In the third quarter of 2009, Ali launched YourVox Inc., a platform for sharing news, and perspectives on events taking place in the world in real time. At the age of 19, Ali is changing the way that we think about the news, as his platform enables global issues to become a participative discussion, as opposed to a passively consumed media product. Since then, the platform has developed into a multi dimensional platform being used by institutions and individuals all over. In April, Ali was selected as the youngest US Delegate to attend the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship in Washington D.C.
What gave you the idea for YourVox?
YourVox started as an experiment in “interactive journalism”. I have always been interested in the idea of using news as a global medium for collective change with technology as it’s catalyst. Rather than the opinions of a select few widely expressed on TV and over the internet, what if many people could chime into the conversation and come to meaningful conclusions? YourVox is the result of my curiosity, coupled with a desire to harness state-of-the-art technology to create global exchange by promoting probing, respectful dialogue between contributors with vastly different political, economic and social perspectives. While we started initially as a platform for “interactive journalism”, over the past month, we’ve received an overwhelming response from educational institutions, and have begun to develop other platforms to enhance the student experience.
Could you explain what YourVox is and who it is for?
YourVox is an organization that uses the web to enhance dialogue about current affairs. Currently high-school and college age students from over 30 countries and 150 universities are the primary users of YourVox. While many contribute spontaneously, others (such as those on TeamVox) write editorial articles, conduct interviews and serve as campus representatives for their schools. TeamVox includes dedicated students from universities such as Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Rutgers, Yale, UPenn, UVA, Dartmouth and others.
What is the revenue model behind YourVox?
The continuous funding for YourVox comes from advertising we do on and off the internet. We currently host events at universities and high schools in which we include blocked space for advertisers seeking to reach out to the vocal and socially conscious next generation. Our recent development of platforms such as online lectures, serve as extensions to the classroom, and we have had numerous schools sign up. In short, our revenue comes from a subscription model and advertising.
What would you say were the greatest barriers in turning YourVox into a reality? How did you overcome them?
The most difficult thing was framing the idea in a concrete way that would be executable. Although it can be very difficult to anticipate how people will respond, we primarily focused on strengthening the underlying core of the site, while making it easily accessible. In addition, the development of the site required tremendous skills in algorithmic design which myself and co-founder Latif Alam were able to implement.
Do you think being such a young entrepreneur has helped or hurt you while starting YourVox?
My experience in starting YourVox has taught me that entrepreneurship demands skill and grit. Overcoming operational pitfalls, abandoning pet concepts, building a cohesive team, dealing with uncertainty and competition are all part of the process. Ultimately, this experience has shaped the way in which I approach the future.
This past April, I had the opportunity to meet Jerry Yang (Founder of Yahoo) and Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace Prize Winner) at the Presidential Summit in Washington DC. Learning about their stories first hand, I realized that the only way to create a successful business is to understand and connect with those intended to benefit from the product or service provided. President Obama concluded the Summit by asserting that “real change comes from the bottom up, from the grassroots, starting with the dreams and passions of single individuals serving their communities.” YourVox was built by students for students, and we will continue to bring together young people of diverse backgrounds to share their stories in order to learn from and about each other.
From the very beginning, YourVox was an organization for students, by students. As a student myself (a senior in highschool), I developed YourVox out of my own curiosity. Other students, who shared my passion for current affairs, technology and interest in other’s opinions were quick to join in.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
The world is changing rapidly. The wisdom of the past will have to evolve to keep pace with this change. We, as the next generation, must master the art of shifting to meet new realities. This requires mental agility, resilience and an unrelenting belief in one’s endeavor. It is my hope that YourVox will stand as an example of these qualities and will inspire others to act creatively and with courage to meet the challenges of the world as they evolve.
What are your future plans with YourVox?
While YourVox started as a platform for interactive journalism, we have received an overwhelming interest and are currently developing multiple platforms for institutions. This includes online lectures and others that will serve as extensions of the classroom, enhancing the student experience.
Where can people find you or YourVox online?
Many individuals access the site through social networking mediums, where we are actively abuzz, sharing live updates and feature interviews. The site can also be accessed directly at yourvox.org. Because of the site’s recent growth, students from all over are applying to be part of YourVox, if you are interested, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.orgSubscribe to the Podcast