Wednesday, 27, March 2013

Jimmy Wales, Founder of the largest online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia gave an awesome talk on various topic recently on the Google Campus. Held in London, it is part of Google’s speaker series event which invites thought leaders across the IT industry to give speeches to startup communities and entrepreneurial-minded individuals. Wui CY of Imperial College London, and I managed to get free tickets on the event itself, which proved to be of valuable experience.

In his introduction, he recalled about his past ventures and activities. From growing up in Alabama, USA, the failing in his first few businesses, up to being where he is today-or as he jokingly refereed to as being a watch model in the Beijing Airport(refer below picture). As a stock options trader in the last 1990s he saw the emergence of a new paradigm: The Internet.


In his quest to get into the new market, he quit his job and moved his operations to New York. Here he persuaded his prospects-notably the restaurateurs-to purchase his internet marketing services, all however to no avail. “They thought I was from Mars” Jimmy exclaimed. “Nobody knew anything about internet then, and only did I realize how the market was not yet ready”

Until a few years and several failures did he finally realized about creating the online encyclopaedia  One which has grown out to be, today: Wikipedia. I will not go into details on this. But, he did add how Goggle has been instrumental in helping the site attain the number 5 spot in internet traffic. We were in Google Campus then, so you can imagine how much a complement that is to the Google community present at that moment.

However, it was not all that rosy in the beginning  “When we were starting out, I hired Professors and Phd’s to write 12 articles for Wikipedia. All of this for USD$250,000.” he said “I still keep the articles under my pillow. Want to get my money’s worth.”

“Before the dot com crash(dubbed as the internet recession), we were averaging USD$80,000 a month, and when the crash finally came, we were making only USD$30,000 a month. That is how bad it is” Jimmy recalled. “I also had to reduce the number of employees from 14 to four people in the process” commenting about the hard times Wikipedia faced then.

Part of his core entrepreneurial advise before going on to a dialogue session with the audience are these: 1) Fail Faster 2) Don’t let ego be tied into the business 3)Real entrepreneurs fail 4) fail 5) fail 6) fail. Now remind you he does not want anyone to intentionally fail, however he does speak truths of how the individualists would encounter such problems now and then upon achieving their goals. From those failures are where the lessons that could be derived so as to build the next venture successfully. Take it from the master himself.

Onto the dialogue session.

I got the privilege to ask him questions regarding the topic about leadership and how one could motivate people to achieve a strong mission like what he did with his company. He replied how one should be able to express his mission clearly, honestly, and authentically. He compared Google and Yahoo in the process. In recent years the latter(Yahoo) has its mission muddled up. It is all about stock price and quarterly performance. Google in the other hand has this open culture where innovations and the 20% free time policy are present. All of these factors contribute to their strong mission statement  As a result Google has attain the level where they are now. “In the volunteer community” Jimmy also pointed out “a leader should find out what volunteers would want. Lead them towards this. Otherwise they will not comply or at least not motivated to do so”

Proceeding points are three of many questions asked by the other audience members.

1) Thoughts on SOPA ACT
In 2012, Wikipedia commenced the internet blackout movement in protest of the legislation aimed at controlling the internet-AMO Times were part of this. As a result, those who are responsible for the bill/act received over thousands if not hundreds of thousands of calls of protest that resulted in their phone system to crash. There is also a misrepresentation about the act that it is about Google vs Hollywood. Which he refutes on the grounds that it did not align to the overall assault on SOPA. He remarked how SOPA aims to annoy the netizens due to its extremity on copyrighted materials. ‘Just because a person upload a video of his daughter in YouTube with a copyrighted song on the background, aimed to be sent to the grandmother, does not mean that the audio should be muted by Google on grounds of infringement  It is just ridiculous ” He also told us that in order to fight against this, local business establishments in UK or in USA should write to MPs and senates to help in the cause. He added in his comments “Aim for the politicians who care about digital media”.

2) On the relationship between founders and organizations: How to maintain the mission statement.

Here he cited the example of Apple and Dell. Both of which have their own strong personalities that once steered the enterprises to the helm, and fell back long after they are gone. He questioned how the former will survive in the next ten years, and how the latter is going to be now since Michael Dell is trying to privatize Dell Inc. again. He said it is an extremely hard process to separate the founding members from the organisations that they originally create. Jimmy told form his experience how even he himself is still in the involved in the daily operations of Wikipedia albeit as Chairman of the board.

3) On implementing programming in educational curriculum.

He said that not all people should be programmers. However students should have is a basic understanding of how to program, on how to use the internet and email. Just like Algebra, it should be a complementary subject. It may not be of use to in our daily lives but the basics could have been covered. But that is a proposal.

Alas it is a great opportunity and privilege to have him speak in the Google Speakers series event. To learn from the top of the world is one thing which many should be on the look out. To gain as much knowledge as possible so we can implement it to good use for the nation.

Now as the knowledge has passed to You, what are Your thoughts on the subject matter as discussed by Jimmy Wales?