We’re fortunate today in that I am able to share with you an interview I did with Sam Berns, the founder of WithoutaFather.com, a website aimed at helping teens and children growing up in single parent homes. In the US alone there are over 21 million such kids.
I’ve known Sam for several years now, and I can tell you he’s very passionate about everything he does. It came as no surprise that he would leave his consulting career to dedicate himself fully to this website. When I first knew him he was a volunteer with Junior Achievement and has helped over 100 high school kids start their own businesses. He chose to volunteer in the more disadvantaged schools in the city, and the interesting thing is that no matter were he went, the kids he mentored were always the most successful.
He’s tried to recreate elements of that mentorship online with his website. Professionals in all fields can sign up, create a profile that protégés can browse and post questions on their profile page. This allows the online mentors to offer advice, inspiration and encouragement in the time it takes to reply to an email.
One example is a young protégé who asked for advice on how to beat her interview jitters from an online mentor, who’s profession is to constantly hire teens. He was able to offer her some really great advice and help her significantly improve her job interviewing skills. He’s helping her get the job she wants, not the job she has to take.
So without further ado, here’s the interview I had with Sam:
Steph: What did you do before you started WithoutaFather.com?
Sam: I did application design and financial modeling. Basically I worked with managers and helped them predict the financial outcomes of their business decisions. That can mean creating a business case, a financial model or designing new applications that allowed us to do that.
Steph: What was it like to quit your job and focus on this project entirely?
Sam: It was a bit scary. To go from a paycheck every two weeks to none is something you have to accept. It helps if you live well within your means and have some money saved up. Every entrepreneur knows this feeling, in the end you have to believe enough in what you are doing, that is the price of admission.
Steph: How did you end up helping teens growing up without a father?
Sam: I grew up without a father myself and I knew I wanted to do something to help them, I just didn’t know what. Kids growing up without a father are 5 times more likely to grow up in poverty than kids growing up in married-parent homes and are twice as likely to drop out of high school.
The idea was to create a website that would try to deal with as many of those challenges these teens face. I was struggling to build this website on my own and got very lucky when a former client heard about what I was doing and offered to help me out.
Steph: Do you mind if I ask who the former client was and how they helped you? It’s always great to hear about the power of reciprocity, especially in business.
Sam: The former client is an interactive studio called Fuel Industries. Warren Tomlin is the Chief Creative Officer, he got wind of the idea and mentioned it Mike Burns, their CEO who took me to see Brian Nesbitt, their CTO and I’ve been working out of their offices ever since. These guys made the website so much better than what my initial vision was.
Steph: Can you tell us specifically how the website helps teens?
Sam: Sure, the website is divided in 4 sections. There’s an advice section, a resume application, a budget tool and the online mentorship program.
The advice section is really born out of everything I wish someone had told me when I was growing up like how to get good grades or how to tell if a girl likes you.
The resume tool is to help these teens access the workforce on their own.
The budget tool teaches them the importance of savings and being able to afford big things like a post-secondary education.
And finally in the online mentorship program, we try to attract professionals from all sectors to share their story of success and let our young protégés contact them on their profile page and ask them questions that will help and encourage them to continue on with their own education after high school and find their own success through education and hard work.
Steph: How is WithoutaFather.com doing right now? And where do you see it going in the future?
Sam: We’re slowly building traffic and have noticed that people spend a lot of time on the website, with a lot of them using our resume builder and budget builder tools, which is great. Over the next couple of months, I’ll be reaching out and trying to attract more online mentors and will be visiting more high schools to talk about the website and how it can help them.
Steph: Thank you Sam for taking the time for this interview today, it’s really appreciated. I wish you all the best with WithoutaFather.com, especially since it’s such a noble cause.
Sam: It was my pleasure! Thank you Steph.