Maybe there’s something special about this Millennial generation after all. Often portrayed in the media as coddled, entitled or even selfish, folks born between 1982 and 2004 have been a disruptive force on everything from education to technology.
And when you stop and consider that there are some 2 billion people on the planet under the age of 20, it’s clear that the best is yet to come.
That’s the basis for 2 Billion Under 20, a book and community of the same name started by young entrepreneurs Jared Kleinert, 18, and Stacey Ferreira, 21, in early 2013.
The book, which is a collection of 75 first-person stories from some of the world’s smartest and most talented people at or under the age of 20, is nearly complete. Kleinert and Ferreira are currently raising money to self-publish it at a bestselling scale.
What’s impressive about the project is that the book’s contributors come from more than 20 countries and include: Olympians, top Silicon Valley influencers, successful teen entrepreneurs, Disney Channel actors, nationally recognized singers, successful social entrepreneurs, acclaimed speakers, decorated scientists, and more.
“We really did attract individuals from all walks of life,” says Kleinert, a Florida resident who founded his first company, an edtech platform called NowIGetIt.com, at the ripe old age of 15 and now works part-time at enterprise software startup 15Five. He speaks across the country and consults when he’s not working on 2 Billion Under 20.
“We have assembled an incredible group of people who have bought into a bigger vision for our generation where we can work together as a community to solve the world’s most pressing problems,” he adds.
The idea for 2 Billion Under 20 came to Kleinert back in November 2012 in New York City while attending the Under 20 Summit, a weekend-long conference sponsored by the Thiel Fellowship. The event selects 20 young people each year to drop out of college to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. There, he heard a talk from startup entrepreneur Alex Peake, which inspired the concept behind the book.
“He challenged us to spread the virus of getting more young people around the world to do cool things with their lives,” Kleinert says. In a flash, he knew what he wanted to do: write a book.
While Kleinert admits it might seem unconventional for digital natives like himself to create something as low-tech as a printed book, he says there’s just something unique about a book’s ability to spread a message. “It’s something the media can wrap their head around,” he says, noting that the book will also be heavily promoted via social media, an online platform, and through ambassador-led community meet-up events (among other things) once complete.
Kleinert knew he couldn’t tackle the project alone. So in March 2013, he posted a message to the Under 20 Summit Facebook community asking for contributors and a co-author and editor. Within 30 minutes, he not only had received dozens of interested replies, but he also had his writing partner: Ferreira. She was 18 when she co-founded her first company, MySocialCloud, with her brother which they later sold to Reputation.com after raising $1 million from a group of investors that included Sir Richard Branson.
“When I saw Jared’s Facebook post about creating a book to highlight high-achieving youth,” Ferreira says. “I immediately saw the value and thought the book could be a springboard to eventually build a platform for young people to connect, share their experiences and continue learning."
Kleinert adds, “Stacey and I are equal co-founders and have done everything together.”
The first step the pair took was to begin an outreach program and setting up a website where potential contributors could post their stories in one of five stages related to finding and acting on your passion: Start, Risk, Journey, Learn and Success.
Kleinert and Ferreira then worked with those contributors to edit and enhance their stories, which range from one to three pages long. The only stipulation was that the person had to be 20 years old or younger as of Dec. 31, 2012.
Examples of the diverse range of stories collected include Darby Schumacher, an 18-year-old national science fair and math fair competitor from Chattanooga, Tenn. who holds the title of Miss Metropolitan after winning her local pageant show last year. She was recently admitted to Stanford and will run for Miss Tennessee this summer.
Schumacher says she submitted her story under the Learn category because it involves learning to deal with failure. “My story is about perfection and straying away from it and how to be OK with failing,” she says. “I also talk about how I have worked hard to become OK with taking risks, which is something I struggle with.”
Another contributor, Christopher Pruijsen, is a 21-year-old Rotterdam native now living in London. The serial entrepreneur is co-founder and CEO of Sterio.me and the co-founder of StartupBus Africa. In the book, Pruijsen writes about how he overcame challenges early in life, including living in an orphanage, to eventually attend the University of Oxford. There, he became the youngest-ever president of the Oxford Entrepreneurs group.
“What’s so amazing about the 2 Billion Under 20 community is that includes people I would never have otherwise been able to connect to,” he says.
Time will tell what kind of impact all those connections will lead to. But it’s a good bet that all of our lives will change in some positive way as a result.