Started from a humble beginning, Dave Wilkin’s story from small town to global entrepreneur brings to life the power and true meaning of entrepreneurship. Growing up watching and being influenced by his community-oriented parents, this 27-year-old entrepreneur didn’t know what entrepreneurship was until getting into his early 2os. However, hundreds of thousands of community services and coffee chats have helped him turn a movement into a successful business called Ten Thousand Coffees – the first youth movement of its kind in the world, created by young people for young people.
We had the pleasure sitting down with Wilkin in his office in downtown Toronto. The conversation was casual yet aspiring, just like hundreds of coffee chats happened via Ten Thousands Coffees.
Novella: How did you come up with the concept of providing face-to-face opportunities for people to meet with experts in the field?
Dave Wilkin: The Ten Thousand Coffee movement was created after working with the government and hundreds of companies for almost ten years. All these young people have new skills, great experience and lots of ideas, but lack of the opportunity to create their own opportunities. So after working with all these companies and organizations, what we saw and were told was that, first of all, they need their entire organizations to become experts of the next generation, that includes product innovation, hiring employees, engagement and so on. If we don’t become experts at youth, those companies won’t exit in the next 10 years.
Novella: So it’s not just about helping the young people. It’s a two-way exchange.
DW: Exactly. It was just simple coffee conversation that hasn’t happened for decades that actually could change the perspective of highly intelligent, highly educated global leaders. So after ten years of working with companies, government and schools, we kind of thought of how can we create a movement around that would really shape of what’s next with youth. If an individual spends ten thousand hours doing something, you become an expert at it.
Novella: Oh wow, that’s so interesting. I guess anyone can be an expert at something if you fully dedicate yourself to it. That’s pretty encouraging.
DW: It’s a lot of hours, but ten thousands hours is more or less the time you spend on to be an expert at something. Coffee is about an hour and it was just a neutral thing that would change a perspective of a leader and of course this young person. So we went back to these leaders and we said what would happen if ten thousand of today’s leaders meet with ten thousand tomorrow’s leaders over then thousand coffees? And all of the leaders were like: “I would do this in a heartbeat. ”
Novella: Can we please take you back to the very beginning when you just started to have this idea? How did you knock on those leaders’ doors and get them to agree with you and believe in this concept?
DW: Ten thousands Coffees wasn’t just created on a business plan. It was created in partnerships with people we worked with over 10 years. The biggest thing people don’t realize is that you don’t get tractions overnight. Every little community services, activates, coffee conversations I had…all those have compounded and added. And as I’m giving back to the communities and all of sudden you have this Ah-ha moment. We had to understand if we want to change how the next generations get opportunities and help everybody around the world in different professions tap into youth, we had to move from Blockbusters to Netflix. And that’s when Ten thousands Coffees was created.
(He smiled and continued…)
A lot of young people have hopes, dreams and aspirations, but lack confidence. It’s unfortunate because you have all this potential but don’t believe that you will get a callback. So they don’t try, they just give up. At Ten Thousand Coffees, we see one out of three requests get accepted and that’s about 33%. If you do cold outreach, it’s less than 5%. So we almost like 10 times better than any other way to build your network.
Novella: Because you create trust-worthy platforms with good filter, measurement and all sorts. But why coffees though? Why not skypes? Google hangouts?
DW: Because we’re in a world that is so digital, humans need each other. And what we realize is that something you cannot do online. There is no conversations that beat a face to face.
Novella: That’s why we’re meeting you today, instead of sending you the interview questions.
DW: Yeah, it’s our DNA. It’s human being. A lot of people over look that. Body language is 80% of what you say, tone is 15% and what you actually say is 5%.
Novella: Ten Thousand Coffees wasn’t created out of a business plan, but did you always know that you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
DW: I didn’t know what entrepreneur was until I was like 20. But my parents started an community run non-profit in my small town. So I remember they were always at the town hall trying to get someone to fix something. They did it because it was something they cared about. From the classic entrepreneur lens, I wouldn’t be an entrepreneur, but I’ve been taught if there is a problem that needs to be fixed, that’s your job. Being an entrepreneur is just like being obsessed with a really big problem. That’s what entrepreneurship is. So I told anyone who wants to start a business: “Don’t be an entrepreneur, start being obsessed with a big problem that can actually change people’s lives.” That’s why I created Ten Thousand Coffees. I grew up in a town that has 1500 people. My parents made maple syrup. I’m just lucky that I’m very good with coffee conversations and I’ve had tons of that to get to where I am now. Ten Thousand Coffees was created so that we democratize opportunities so not just people hiring people they know or people meeting people they know.
After our interview with Wilkin, we told him that we needed to take some pictures of him in the office, and he insisted to invite his whole team to have a group picture together. “I wouldn’t be able to this on my own, ” he says.
If you’re a recent grads, young professional or someone at a career turning point, don’t hesitate to set up your profile and send a coffee chat request to the experts you’d like to meet with. You never know, that coffee chat could be your life changer.
Photos by: Sasha Xiao