling “Guys! Get down! Hide!”; a principal who gave her life trying to save her students.

What more can I say? They’re our heroes and angels today.

Who do you know that reminds you there’s still goodness in this world? In the middle of everything else, take a moment to reflect on the goodness, courage and humanity that still exists all around us.

My 2012 Annual Letter for Vittana

Thanks to you, Vittana grew 4X, expanded in Africa, reached 8,000 students in 12 countries & had our first $1 million month!

Even this past week has been incredible!

  • We fully deployed our $500,0000 Vittana/MCE Education Opportunity Fund in the Philippines, helping more than 1,340 youth escape poverty.
  • We announced Vinod Khosla and Rich Barton, two of technology’s biggest names, joined as lead donors on Vittana’s League of Extraordinary Tech Superheroes”.
  • My blog post, “Why I Walked Away from $1 Million”, became a viral hit: 1,000+ likes & tweets, Huffington Post, Nick Kristof, Vinod Khosla, Tim O’Reilly & others.
  • To cap it all off, last Thursday we celebrated with Seattle (nearly 1,000 people!) at the GeekWire Gala, raising $32,000+ to fight youth poverty!
  • And just yesterday, Google’s employees raised $102,541 $120,000+ (one day!) for Vittana’s fight against youth poverty!

Hard-Fought Growth

Vittana's impact against youth poverty through 2013As each of you know, creating a meaningful, scalable organization is hard. We’ve had a year of profound growth, for both Vittana and me.

We’ve discovered who we are as an organization (and man, as I turn 30 next month), who we want to be when we grow up — one that blends business’ top minds and philanthropy’s strongest hearts, one that will someday create trillion-dollar change.

Everything we’ve already achieved is because of you: your time, your faith, your thought partnership, your financial support. Thank you. Many of you stepped forward when we needed you most. Thank you for being part of our Vittana family: youth, staff, champions, donors.

You Can Make An Enormous Difference

How will you make an impact this year? Inspire your holiday giving with hope and help. A major gift to Vittana could be one of the most powerful ways to make a difference this year.

Looking forward to 2013, we face a unique problem. After years of sustained exponential growth, we have more lenders and more youth than the infrastructure to bring them together.

We need to raise $500,000 this month for Vittana to meet our next goal. This alone will unlock more than $5 million in loans for youth in 2013 — more than 6,800 youth. With your help, we can help 33,000 youth escape poverty next year.

Please make a donation today. You can use our 1-click page. If you’d like to have a bigger conversation, I’d love to follow up personally.

Janice Macalisang — a Vittana student in the PhilippinesI’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite students, Janice, a girl who dreamed of being a teacher.

Her story broke my heart, both what she’s had to endure but also how little money she needed to empower herself.

Thank you for being part of the Vittana family. Thank you for being part of a movement to end youth poverty — Vittana wouldn’t be possible without you.

Thank you, truly. Yours,


Kushal Chakrabarti
Founder & CEO, Vittana

The 10% Rule — How Hard Work & Compound Interest Are Related

Grasshopper: “What’s the secret?”

Master: “The secret is that there is no secret — you just have to work harder than everyone else.”

In college, I had an incredible mentor, Lior Pachter, who taught me how to think about interesting problems: always redefine the rules; voraciously consume data, then just go play; cherish, pursue moments of discomfort. It was breathtaking.

But, the #1 thing I learned from Lior? The 10% rule.

Meet the 10% Rule

It’s actually very simple.

If you do 10% more hard work every day, how far ahead are you at the end of the year? Hint: It’s not 10%.

If you do 10% more work every day, you’re not ahead by just 1.1x after one year — you’re actually ahead by 1.1365 = 1,283,305,580,313,390x. That’s a big, big number.

1,283,305,580,313,390 vs. 1 — the 10% rule
1,283,305,580,313,390 vs. 1 — The 10% Rule

In short, hard work compounds on itself. It’s the magic of compound interest. Just like money builds off money, hard work builds off hard work.

That extra feature you launched, email you sent, insight you had today? It builds off yesterday’s extra feature, email, insight.

Now, obviously, it doesn’t quite work perfectly. In your sleep-deprived stupor, say you start confusing Os for 0s and break the production system — you just wiped out your past month’s gains. But the idea still essentially holds.


The 10% rule is also the secret to why startups can beat the big guys.

Normal, clear-thinking people (i.e. not you, me — we’re entrepreneurs at heart) look at the numbers and bet on Google, Microsoft, Facebook. So how did Google beat Yahoo in the first place? Why did Mark Zuckerberg pay $1 billion for Instagram?

Because if you’re out busting your ass for own startup, writing code 16 hours a day, using your dog as a four-paw focus group, dreaming (literally) about product/market fit every night, the 10% rule kicks in.

And every seasoned founder, CEO knows that: it’s tough to beat talent + passion (hard work). In a year, you’ve got enough product equity to beat the 9-to-5 lifers by an order of magnitude. If you can survive long enough to catch up, they’re done for.

I’ve been clocking 100-hour weeks for awhile. I’m not special — every founder has done the same. Startups are a race against time and hard work + the 10% rule is your time-warping, 1.21-gigawatt DeLorean to win.

Time-warping, 1.21-gigawatt DeLoreans don't have to look pretty though — Back to the Future
Time-warping, 1.21-gigawatt DeLoreans don’t have to look pretty — Back to the Future

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

Rwanda: Country of Contradictions

These days, I spend a lot of my time traveling. Fundraising, speaking, sure — but the best kind of travel is visiting Vittana youth in countries all around the world.

I always ask what we’re doing right, how we’ve screwed up, and whether we’re living up to their hopes and dreams. Trust me, they don’t hold back — I’ve gotten an earful a few times!

In the past several months, I’ve been through Rwanda, Jordan and the Philippines. They always remind me of growing up in India — countries of deep contradiction, with pockets of very real opportunity amidst extreme, palpable poverty.

Take Rwanda for instance. What do you think of first when you hear Rwanda? The genocide, right?

It’s been 18 years. And that’s such a symbolic number. The babies being born in those tragic moments are today finishing basic schooling and yearning for more. It’s a new generation of hope — nearly 80% of Rwandan youth are literate.

Tourism is booming. People from all over the world visit Rwanda for its amazing safaris and gorilla treks. Hotels abound in Kigali — little hostels, 5-star luxury resorts charging $500 a night. Marriott is opening its first hotel in all of Africa in Rwanda.

And yet, 90% of Rwandan youth and their families still live on subsistence farming.

What’s holding them back? One year of education. The difference between a girl who knows how to read and write and one who knows how to write a few lines of HTML? It’s night and day.

Option A: It’s a girl sitting in a thatched hut on her family’s one-acre farm, boiling cassava for her little brother so he can eat when he gets home from the fields.

Option B: It’s a girl who’s learned a livelihood, found a job that triples her earning power — maybe as Marriott’s new webmaster — and developed a sense of herself in the world.

The contradiction is sometimes simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring — so far ahead, yet so close.

Peace, from a girl (and boy) in Rwanda