Where do you start with Michael Moore-Jones? You may have seen his name in many contexts: founder of They Don’t Teach You This In School, initial member of the first ever Digital Life Academy in Singapore, guest speaker at the StrategyNZ conference, writer on ReadWriteWeb and Social Media NZ, the latter of which has sent him to the likes of LeWeb in Paris and X Media Lab in Sydney.
Moore-Jones, 17, has been blogging since 2010 on business, technology, education, and finance, among other topics. Technology and education are two areas he’s particularly passionate about. That’s reflected in the two startups he’s founded: They Don’t Teach You This In School, and, more recently, Duo.
The former is a website that’s been helping young people learn from success figures (from Prime Minister John Key to Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley) through short, sharp videos since December 2010. Each interviewee is asked: “What’s one thing that they didn’t teach you in school you wish you’d known when you were younger?”
Moore-Jones lives by a philosophy he calls the time value of experience; an experience gained today is more valuable than one gained tomorrow, because he has the opportunity to apply that lesson right now.
“This theory led me to want to gain a huge amount of experience in as short amount of time as possible. And since everyone has lots of experiences, I thought a good way of doing that would be to try to capture people’s experiences and make them available to everyone.”
The site is continuing to grow, and Moore- Jones wants to turn it into a virtual library – the world’s first, and largest, of its kind. That will mean scaling up, which currently isn’t feasible. He’s also keen to start a crowdfunding campaign in the near future to further that.
His other venture, Duo, launched this year as an online service that lets users post content to ‘boards’, forming a personal record of their history with those who are closest to them – a centralised communication hub. In an age dominated by the large social networks, Duo aims to keep important relationships private.
The idea originated during his six-week Digital Life internship in Singapore with company MyCube last year. Along with another 30-plus interns from around the world, he was tasked with working on various business aspects, from marketing to product development. He also met Swede Michael Bergman there, who co-founded Duo with him.
“Duo was born out of my realisation that my parents and grandparents could look back through their personal history through all the letters they sent. They had a written, tangible record of their lives and relationships. At the same time, I would struggle to find my communication with my friends and family from a few weeks ago, because it’s scattered throughout so many internet platforms and not saved in many cases,” he explains.
“I got a bit nostalgic, and wanted to create a digital service that would allow me to combine the permanence and importance of the written letter with the benefits of the internet.”
He doesn’t see a single major competitor to Facebook emerging, but thinks the new wave of social network startups may well become threats when combined.
“We may see the rise of many different social networks, each based around a specific interest or common goal. That’s what we see in real life, with people living in countries and societies that fit their world view and ideologies. So there may be 10 social networks each with 100 million users, rather than just one with a billion. The social network you’re a member of becomes a representation of who you are.”
For now, he’s taking a step back from Duo to focus on TDTYTIS and finishing school, but hopes to get more involved from next year. A common theme across his projects, he says, is creating things he would personally use.
“I enjoy working on things where I’m a part of the target market. I don’t understand business where you work on things you’d never use. When you create stuff you want to use, you can focus on building the product and making it great, and not get distracted by everything else. Even if no-one else ends up using the product – which hopefully won’t happen – I still have a product I find useful and enjoy.”
Born in Washington DC, he has since lived in the Cook Islands, Philippines, and Spain, and now resides in Wellington. He plans to head back abroad for university, either in Asia or the US (Stanford being his top choice).
“My life up until now has revolved primarily around education. I’ve done many of the education systems worldwide, and gone to large public schools and small private schools. I’ve been so immensely frustrated by almost every aspect to it, in all eight schools I’ve gone to. I just know that unless I work towards improving education systems, making them more relevant to the world today and more useful to students, I won’t be satisfied,” he says.
He believes we’re all most creative at different points in our lives, and for someone who peaks at, say, 15, going to school for six hours a day, five days a week is “probably not the best use of that creativity”. Rather, to enable creative freedom, we need the option to come and go from formal education and receive credit for learning outside of the system.
“I think that’s a huge next step for education systems, and one I want to help create.”
And technology will be central to that.
“Unlike many other industries, technology does not simply move resources from one area of the world to another. It creates value from scratch, it breaks into undiscovered areas of the world. I want to use that power of technology to solve big problems I face every day, and that other people face too.
"That’s what drives me – a belief that the status quo can be greatly improved in so many industries by technology. I also have a deep love for New Zealand, and want to ensure we remain relevant in the world, and become more wealthy.”