Cooper High School International Baccalaureate graduate, Adam Maikkula, dropped out of college to pursue a business opportunity in 2003. Though the opportunity failed after the FCC approved number portability, he returned to study Entrepreneurship and American Cultural Studies at the University of St. Thomas in 2004. “That’s when I learned how others actually studied entrepreneurship rather than just drop out of school, jump off a cliff, and hope to at least assemble a helmet if they don't learn to fly on-the-fly,” Adam said. In 2007, he created an American Cultural Studies independent study on the development of online communities. "That type of class didn't exist yet since Facebook was just starting to consume campuses across the midwest,” he said. Everything Adam was studying showed up within the Facebook community as the Virginia Tech shootings unfolded. “Identity, expression, and privacy were all involved,” Adam said. “So I explored how Facebook users were collectively reacting to the tragedy as they interacted with friends, families, and strangers.” Following graduation, Adam took his insights into online communities and developed a social media consultancy from 2009 - 2011.
Answering the question about what drives him, Adam remarked, “It has always been about accessibility. Growing up, it always seemed like many things were inaccessible because my friends and I were either too young, couldn't afford them, or didn't have any connections to get us involved." That accessibility has come through a lot of hard work and risk-taking. “I’ve been on a journey for 17 years since I got my first job at 12 years old to see where things could take me,” he said. “The reality of opportunity costs has not been lost on me at all. You risk what you have today repeatedly doubling down for what you want tomorrow or ten years from now.” Adam applied for IB after his parents convinced him that working hard at something unique would open unforeseen doors in the future. In hindsight, IB made college accessible for Adam, and college provided access to attending a conference at the United Nations and seeing Bill Gates and Richard Schulze share their startup stories. Such experiences led Adam to start sharing what he was being exposed to by authoring over 200 posts on his blog. "The entire world is accessible online if you know how to use the available technologies correctly,” Adam said.
Leveraging the internet, Adam gained a mentor at Google and was also invited to attend TEDActive 2010. Returning from TEDActive, Adam was introduced to Eldon Peterson, Adrian Peterson, and DJ Skee by his high school friend, Carl Horton. "Skee and Adrian are positive examples for how hard work and focus pay off in the face of impossible odds,” he said. “They’re real people who work extraordinarily hard and have pulled themselves up from their bootstraps." From these disparate professional experiences, Adam continued to explore online communities as broad as those occupied by educators, social entrepreneurs, and the intelligence community. "What is amazing is that the entire world sits right around the corner online, but you just have to go the few extra clicks to get the full potential out of it,” Adam said. “The depth and breadth of information as well as the ability to contribute content online is amazing.” As the internet still intimidates some people and excludes many others, Adam forecasted, “I believe the democratization of routes through knowledge will be the next major evolution of the internet.” Some feel the web is a fleeting experience of disjointed and out-of-context tweets, memes, and content updates. “Places like Google have worked to get a wrangle on the world's information in order to make it universally accessible, but people still need to somehow be introduced to the things they would subsequently search for,” Adam said. “That’s where things get tricky."
In Adam's eyes, that’s a shortcoming of the socially networked world we are creating. "True, we’ve figured out what's made its way online and can provide an answer to your search query within nanoseconds on almost any device nearly anywhere in the world, but all that potential goes to waste if you are only ever aware of a fraction of what's out there to possibly query,” Adam said. Historically, the knowledge you needed to know has been preserved and sold through the university system, but Adam shared, “It's obvious those places are no longer the sole curators of that knowledge when, for example, a 12 year old in a remote village can watch a free YouTube video about the same advanced financial instruments I paid for to be taught in college.” Most notably, it is such universal accessibility to knowledge that excites Adam. “Realistically, that 12 year could be studying those financial instruments to teach her family to better manage their store or agricultural efforts; yet I paid for and was tested on those concepts, but may never use them for the remainder of my life. That's a little ‘bass ackwards’, if you ask me," Adam said.
To this extent, Adam and his team are venturing on an innovative social learning platform targeted at democratizing the routes through knowledge and allowing learners to quantify what they've learned on their own. "I plan on this being what I do for the next 20 years; so much so that I'm studying computer science and software engineering on my own through freely available online resources,” Adam said. Explaining why now is the time, Adam shared, “I think what gives our team the ethos to be working on this is that we’ve individually achieved unimaginable things from knowing how to leverage the internet. We think we can help others do the same.”
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” - Milton Berle
“The problem with internet quotes is that you can’t always depend on their accuracy.” #AbrahamLincoln, 1864
This is the fourth installment in Minneapolis Hub's 'Meet the Shapers' series.