Neil Blumenthal, of Warby Parker, on Doing What You Love and More

Neil Blumenthal
Neil Blumenthal

Neil Blumenthal is a co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, an eyewear designer that partners with non-profits to donate a pair of glasses for every pair sold.

This week on Dreaming Made Simple, Neil shares what led him to co-found Warby Parker, and about the importance of clarity and curiosity.

Dreaming Made Simple: What’s your professional dream? How did your dream originate?

Neil Blumenthal: My goal is to help people—over the last ten years, it’s been to help people see. After graduating from college, I interned at the International Crisis Group, where I quickly began to wonder if there were quicker ways to effect change than through policy. Through family friends I met Jordan Kassalow, an optometrist who founded a social enterprise called VisionSpring. I worked with VisionSpring to train women in developing countries to give eye exams and sell affordable glasses to members of their community. It was witnessing the impact of this simple intervention—getting glasses to people who had trouble working or learning without them—that planted the seeds for what would become Warby Parker.

Dreaming Made Simple: How do you define who you are and who you are not as a company?

Neil Blumenthal: It’s crucial to have a deep understanding of your organization’s reasons for being. We were methodical about building an identity from day one—coming up with a list of core values, defining what we wanted our company culture to be, thinking about long-term goals.

We also defined what our hierarchy of messaging would be—what we would focus on communicating to customers. There were (and still are) three messages: first, that Warby Parker glasses look amazing; second, that our glasses are affordable; and third, that for every pair purchased, we distribute a pair of glasses to someone in need.

Dreaming Made Simple: Tell about the importance of simplifying and how you do it.

Neil Blumenthal: Simplifying is important because it forces you to recognize what your priorities are. Tips: Be direct in communication. Try to respond to emails quickly so they don’t pile up. Smile. Say "thank you” often.

Dreaming Made Simple: You told Inc., “Discover what you love as fast as possible.” How does someone do that?

Neil Blumenthal: By being curious about the world, trying a million different things, pushing yourself to meet people from all walks of life and continually expanding your own horizons.

Learn more about Neil Blumenthal and Warby Parker here.

Irene Zola Helps Seniors Maintain Excellence in Later Years

Irene Zola
Irene Zola

Irene Zola is the New York City based Executive Director of Lifeforce in Later Years and Coordinator of Morningside Village volunteers. She helps connect seniors to the services they need at home or in the larger community. For her efforts, CNN selected her as a CNN Hero.

Sam's Dream Blog: What’s your dream for L-i-L-Y? How did your dream originate?

Irene Zola: LiLY's national mission is to increase the inclusion of older seniors into the life of the family, the community, the culture.  I would like to see us all spending even an hour each week with someone in their nineties or even older.  This would make a huge difference in the lives of those who ?as things stand?are too often neglected.  The dream began when I was taking care of my own 97-year-old mom, who was incapacitated and had to spend her last days in a nursing home.  There, some of the hundreds of people would call out, "help", "take me to my room", "get me out of here", "I have no one".  Most were quietly idling away the day in their wheelchairs with little encouragement and without the resources to get the help they needed.  It was an awakening as to how ?in modern times with families often living at great distances from oldest relatives?we are surely not honoring those who taught and encouraged us.  I wanted to change all of that.

SDB: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Irene Zola: Founding and helping to create Morningside Village, a volunteer-based elder-care program in Manhattan, has been very gratifying.  This signature program, where older seniors are served completely free of charge, is a model for communities across the land.  LiLY has also initiated a visibility campaign and Love an Elder Day, a day of celebration on October 1 during the week of the UN's International Day to Celebrate Older Persons.  I am very proud of this step toward changing the culture.  We hope nonagenarians and centurions will be celebrated on Oct. 1 and everyday!

SDB: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream?  What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?

Irene Zola: One obstacle to LiLY's work is that we are living in a youth-based culture and at a time when families are often far away.  Thus, the biggest obstacle has been money, of course!  With more money, we would be able to better nationalize Love an Elder Day through hiring employees, increasing partnerships and buying media. We could also do outreach to other communities, mentoring leaders to carry out the mission of integrating our elders into the lives of younger generations.

When founding Lifeforce in Later Years, I made of list of all the possible programs that might help to change the lives of older seniors for the better.  Then, I settled on the one that I was able to begin with the few resources at hand. I asked a local place of worship for a free meeting place;  I made a flyer inviting folks to a meeting, and printed it at home;  borrowed a collapsable table and folding chair; got a nice looking friend to come along, and went out to Broadway, handing out flyers and talking about my idea to strangers.  Having a friend along for support was important.  And, I was on my way!  I think the most important way to go forward for me was to collaborate, befriend, reach out, and talk it up.

Learn more about Irene Zola and LiLY here, and check back for the next Sam’s Dream Blog post on Tue., Dec. 23

Estella Pyfrom and Estella's Brilliant Bus Sparkle in Sunshine


courtesy of Estella Pyfrom and CNN

Estella’s Brilliant Bus was designed and created by Estella Pyfrom. It is a customized mobile learning center, designed to travel to communities and deliver services to underprivileged children and families in Palm Beach, Martin and Broward Counties in Florida.  Estella has organized and operated a food pantry and is now a partner with Feeding South Florida. She has also piloted a tutoring program for children of homeless families.

Sam's Dream Blog: How has your dream for Estella’s Brilliant Bus evolved?

Estella Pyfrom: My dream was to [increase from serving] one neighborhood to serving other neighborhoods, helping kids with their learning skills.  My goal was to be able to get into a partnership with other community agencies so that I could provide more services to underprivileged families.  The project has grown to multiple facets of community service.  We’re getting parents involved with the kids. We have had language classes for adults.  Basically, we address the needs of the community.  That’s what I envisioned when I started with the Bus, not just a bus but a movement.

SDB: What was the key to having that dream take off?

Estella Pyfrom: I think the key to having this project take off is that people are worn out from negative stuff day in and day out. I think it’s time we focus more on the positives, what we can do to help individuals, families and businesses, rather than accentuating the negatives.  I have people who come to me and say, 'I want to help you accomplish your mission because I believe in your mission.’

SDB: Why is it important to focus on the positive?

Estella Pyfrom: I think positive things help put people in a position where they can improve their lifestyles.  What I say to my volunteers is I don’t want to burn my good energy on a bunch of negative things.  I’d rather save my good energy to accentuate positive things.

SDB: I read that you worked 50 years in the school district before creating Estella’s Brilliant Bus. What kept you going?

Estella Pyfrom: What motivated me to stay in the school district that long is that I thoroughly loved working with families and school children helping them help themselves, the mentoring part of it. I was inspired to do that because I grew up in an underprivileged neighborhood. People in the neighborhood really helped each other.  We didn’t have very much money, but whatever resources they had, they shared with each other. Really, it took a village to raise the children.  It helped us learn how to share and give back to our communities.

SDB: What’s the key to finding a passion like you have?

Estella Pyfrom: I would say to the young people, don’t shy away from your dreams. Don’t listen to negative people that say it’s not going to happen.  If you have a dream and you are willing to work for that to make it happen, it can happen.

My mom and dad made us believe we could accomplish almost anything if we were willing to work at it. I’d say to the young people, don’t let people tell you what you can’t do. You have to be the one to give it a try and work at it. If you can and are willing to work at it, you can make it happen.

That’s what my dad said, 'You weren’t born with a silver platter.’  Nobody’s going to hand you anything, but there are a lot of good things that can happen to you. If it’s going to happen, you’ve got to be the one to make it happen. It may take you a little longer to accomplish something if it’s something new, but don’t give up on it.

I had five siblings. My parents were migrants.  When I was a kid, we couldn’t even sit on a bus. All the seats were taken by people of other colors.  I went from not being able to sit on a bus, to where I could ride on the bus with the same options as other people, to owning a bus.

SDB: What’s your advice in terms of knowing when to keep working on a dream vs. when to just let it go and move on?

Estella Pyfrom: What I learned from Disney is that creative people always look for better ways of doing things.  A 'no’ doesn’t always mean a 'no.’ It means that you need to look at another option.

SDB: Anything else you would like to add?

Estella Pyfrom: When you are working on any project, do your research.  Do your homework and make sure you devoted the time and the effort to what you need to do to make it work.  You have to realize maybe other people may not understand. You have to make a commitment to yourself and to your cause.

Learn more about Estella Pyfrom and Estella's Brilliant Bus here, and check back for the next Sam’s Dream Blog post on Tue., Nov. 11

GirlForward: Advancing Dreams

Blair Brettschneider is the founder and executive director of GirlForward, an organization that provides adolescent refugee girls with individual mentorship, educational programs and leadership opportunities.  In 2013, CNN tabbed her as a CNN Hero.  More recently "Forbes" tabbed her as one of its 30 Under 30 Women selections for 2017.

Dreaming Made Simple: What's your dream for GirlForward? How did your dream originate?

Blair Brettschneider: My dream for GirlForward is to provide refugee girls in the United States with the opportunities they need to reach their full potential. When I moved to Chicago in 2010, I worked at a refugee resettlement agency, which helps families and individuals once they receive resettlement in the U.S. I got to know one of the girls whose family was served by the agency - Domi, who was 18 at the time and a refugee from Burundi. Working one-on-one with her on homework, I got to see all of the challenges she faced in her new life in Chicago, but also learned how driven she was to succeed in high school and go to college. I knew there were other refugee girls like her, and in 2011, I started GirlForward, an organization dedicated solely to empowering refugee girls from diverse backgrounds, now resettled in the U.S. Our programs address the five biggest challenges faced by refugee girls: poverty, language barrier, social isolation, a need for positive role models and limited/interrupted education. Our programs give girls the tools and resources they need to overcome these obstacles and achieve their goals.

Dreaming Made Simple: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Blair Brettschneider: I'm extremely proud of what our girls have accomplished, from graduating from high school, to being accepted into college, to opening their first bank accounts. In terms of GirlForward as an organization, I'm proud of how much we have been able to do in a short amount of time. In a little more than three years, we have served over 100 girls from 14 different countries.

Dreaming Made Simple: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges?

Blair Brettschneider: The hardest part of running an organization, in my opinion, is that you can never be completely prepared for the obstacles or challenges that are going to arise. I'm a pretty organized person, and we have great structure in place, but the things that are hard are never things you see coming. Earlier on, we had a girl whose plans to attend college were almost derailed by an arranged marriage. It was something I had never dealt with before, and I was very unsure of what would happen. We had a discussion about it, and she ended up talking to her parents about her desire to go to college and how this marriage could really put that in jeopardy. They understood her concerns and decided not to go through with it.

Sometimes things come up that you are not prepared for, and you have to learn as you go. My advice to people in pursuit of their dreams, whatever they are, is to have confidence in yourself, first and foremost. GirlForward would not be where it is today if I had not gone into every meeting fully confident that we would accomplish our goals. No one wants to fund an organization led by a person who isn't sure it's going to work out! Be confident and others will have confidence in you, too.

Learn more about GirlForward here

Alejandro Gac-Artigas Springboards Many Dreams

Alejandro Gac-Artigas
Alejandro Gac-Artigas

Alejandro Gac-Artigas is a graduate of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.  He is the founder of Springboard Collaborative, a program that trains schools’ existing teachers to close the reading achievement gap by working with their parents existing budgets.

This week on Sam’s Dream Blog, Alejandro, one of Forbes’ 30-under-30 2014 selections in education, shares about getting to the root of a problem and about making an impact.

Sam's Dream Blog: What’s your professional dream? How did your dream originate?

Alejandro Gac-Artigas: My dream is for all children to have the requisite reading skills to access life opportunities. I intend to do so by closing the reading achievement gap between low and middle-income students by fourth grade.

This vision originated in my classroom during my time as a Teach for America corps member. I spent 2009-2011 teaching first grade in one of Philadelphia’s most impoverished neighborhoods. For my kids, it was not until November 28 ?83 days into first grade?that their reading levels finally caught up to where they had been before the summer. With limited access to books, and parents unsure how to help, kids in low-income communities experience a three-month reading loss every summer. Growing up poor, my students were already dealt tough cards.

The fact that they couldn’t play their hand until November was an injustice that stirred something deep within me.

I committed to change this reality for my kids and started trying to understand the problem. Why were my students losing ground during the summer while their higher-income peers hold steady?

Over time, I came to realize that summer learning loss is symptomatic of an even deeper problem: low-income parents have been excluded from the process of educating their kids. School communities in high-income neighborhoods can be characterized by the relationships between teachers, parents, and students. Within this triangle, children are learning through multiple pathways that enable them to make academic progress inside and outside of school. In low-income communities, the triangle is broken. Our system focuses exclusively on the interaction between teachers and students, writing off parents as unwilling or unable to help. The result is akin to a two-legged stool. Students in low-income communities lack continuous access to learning at home and school, resulting in slow progress during the school year and chronic regressions over the summer. Research finds that two-thirds of the achievement gap among high school students is attributable to summer learning loss in elementary school.

Understanding the problem facing my students, I began to envision a solution. With $5,000 in seed funding from winning TFA’s first-ever social innovation pitch competition, I planned an intervention that would do three things: 1.    Coach teachers in data-driven instruction to lead K-3rd graders toward reading growth goals. 2.    Equip parents with effective strategies to teach reading at home. 3.    Award educational incentives in proportion to student gains. We conducted a small-scale pilot during summer 2011, and we were able to turn the typical 3-month regression into a 3-month reading gain by getting 94 percent of families to participate in weekly training workshops.

SDB: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Alejandro Gac-Artigas: I am most proud of David Williams’ story, which you can see in this short video. He is a single dad trying to help his sons, Daiquin and David Jr., get a better education than he did. Their neighborhood school was closed last spring, and David was trying to move beyond a tough past that includes dropping out of high school and spending time in prison.

Through his participation in Springboard, David was able to help his sons make five and 12 months of reading progress in just five weeks. I was fortunate to meet David at a parent workshop, and I was so moved by his determination that I asked if I could walk home with the family to learn more. David’s story is a constant source of inspiration and direction for me. It reminds me that the limitless love of a parent is the single greatest, most powerful natural resource in a child’s education.

SDB: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream?  What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?

Alejandro Gac-Artigas: In the earliest days, our biggest challenge was convincing schools and funders to take a risk on an unproven model. Now, our biggest challenge is growing a stable base of paying customers amidst immense budget instability.

When we think about impact, sometimes we focus too much on coming up with solutions. In my experience, the key to impact lies not so much in the solution but in your understanding of the problem. As you deepen your understanding of the problem, let the solution follow.

When I first started Springboard, I thought that summer reading loss was the problem. But over time I’ve grown to realize summer reading loss is a symptom of a deeper problem, which is that low-income students don’t have continuous access to learning at home and school. As I have deepened my understanding of the problem, families have become more central to the solution. If I had been wedded to the solution and not the problem, we wouldn’t have made as much impact. And we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible.

Thanks for reading Sam’s Dream Blog!  Learn more about Alejandro Gac-Artigas and Springboard here. Check back for the next post on Tue., Sep. 30.

Rose Broome: Giving a HandUp to the Homeless (Part Two)

Rose Broome
Rose Broome

Rose Broome is Co-founder and CEO of HandUp, a charitable giving platform that provides donors with a direct way to impact the lives of their homeless neighbors and other low-income locals. One Hundred percent of donations on the Web site go directly toward paying for things like food, shelter, medical care and other basic needs. HandUp also connects members to community partners and services that help them find a way out of poverty and life on the streets.

This week in part two of a two-part interview with Rose, she shares about building a team, the importance of timing and advice for your dream pursuit. (Click here for part one.)

Dreaming Made Simple: HandUp partners with homeless service organizations in San Francisco.  How does someone with a service-oriented dream select people or organizations to partner with?

Rose Broome: I’d suggest people do whatever they can to ensure that the vision is a shared one with their partners before they begin. We know that the organizations we partner with - Project Homeless Connect, North Beach Citizens and Compass Family Services - are as committed to positive social change as we are, and it’s been an amazing process to find the path forward together. We also have great corporate partners like ZenPayroll that help bring in new funds for our members.

Dreaming Made Simple: What have you learned about the timing of pursuing dreams through HandUp?

Rose Broome: I think it is a fallacy to believe that there will be one perfect opportunity where everything is laid out for you. If you care about something and want to see it happening out there in the world, you have to muster up the courage and just go for it.

That said, our timing was fortuitous. Five to 10 years ago, technology and direct giving were not as widespread, so our model might not have been applicable. We got incredibly lucky with regard to timing. Right now there are a lot of conversations going on about how we can use technology to help people in need right here in our own communities. When we took action, the conditions were there to support our concept, which further convinced us that ours was an idea whose time had come.

You’re not ever going to know if it is the right time to pursue your dreams, but I suggest people err on the side of just going for it. We didn’t know that now would be the exact right environment for us to succeed, but it ended up being just that. Had we not tried, we never would have known.

Dreaming Made Simple: What’s your advice for people who have a dream and want to do something about it but don’t know how to start?

Rose Broome: I have two pieces of advice for people who are thinking of pursuing their dreams.

The first is, think big but start small. Everyone encourages us to 'think big’, but that can be paralyzing. My advice is to figure out the easiest singular step to begin, and to continue on like that, doing just one small thing at a time, one after the next. Make sure to seed your process with some built-in 'quick wins,’ easily achievable goals that will encourage you to stay the course. Don’t design a huge castle; start by pitching a tent.

Secondly, I would say start now. You might have been ruminating on a particular idea for years, but let me tell you this: It will never come to be until you transition your idea from the area of thoughts into the realm of action. Convince yourself that you’re ready, even if you aren’t. Start with whatever you have, wherever you are, but just make sure to start. You make your own opportunity, and there’s no better time than this present moment to move squarely in the direction of your dreams!

Learn more about Rose Broome and HandUp here.

Rose Broome: Giving a HandUp to the Homeless

Rose Broome
Rose Broome

Rose Broome is Co-founder and CEO of HandUp, a charitable giving platform that provides donors with a direct way to impact the lives of their homeless neighbors and other low-income locals. One Hundred percent of donations on the Web site go directly toward paying for things like food, shelter, medical care and other basic needs. HandUp also connects members to community partners and services that help them find a way out of poverty and life on the streets.

This week in part one of a two-part interview with Rose, she shares about where her dream came from and about confronting obstacles to her big dream.

Dreaming Made Simple: What’s your professional dream? How did your dream originate?

Rose Broome: I had the idea for HandUp one very cold night when I was walking on the streets of San Francisco, bundled up in a heavy coat, scarf and gloves. As I was about to cross Market Street, I saw a woman sleeping under a thin blanket, with most of her skin exposed. I felt concern for her well-being and wanted to help her, but I wasn’t sure what to do. In that moment it dawned on me: I wondered why we can press a button on our smartphone to have a car arrive or food delivered, but have no direct way to help to people in our communities.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized our power to affect tangible change. Ultimately, we decided to take up the challenge, and eight months after that moment on the street, my co-founder, Zac Witte, and I launched HandUp.

If I had to encapsulate my professional dream for HandUp into just one line, I’d say that it is for us to help millions of people out of poverty and homelessness, enabling them to live lives of health and happiness.

Dreaming Made Simple: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream?

Rose Broome: Especially when you’re motivated by passion, you can tend to want things to happen immediately, but it takes time. Everything takes longer than you expect it will, and this can be a challenge.

There are so many things to line up in order to be successful. First, you need to get your business affairs in order. Fundraising is also a challenge when you’re presenting a new model like ours. We decided to go the route of a for-profit organization to enable us to scale quickly, but this confused some people, given our social mission. It was a process of refining the pitch. Eventually we were fortunate to find a few angel investors - Jason Calacanis as the first - who really got what we’re up to and wanted to get on board to help.

Finally, I would say one of the biggest components of realizing the dream that isn’t necessarily an obstacle or challenge - but an opportunity - is to build the team. I can’t stress how important it is to find the right people who share in your vision to help actualize it. Zac and I have found fantastic people who are motivated to use their gifts and talents to get behind this idea.

Dreaming Made Simple: Helping homeless people sounds pretty overwhelming. How do you avoid apathy in the midst of so much need?

Rose Broome: To my own benefit and that of my company, I just don’t seem to be wired for apathy. When I look ahead, I don’t see us opposite an insurmountable problem; I see the opportunity for incredible impact - and if that isn’t a motivating force, then I don’t know what is.

I think it also comes from a mindset of not believing in failure, of looking at any potential adversity as simply feedback, and powering on.

Our motivation also comes from being in great partnership with others in our space. While we do present some new ideas of how tackle these grand challenges, HandUp doesn’t see itself as a singular solution. We’re simply part of a greater network that is working to solve these issues, and we’re incredibly grateful to partner with amazing organizations who are also committed to making the world a better place - for everyone.

Learn more about Rose Broome and HandUp here.

Izzie Lerer's The Dodo: Blast from Past, Now Fully Alive

Izzie Lerer
Izzie Lerer

Izzie Lerer is the founder of The Dodo, a Web site with a passionate community committed to improving relationships with animals and protecting them.

This week on Dreaming Made Simple, Izzie shares how a lifelong interest led her to a bigger dream of making a difference and about the importance of sticking with that dream.

Dreaming Made Simple: What’s your professional dream for The Dodo, or otherwise? How did your dream originate?

Izzie Lerer: My dream is for The Dodo to grow to be the go-to site for people who care about animals. Of course, it’s key for The Dodo to celebrate animals and to be entertaining and informative, but my larger aspiration is for it to have a part in raising awareness about animal welfare issues. My dream is that The Dodo plays a role in changing the way people think about animals from an ethical perspective, and helps to push animal issues more and more mainstream. Ultimately, if we could serve to make an actual difference in the lives of animals, that’s the real dream.

My passion for animals has been a lifelong thing. I grew up spending lots of time with dogs and horses and have always felt deeply connected to animals emotionally. But it’s grown massively through my pursuit of a PhD in Philosophy at Columbia. I’ve been able to focus my doctoral research on animal ethics and human/animal relationships, and it’s turned my connection to animals into a real guiding force in my life and career.

Dreaming Made Simple: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Izzie Lerer: I’m most proud of the time and effort I’ve put into my graduate work in Philosophy. I’m proud that I followed my gut and focused my research on animals, even though it’s not a traditional focus for Philosophy doctoral students - and so grateful that I have worked with an adviser who has allowed and encouraged me to pursue what I care most about. My doctoral work gave me the background necessary for founding The Dodo so by making my education be about what I care the most about, I’ve been able to use that to transition into a career I’m passionate about too.

Dreaming Made Simple: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream?  What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?

Izzie Lerer: I don’t feel like I have much of a right to answer this question - The Dodo just launched in January so I’m not sure how valuable my advice is! But I guess I would say that if you feel passionately about something, take it seriously and pursue it. Don’t let people tell you you’re too sentimental. If you feel deeply about something, don’t downplay it or give it up if you run into some people who don’t get it.

Givology CEO Joyce Meng's Global Dream


Givology, under the leadership of  Co-Founders Joyce Meng and Jennifer Chen, is connecting volunteers and donors to people and projects around the world. Together, through crowdsourcing, they are attempting to make quality education available to all children, and thereby transform communities one student at a time.

This week on Sam’s Dream Blog, Joyce shares about pioneering, creating community and about moving from thinking to doing.

Sam's Dream Blog: What’s your professional dream, Joyce? How did that originate?

Joyce Meng: What we’re trying to do with Givology is trying to maximize the impact per dollar so that the aid in the world can be done a lot more efficiently with a lot more accountability and transparency.  It’s not about what you send in terms of textbooks. It’s about the exit opportunities once students finish a program. What are the community differences that are created through that program? That’s what Givology aims to do.

In terms of the origination, part of it was that I’ve been lucky to have so many things in my life. Education transformed my life. My parents were immigrants from Taiwan. We didn’t have very much growing up, but what they did instill in me was this dream that anything was possible, and that if you have a good education and you work really hard, everything is potentially achievable.

SDB: How do you think your day job as a financial investor is helping you with Givology?

Joyce Meng: We’ve got more than 3,600 students around the world in 28 countries. Givology is 100 percent volunteers.  Everyone has something to give. In giving, they learn something about themselves.  The skills I learn in terms of analyzing companies and impact, doing the due diligence, certainly applies to what I do with Givology.

SDB: Is there one accomplishment you are most proud of?

Joyce Meng: That’s really hard. Two things that we have done at Givology that I’m a little more proud of is that we published a book. We completely wrote it ourselves and self-published. It’s been downloaded more than 5,000 times.

The second thing we did is this project called Make Your Mark. We worked with Joseph Kilrain of Gigapixel Creative. He painted a gigantic mural of the world. We set it out in Union Square (one of the large parks in New York City). We had finger paint so people could put their finger print on the part of the world that they wanted to help. We got pledges for the finger prints. Jubilee Projects, a YouTube phenomenon that films video to create change, filmed the entire process. We got more than 300 peoples’ finger prints and a lot of hits on the video. Then we auctioned off the mural pieces at a big gala kickoff. All of that money went back directly to our projects and students at the locations designated by the finger prints on the map.

What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?

SDB: What are some obstacles that you have faced?

Joyce Meng: There’s always going to be growing pains. Givology started really small. Now we’ve gotten quite big, so we have to make sure that we keep our community tight and that every person that we bring in feels connected and empowered to do things within our organization. It becomes harder the larger we grow. We’re always trying to make it feel more like a community.

SDB: How have you been able to accomplish your success without a lot of resources?

Joyce Meng: We don’t have an office, we don’t have overhead, we don’t have full-time staff. We have spent zero dollars on marketing. I think it’s a complete mentality change - small hours, not just dollars, can be crowdsourced. If everyone gives an hour or two hours, or if a hundred people do that, that’s so much more valuable than hiring a full-time staff member to try and do everything. We get all this talent donated because they appreciate and understand the purity of a volunteer-driven model. Also they use Givology as a way to develop and grow themselves. Money doesn’t motivate people as much as recognition and the feeling that they have accomplished something greater than themselves. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are in Givology. To be fully empowered and have a bunch of really supportive people working with you to achieve big things, that’s what keeps people motivated. The second thing is, when you have a budget of zero for anything, you get really creative. There are so many low-cost ways to get your message across.

Thanks for reading Sam's Dream Blog!  Learn more about Givology and get involved here

Katelyn Donnelly: Making Your Dreams Reality

Katelyn Donnelly is the Managing Director at Pearson and of the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund, which helps foster affordable learning in the developing world. She advises Pearson on global strategy, efficacy, research and innovation agenda and consults to governments on education system transformation and delivery. She is the co-author of "Alive in the Swamp," a leading publication that explores how to better assess digital innovations in learning. She also advises several start-up companies across Europe, Asia and Africa. Donnelly was recently named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Education list.

Katelyn shares with Sam’s Dream Blog about progressing toward dreams one step at a time, what the biggest obstacles are in pursuing dreams and finding motivation.

Sam's Dream Blog: What’s your professional dream? How did your dream originate?  How did this become a personal dream of yours?

Katelyn Donnelly: My professional dream.  That seems daunting.  I've always taken career and profession one step at a time and followed my intuition to take the most attractive opportunity to work with the best people to create something new and special.  I started my career in consulting which provided a great core skill set and exposure to many new challenges and experiences that shaped me. Today, I'm very happy as managing director of the Affordable Learning Fund. Entrepreneurs have a huge ability to create positive change in education. I am playing a catalytic role in that ecosystem.

SDB: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Katelyn Donnelly: I'm most proud of the work I've done in Pakistan.  About four years ago I signed up for a project to work with the Education Department of Pakistan to implement an action plan or "roadmap" to achieve significant improvement in enrollment, retention and quality in primary education.  I was placed at the department to build a strong relationship with the officials and to ensure implementation of the action plan.

Over the next eight months I worked hand in hand with the education department to draft legislation, set targets, analyze data, plan training sessions, solve problems, visit schools and report progress to the chief minister.  We worked in collaboration to set targets for each of the 36 districts and to set up a data system to collect information on progress to meet those targets.

Each month you could feel tangible change building and the momentum for progress increasing. Within a year and a half, we had achieved tremendous results, including one million more children in school, and teacher attendance rates had increased 10 percent.

Additionally, we were conducting a follow-up training with the 36 district education managers to help them lead their districts and deliver on their targets.  At the end of the training, one of education managers turned to me and said, "Thank you for your faith that Pakistan can stand up proudly and take its place among the nations."

I’m proud to have achieved such significant results over a short amount of time and to have unlocked the potential of the system to deliver. I still visit Pakistan every two months to check in with the officials.

SDB: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream?  What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?

Katelyn Donnelly: Every step of the way there have been obstacles or challenges.  I think the biggest obstacles in any situation are a loss of confidence or self doubt.

My advice for others is that you should realize that you control your own destiny.  Set high goals for yourself and work back from there to break the challenge into small, surmountable steps.

When something isn't working, don't look for external factors to blame, instead diagnose accurately and honestly what is holding you back and then work through that issue. You are the only person who can make your dreams reality.

SDB: Educating the world sounds pretty overwhelming.  How do you avoid apathy in the midst of so much need?

Katelyn Donnelly: It is a huge challenge.  Whenever I visit a potential investment, or consult with a new government, I always visit the schools and talk with the students and parents.  When I see the visceral desire for a better life through education coming from both parents and students, I know that it matters to that individual, and I feel motivated by the knowledge that I can help create opportunity and a better world for those people.

Thanks for reading Sam’s Dream Blog!  Learn more about Katelyn Donnelly and Pearson here. Check back with SDB for the next feature on July 8. 

Erica Cerulo, Co-founder of Fashion's "Of a Kind," Talks Dreams

Erica Cerulo is Of a Kind’s Co-founder. Erica had a background in publishing before teaming with friend Claire Mazur to form Of a Kind. The company promotes rising fashion designers by featuring their products and the stories behind those products.

Erica shares with Sam’s Dream Blog about finding her element, working with a close friend and daring big in pursuit of a dream.

Sam's Dream Blog: What’s your professional dream? How did your dream originate?

Erica Cerulo: I’d say my professional dream is to create something meaningful that I really care about and that other people feel connected to. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been most excited about projects when I’ve had a sense of ownership and the ability to execute on ideas. Back in January 2010, Claire was applying for a job at 20x200, a site that sells limited-edition art prints. We started talking about how well this would also work for fashion and, hey, why wasn’t anyone doing this for fashion?

SDB: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Erica Cerulo: One of the things I’m most proud of is building a business with a close friend. I feel crazy-lucky that I get to work on something I’m so passionate about with someone who’s so important to me. The reason Claire and I have been able to build this business partnership over the last four years is that we’ve both worked at it and put energy into our relationship.

SDB: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream?  What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?

Erica Cerulo: I’d say that the challenge and the advice are the same: You have to put yourself out there. You have to tell people what you want to do or build. You have to cold-call (or cold-email!), and you can’t be overwhelmed by the scariness of failure or rejection or any of that. I think that’s what prevents a lot of people from going for it in the first place - the fear that comes with saying 'I’m going to do this.'

SDB: Of a Kind includes designer stories.  What difference does it make to know the story behind the scenes with a brand or with a person?

Erica Cerulo: Well, we think it makes a huge difference! When you get to learn about the people who made something, you feel connected to them - and the bracelet or wallet they designed - in a completely different way. The piece is suddenly special and has a story, and when people compliment you on it, you feel compelled to pass that story along (or at least we do!).

Thanks for reading Sam’s Dream Blog!  Learn more about Of a Kind and Erica Cerulo here. Check back with SDB for the next feature on June 24.  Leave a comment below about what you would like to see on Sam's Dream Blog!  

Watsi Founder Chase Adam Shares His Dream

Watsi's Chase Adam

Watsi's Chase Adam

Chase Adam is the founder of Watsi, a global crowdfunding platform for healthcare. One hundred percent of every donation to Watsi directly funds life-changing medical care for people in need. Adam was recently named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs list. This week on Sam’s Dream Blog, he shares about finding inspiration, pursuing a dream in spite of uncertainty and handling daily challenges.

Sam's Dream Blog: Watsi seeks to directly fund low-cost, high-impact medical care for people in need.  How did this become a personal dream of yours? 

Chase Adam: When I was a Peace Corps volunteer, a woman got on a bus I was on and asked the local passengers for donations to pay for her son's medical care. That experience encouraged me to start Watsi and to name it after the town I was traveling through at the time.

SDB: What convinced you it would work? 

Chase Adam: I wasn't convinced it would work. I thought we had a good chance of succeeding (largely because the concept of Watsi was something that appealed to me as a donor and as a patient), but it was largely an experiment.

SDB: How did you gain credibility? 

Chase Adam: Through transparency, which we've found is a great way to build trust initially.

SDB: Providing low-cost medical care for people in need sounds pretty overwhelming.  How do you avoid apathy in the midst of so much need?

Chase Adam: By focusing on individual people, instead of a seemingly insurmountable global problem.

SDB: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream?  What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?

Chase Adam: To be honest, every day is a challenge in its own way. We're constantly trying and learning new things, and sometimes that's a challenging process. As for advice, the best thing I can think of is to work on something that matters more than yourself.

Thanks for reading Sam’s Dream Blog!  Learn more about Watsi and Chase Adam here. Check back with SDB for the next feature on June 10. 

Wishbone's Beth Schmidt on "Redefining Your Future"

Wishbone's Beth Schmidt
Wishbone's Beth Schmidt

Next week is Teacher Appreciation Week. In celebration, here is a Sam’s Dream Blog interview with Wishbone Founder Beth Schmidt. Wishbone is a Web Site that links at-risk high school students with an online donor community to partner with their educational dreams.

Beth shares about why dreams are important, why you must ask for help, and how a different perspective changes everything.  

Sam's Dream Blog: What’s your professional dream? How did your dream originate?

Beth Schmidt: My dream is for all low-income students to be able to pursue their passions, no matter what their economic circumstances may be. Dreams are important - they are what keep us optimistic and engaged in a sense of possibility for our lives. When low-income students have passions they can never realize, this sense of possibility and purpose dwindles. My dream is for all kids to pursue what they love. This dream for me originated when I was a teacher in South Central, Los Angeles at Locke High School. I was teaching 10th grade English and realized that many students had passions they wanted to pursue outside of the school day but could not afford them.

SDB: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Beth Schmidt: I am proud when I can inspire others to reach their potential. I think I accomplished this when I was teaching, but I think we also accomplish this everyday at My favorite thing is seeing the moment in a student’s face when they connect the dots and redefine their own futures - they create a new realization for what is possible in their lives. There is no better moment.

SDB: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream?  What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?

Beth Schmidt: Anytime you are creating something from nothing, there will be road blocks and challenges. Pursuing uncharted territory is risky, but it is also rewarding. The biggest challenge for me in creating was being open to asking for help. I had never run an organization before - or started one for that matter - and I needed a lot of advice and help along the way.

I would tell others to not be afraid to be bold in their thinking.  It starts with creating a lofty vision of what could be possible and then working relentlessly to engage the stakeholders who will help you make your vision a reality.

SDB: How much of a difference does it make to a young person to be able to pursue his or her dreams and passions and then to have mentors supporting that process?

Beth Schmidt: All kids want someone to believe in them. Our students are supported by an 'Advocate' - a teacher, mentor, or coach who already exists in the student’s life. This 'Advocate' supports the student through the application and matriculation process. What has been incredible to watch, though, is that most of our students are the activators of their own experience - they are logging on to, looking at our program database, choosing a program in line with a passion and making the experience happen for themselves. They are committed to changing their own futures, which is an incredible thing to witness.

SDB: How does finding your passion "redefine your future," as your Web site says?

Beth Schmidt We have seen time and time again that when students have the opportunity - and the exposure - to pursue something they are passionate about, they are able to see what may be possible for their futures. Some of our students have never set foot on a college campus before, and many have never even left their neighborhoods. For them to venture out into the broader world, pursue a passion, and meet diverse people from all walks of life, helps them to re-define what could be possible for their lives. They see a different way of life and they become committed to pursuing that for themselves. After their program experience, our students are more engaged in school because they realize the relevance of a high school education in pursuing their dreams.

Thanks for reading Sam’s Dream Blog!  Learn more about Wishbone's Beth Schmidt here. Check back with SDB for the next feature on May 13.  Sign up for social media updates, and tell a friend while you are at it!

Eren Bali Obsessed with His Dream

Eren Bali is the co-founder of Udemy, a collection of online courses utilized by more than two million students in more than 190 countries. Originally from Turkey and now located in San Francisco, Bali and co-founder Oktay Caglar were rejected 50 times before finding investors. This week on Sam’s Dream Blog, Eren shares about being obsessed, feeling like an outsider and how to keep going.

Sam's Dream Blog: What’s your professional dream? How did your dream originate?

Eren Bali: My professional dream was to be an entrepreneur. I was inspired to start Udemy based on my own personal experience using the Internet to teach myself mathematics. I came from a small village in Turkey where I went to a one-room schoolhouse and eventually found myself learning math via the Internet. My early experiences online led to a successful academic career in mathematics and opened up many doors. Without that early exposure to the Internet, I couldn't have dreamed of becoming a technology entrepreneur.

SDB: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Eren Bali: I am most proud of Udemy's role in helping students learn new skills and enabling instructors to teach millions of students. Our team gets such amazing feedback every day from people all over the world who are learning new skills and instructors who are so passionate about teaching and from connecting with students. It's exciting to be part of connecting people to their own dreams and aspirations.

SDB: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream? What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?

Eren Bali:  Being an entrepreneur is tough almost all of the time. If we weren't obsessed, we would have given up long ago. Most start-ups fail, so the odds of success are really low in the early days. There are so many obstacles and challenges; it's hard to even name them. We made a promise never to quit, so we focused all our efforts on succeeding.

In addition to being totally committed to making Udemy succeed, we also needed to get creative and do unscalable things. We got some great advice about this early on from a successful entrepreneur. If you're focused on building systems and processes for a bigger organization, there's no way you'll understand what customers want and be able to build a company. The systems and processes need to come later. For example, a creative and unscalable tactic we employed in the early days was producing our own courses. We realized that the production process (i.e. filming & editing video content) was a big friction point for instructors. We produced a few of our own courses in the beginning and focused all our marketing capabilities on promoting them. This wasn’t scalable, but it did allow us to build powerful social proof points, which were critical to our long-term success.

SDB: I read that you were rejected by investors over 50 times. How do you overcome that rejection and keep going?

Eren Bali:  When my co-founder, Oktay Caglar, and I first set out to raise money, the online education space wasn’t as super-hot as it is today. Many investors had difficulty believing that people would pay for online courses. We couldn't really point to other successful companies in the space. We didn’t have enough traction or market proof to validate the business. It also didn't help that we were outsiders in the technology world.

What really kept us going was that we believed in what we were doing. To show the world that this could be a real business, we worked hard to bring 10,000 users onto the platform. We worked nights and weekends (we still had our day jobs) to build the first version of the site to get users. We launched officially May 2010. By July 2010, we were at over 2,000 courses and 10,000 registered users on Udemy. Less than a year after universal rejection, we raised a $1 million seed round, led by influential investors, including Yelp's CEO Jeremy Stoppelman and Square COO Keith Rabois. That was a turning point for us. We were able to go full time with Udemy, and our idea had been validated by respected technology executives.

Thanks for reading Sam’s Dream Blog!  Learn more about Eren Bali, and check back with SDB for the next feature on Apr. 29.  Sign up for social media updates and tell a friend while you are at it!

Shauna Miller, of Penny Chic, Shares Her Entrepreneurial Dream


Shauna Miller was recently named to Forbes’  2014 30 Under 30 list for Art & Style. She grew up in LA, moved to New York City for college and worked at a fashion house in Paris. Out of those experiences, Shauna founded Penny Chic, embracing "the challenge of looking chic when buying this season’s must-have Little Black Dress just isn’t an option."

This week on Sam’s Dream Blog, Shauna shares about making the most of your present circumstances, what makes her most proud, and how she stays true to her vision.

Sam's Dream Blog: What’s your professional dream? How did your dream originate?

Shauna Miller: My dream is to empower Americans to take style in their own hands and make the best of their budget, to have fun expressing themselves through what they wear. In high school, I remember feeling pressured to wear certain brands and designers that my parents wouldn't buy for me. I made the best out of it and started to think about my budget boundaries as a positive thing rather than a hindrance. When you're forced to work within your means, you end up being more creative and tend to think out of the box to get the end result that you want. It's all about how you look at it. My dream is to shift the way people think about cheap fashion.

SDB: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Shauna Miller: Wow, that's a hard one! Two things. My clothing line on where I got amazing feedback from customers who said they felt confident and empowered wearing my dresses. Number two would have to be my style book that's coming out in September! I have been working on it with my mom who's also my photographer. For two years, we put our blood, sweat, and tears in it! To think that young girls will read that book and feel inspired to have fun with style gives me chills.

SDB: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream?  What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?

Shauna Miller: The biggest obstacle I faced (and continue to face) has been staying true to my authentic vision. There's a lot of bloggers and youtubers out there who are doing things in fashion. I find that when I get caught up in what they're doing, what I'm not doing, how many followers they have, etc., I lose sight of my own voice and what makes me unique! There's room for everyone in the space. It's important to stay true to what makes you different because, ultimately, that's the only thing you can count on to be successful.

Learn more about Shauna Miller and Penny Chic here, and check back for the next SDB post on April 15.  Thanks for reading!

Rita Gunther McGrath Discusses Business Strategy and YOU

Rita Gunther McGrath is a professor at Columbia Business School. She has been named one of The World's Most Influential Business Thinkers by Forbes.  McGrath is the author of "The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast As Your Business." This week on Sam’s Dream Blog, Rita shares about when to keep moving forward with your idea and when to change directions. 

Sam's Dream Blog: How do you know when to stick with the status quo/someone else’s ideas and when to start fresh?

Rita Gunther McGrath: I look at it in terms of a portfolio of opportunities.  The status quo never stays that way for that long. You always need to be doing what you need to do to get through today, thinking about the near term horizon and opening options for the future.  You should never, in my view, only be working on today’s problems.

SDB: When making changes, how do you know what to keep and what to let go in the process of moving forward?

Rita Gunther McGrath: Well, life is about three things, right - what gives you joy and satisfaction, what earns you money and what you’re good at.  So what you want to keep are things that help with those issues and what you want to drop are things that don’t.

SDB: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream? What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?

Rita Gunther McGrath: Time pressure, access to the right resources, rigid and unbending systems, that sort of thing.  I feel very blessed to have had tremendous opportunities and support.  I guess the best advice is to persevere and try several different routes to getting there.  Be OK with making intelligent failures.  Be honest with yourself about what you need to do.  Don’t expect other people to know what you need.  Be willing to adapt the dream as you learn more.

Thanks for reading Sam’s Dream Blog!  Learn more about Rita Gunther McGrath, and check back with SDB for the next feature on Apr. 1.  Sign up for social media updates and tell a friend while you are at it!

Clara Brenner, of Tumml, Shares Her Entrepreneurial Dream

Clara Brenner is co-founder of Tumml, an urban impact accelerator that connects entrepreneurs with funding, mentors, and a community of people dedicated to urban impact. Clara was named one of Forbes’  2014 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs. This week on Sam’s Dream Blog, Clara shares about doing something that’s never been done before and about convincing others of the benefits.

Sam's Dream Blog: What’s your professional dream? How did your dream originate?

Clara Brenner: My dream is to build a pipeline of companies who are making our cities better places to live.  I started thinking about this when I was working for a company called Fundrise, which is an investment platform that lets members of the community invest directly in local real estate. I wanted to see more companies like this -- mission-oriented and highly scalable -- out there improving quality of life for communities across the US.

SDB: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Clara Brenner: I'm very proud to have started my organization, Tumml, with my friend Julie [Lein]. We both feel very passionately about urban impact entrepreneurship, and we knew we wanted to work together. It's been a year and a half, and I'm so glad we got our dream off the ground!

SDB: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream?

Clara Brenner: While getting Tumml off the ground, the biggest challenge was convincing potential funders of our vision. No one had done anything like Tumml before, so explaining our plans was difficult -- and it took time. We got a lot of nos before we got some yeses. But it was totally worth it!

SDB: What reasons were most compelling in convincing potential funders to invest in Tumml?

Clara Brenner: We found that many of our funders were very interested in supporting urban revitalization and economic development. When we were able to show them the direct benefit Tumml startups have on these efforts, they got excited.

SDB: What lessons have you learned in pursuit of your professional dream?

Clara Brenner: I have learned that everything takes longer than you think it will. You can set timetables for yourself, but don't expect everything to fall into place exactly when you want it to!

Learn more about Clara Brenner and Tumml here, and check back for the next SDB post on Mar. 18.  Thanks for reading!

Child's Play: Gamers Joining Forces to Fulfill Childrens' Dreams

Child's Play's Program Coordinator and Development's Jamie Dillion shares with Sam's Dream Blog about a game industry charity dedicated to improving the lives of children with toys and games.

Sam's Dream Blog: What’s the dream for Child's Play? How did your dream originate?

Jamie Dillion, Child's Play: The dream of Child's Play has always been to improve the lives of hospitalized children through the power of play. In 2003 we organized a toy drive for Seattle Children's Hospital with the goal of providing a brighter holiday for the kids there. Now we send video games, toys, books, movies and more to more than 90 children's welfare facilities around the world.

SDB: What got you thinking about gaming as a charitable idea? How has it progressed?

Jamie Dillion, Child's Play: Child's Play was founded by passionate gamers, and we knew the gaming industry was full of generous, passionate people. As technologies like web streaming, multiplayer functionality, and more develop, the community harnesses it for more complex, more powerful fundraising for the cause.

SDB: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Jamie Dillion, Child's Play: It's hard to say; the game community blows us away every year with their incredible enthusiasm, and the stories we hear from families, patients, and doctors about the impact made by games and toys in the hospitals are deeply heartwarming. 2013 was our tenth anniversary, and we managed to surpass $20 million lifetime raised, expanded our network to benefit domestic violence shelters, and raised $7.6 million in that year alone! It's all thanks to the support and dedication of the donors and community who make it possible.

SDB: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing Child's Play's dream?

Jamie Dillion, Child's Play: We've been fortunate to have an extremely supportive grassroots fundraising community, so many of our challenges have been logistical: building a network of 90 facilities doesn't happen overnight, and growing as consoles and technology change and evolve is a shifting and challenging process.

SDB: What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?

Jamie Dillion, Child's Play: Connect with and cultivate a community of people that will encourage and support your dream; seek out people with similar dreams and goals and help them on their journeys. By working together and fostering strong relationships, we can support each other in achieving our dreams.

Learn more about Child's Play here, and check back for the next SDB post on Feb. 18.  Thanks for reading!

Lisa Nicole Bell on Carving Out Your Entrepreneurial Niche

Lisa Nicole Bell is the CEO of Inspired Life Media Group, a company that creates and produces content for Fortune 500 brands, major media outlets, and venture-backed startups in the realms of entertainment and technology.

Dreaming Made Simple: Would you tell Dreaming Made Simple readers how you carved out your niche and how you figured out a twist on what you offered?

Lisa Nicole Bell: I carved out a niche by identifying what I was good at and then identifying which skills I could develop to build a career for myself. Most people kind of fall into their careers instead of carefully strategizing what they really want to do and what it will take to get there. I spent a lot of time reading and researching career paths to figure out how I wanted to start my business and grow it.

SDB: What’s your dream for your business?

Lisa Nicole Bell: My dream is to grow my next company into a $100MM+ entity. It's a much bigger idea than anything else I've ever pursued so I'm excited about the possibilities.

SDB: What are one or two lessons you have learned in the process of going after your dream?

Lisa Nicole Bell: Knowing the right people is super important. Time spent on strategic networking will never be time wasted.

Also, your mindset determines how far you go. It's so important to feed your mind with the right information and continue to build your image of yourself in the right way.

Learn more about Lisa Nicole Bell here

Trevor Kaufman on the Boulevard to Hollywood

Trevor Kaufman is a manager/producer. He manages feature/TV writers and produces material. This week on Dreaming Made Simple, Trevor tells about his work in Hollywood. He shares about the importance of being patient and having a support system in the midst of a dream pursuit.

Dreaming Made Simple: Is there a typical day for you?

Trevor Kaufman: I manage writers and directors. What that means is I develop material with writers, which would be features and TV scripts, and go through the process, all the way from an idea to script form. I help [writers and directors] get jobs and I package their materials, whether that is for other producers or financiers or actors or directors. It’s all in an effort to get the scripts made into a feature or a TV show. I do a lot of reading scripts and conference calls, I meet with executives and all the people from the industry to stay connected with what’s going on in the town. In this industry, there’s a 1000 different ways to get a movie or a show made.

Dreaming Made Simple: Do you freelance or do you work for a production company in particular?

Trevor Kaufman: I’m a freelancer now. I used to work for a production company. The last couple years I have branched out and done my own thing. It’s been great. It’s a little more challenging because you don’t have the same stability as you would with a company, but I like the freedom of doing it myself.

Dreaming Made Simple: What’s your dream for working in the industry and how did that dream start?

Trevor Kaufman: Basically to make projects that I am proud of and that I am passionate about, not just to make a buck. I guess everything originated when I was a kid and my Uncle George introduced me to Sylvester Stallone movies and to Beverley Hills Cops. I got really into movies. When I got into high school, I started seeing stuff like Fight Club. That’s when I started to realize that becoming a filmmaker was something that I not only truly desired but that I could accomplish.

Dreaming Made Simple: Do you have any advice on pursuing dreams?

Dreaming Made Simple: What have you learned in terms of discerning good professional opportunities?

Trevor Kaufman: It’s important to know you want to do things the right way, no matter if it takes longer to accomplish. I guess it’s just being patient. It takes a long time to build up contacts in the industry, from people you interned with or people you speak to over the phone. It’s actually a pretty small town. You want to think about how you want people to see you. If you work for a certain boss or a certain person, you’re going to be associated with that sort of mindset and work ethic.

Dreaming Made Simple: Talk about the importance of having people to support you in your dreams.

SDB: What did that journey from Illinois out to LA look like?

Trevor Kaufman: I always knew that, to work in the movie business, I had to be in Los Angeles, so it was how do I get there? I went to two years at Southern Illinois University with my buddy, Nic Camp. Then he and I transferred to Columbia College in Chicago. Colombia had a semester in LA program, and I used that as my last semester to graduate. Once I got out there, I stayed out there. I didn’t even come back for graduation. I got internships, then I started getting entry-level jobs. I kept at it and didn’t expect things to happen overnight. I just tried to enjoy myself and kept working toward getting a movie made, which is what I ultimately wanted to do.