How Erik Finman is Changing the World
The fresh perspective and energy of young hearts and minds has often led to inventions and efforts that have literally changed the world. This is one in a series of articles profiling people who have done just that before their 18th birthday. Our hope is that they will remind you that because of continual progress in education and technology, today’s teens have amazing power and potential to make our lives better in so many ways.
When the tech-savvy, Idaho native Erik Finman was 13, he received a $1,000 gift from his grandmother.
What to do with a windfall? Buy an iPad? Invest for college? Well, no. Erik was already so clued in to high tech that at age 9 he was teaching older kids about robotics.
So, Erik took the thousand dollars and promptly invested in bitcoins, at the time an obscure form of electronic money. Eighteen months later, bitcoins had caught on and Erik sold his stake for…wait for it…$100,000.
Last year, at the ripe age of 15, this remarkable teen used the money to help launch an online tutoring company, Botangle. Before I tell you more about Erik, let me explain his company.
Botangle.com: Tutoring by Video Chat
Botangle matches up students with teachers, and offers a list of about 125 subjects: everything from traditional, such as algebra, biology, creative writing and Spanish, to the more esoteric, including equine nutrition, 3D animation, Korean, and yes – bitcoins.
There are several thousand members and hundreds of teacher/tutors, whose fees range widely. You can view the teachers available for a given subject, check their credentials, their reviews and prices, and schedule a video tutoring session right online. And by the way, 20 full-time people work for their now 16-year-old CEO.
As Erik told CBS News, “I wanted it so that any person can go on my site and learn anything they want.”
Here’s a short video that explains Botangle:
An Over-The-Top Teen
As articles in Mashable and Business Insider make clear, it was Erik’s negative experience in traditional school that helped drive him to think outside the box. Some of his teachers discouraged him: “One said I would be working in the fast food industry for the rest of my life.”
He came up with the idea for Botangle because learning opportunities were “limited” where he lived. “I wanted to use the beauty of the open and free web so people can get access to a great learning experience; whether they’re from rural Idaho, New York or even Africa.”
He currently is homeschooled, takes college-level high tech courses at the nearby North Idaho College, and – you guessed it – is learning programming from a teacher on Botangle.com.
Erik also credits a book by one of his heroes with enabling his success. “I read Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed by Alexis Ohanian and it taught me that I could do anything through the Internet,” he said. Ohanian is the young entrepreneur who founded the social site, Reddit.com, at age 22.
Another hero is Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal before he was 30. Finman says, “Peter Thiel shares my vision in that no matter how old you are, you can still change the world. Create something new, and as Peter Thiel says: Go from 0 to 1.”
My bet is that Erik Finman will go from 0 to 1 quite a few more times in his life!
Want to learn more? Watch Erik’s TED Talk:
Featured Image – TedxTeen
Michael Solow has worked as a teacher, journalist, and commercial writer/creative director. Michael has also taught high school English and junior high math, gaining his teaching certification from Vassar College and a master's degree in the teaching of writing and literature from George Mason University. His writing has been published in the New York Times, the San Francisco Review of Books, TheMorningNews.org, and the Hemingway Review. He is the proud dad of two grown daughters and the happy husband of an elementary school librarian.