Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to do something meaningful. I was raised to believe that a world without injustice and poverty was within reach.
My childhood friends and I were idealistic: We wanted to cure cancer, feed the hungry, and give a voice to those who didn't have one. As I watched some of my peers turn to politics and others pack their bags for international humanitarian ventures--all in an effort to leave this world a better place than they found it--I got to thinking: What is the best way to make my mark?
Here's what I've learned so far.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who founded Grameen Bank to provide microcredit loans to the poor, is one of my heroes. Yunus' initial investment, made more than three decades ago, was a $27 personal loan to help 42 impoverished Bangladeshi women build a brighter future for themselves and their families. Since then, he has helped 100 million people escape poverty.
Yunus is the perfect example of how social entrepreneurship can be one of the most effective--and efficient--ways to personally impact million of people.
Starting a social venture is much like starting any other venture: You need to start by asking, how big is my addressable market? If you're working to provide services to the hungry and poor, your market is the 1.7 billion people around the world living in absolute poverty. If you're trying to provide people with affordable healthcare, your market, again, is in the billions.
These are the kinds of problems entrepreneurs should tackle. Of course, your idea must be sustainable and profitable, but if you address the very real needs of a massive amount of people, you will see growth.
I didn't initially expect the idea behind AnchorFree to effect the massive social change it has over the years.
My team wanted to create a tool that would help people stay private and safe online. We identified a need we didn't see being addressed otherwise, and launched Hotspot Shield, a free consumer VPN that was easy to use and available to the masses.
But over the years, we observed an interesting evolution: Hotspot Shield took on a life of its own as people began using it to address an even more immediate need--the basic human right to communicate freely. Hotspot Shield is now used by millions to access information in areas of the world where the Internet is heavily censored or blocked altogether.
From the world's largest metropolises to the tiniest villages, we've seen massive user growth in the years since we launched. For example, our numbers in Egypt jumped tenfold--from 100,000 to one million overnight--when the Egyptian government imposed harsh Internet controls during the Arab Spring. It was incredibly gratifying to see our idea grow into something that can effect international change. Since we launched in 2005, 70 million people had installed our app on their iPhones, Android phones, PCs, and Macs.
The message here for entrepreneurs is this: Think big. Don't shy away from problems that might seem too large to tackle--embrace them. And if you think your idea is small or insignificant now, think about how it could have broader, far-reaching effects. Far too many CEOs are driven by bottom lines, rather than a desire to fulfill our social responsibility to impact this world for the better.
There are plenty of apps out there that help you stay organized, fill your free time with diversions, and allow you to more easily stay in touch with friends and families. What about one that fights world hunger, homelessness, or childhood obesity? These are issues that plague our global community, yet are still the farthest thing from the minds of young entrepreneurs.
My life revolves around work--it's where I spend the bulk of my days; it's what keeps me up at night. If your work is what defines you too, why not make it count?