This interview is the second in the series “3 Things I Didn’t Learn in School”, a monthly conversation series featuring social and commercial entrepreneurs. Together we explore their own experiences of education, twenty-first century skills and what the hacker mindset means to them.
Today we meet Jeffrey Kwok @canadiankms, whose creativity turned a graduation trip into a business. Jeffrey is travel blogger at both Canadian Kilometers and BoardingArea and is the founder of CKMS TRAVEL.
Tell us how you decided to do what you do. What prompted you?
I was planning a graduation trip, and through my research I ended up becoming really passionate about leveraging frequent flyer miles and loyalty programs to reduce travel costs. Since then, I’ve been blogging at the BoardingArea site. (At 19, he’s the youngest blogger on the site.)
Walk us through your last year. What were the highs and lows of the journey you've been on?
The highlight for me is being featured on the BoardingArea site. Since April, my readership has doubled! I’ve also been able to monetize my blog, even though money was never my primary goal. I’m really happy to be doing what I love, interacting with readers, teaching people how to maximize their travel dollars, and exploring the possibilities with using miles to go basically anywhere in the world.
The lowlight for me is that overall, I’m not completely sure where I am going to go, and there’s definitely uncertainty. This passion may remain a hobby, and I intend to do it in tandem with university studies so that I have options. University was always the plan, but perhaps it may be a backup if the business is successful.
What did you learn most about yourself in the process?
I am not as open or receptive to ideas as others might be. I have now met so many incredible people along the way; business contacts, people in advertising, management, bloggers. These connections have become my mentors and sounding board, and I’ve learned so much from them.
Tell us about your education and the role school has played:
I went to a public high school, and I was in the IB [international baccalaureate] program. It was good preparation for university as the workload was similar to college. School somewhat hindered me as it seemed only curriculum-based, and didn’t really feature real life learning. The structure of school is good at times, but doesn’t prepare you for life after high school as well as it should. I never had the opportunity to practice networking, for example, in high school, and this is one of the most important things in business. I found the volunteer portion in IB, called CAS [creativity, action, service] was good, and expanding on it would be even better. Volunteering is best when it is relevant to what you are learning and applicable to life.
What was missing from your schooling?
School lacked a real-life component; I felt like I was not exposed to what real life throws at you. We were too protected, in the upper years especially. Soft skills like meeting people and working under stress also would have helped. I’d say the three things I didn’t learn in school were being able to create effective and beneficial professional relationships, using social media to build your business or your brand outside of typical personal use. And lastly managing time effectively to accomplish all your goals (something I’m still working on!)
How else might school prepare kids better, to do something like you’ve done?
Group work is good: it forces you to collaborate and work with people you like, as well as people you may not; you need to learn to work with personalities.
The Academy of Tomorrow's mission is to help cultivate the hacker mindset, these are soft skills such as curiosity, resilience and imagination to help create a job for the future not just get one. Can you say a little about the role of tinkering in your world?
I live with trial and error everyday. I try new things to make my blog successful: posts, approaches to new ideas; targeting audiences. Some work, some don’t. In terms of tinkering, I like the discovery of realizing things that I didn’t know existed before; consequently my brand is so much stronger. Distractions are still applicable to my blog. I like the research process: I learn other things along the way.
I think that taking chances are important: I took a chance by contacting the founder of Boarding Area, and he liked my perspective so he gave me a chance. I realized there is very little downside to trying, and to asking. Always ask. I feel that curiosity is very important when looking at a new area of knowledge. With technology, we can stumble onto something, and pursue it. Persistence is important in the process. So is imagination: in business, if there is a void in the marketplace and you can fill it, you can use your talents and ideas. It’s ultimately why start-ups exist.