16 year old entrepreneur Austin Chan

“Personally, I think the most important skills the course teaches are how to manage your time, how to speak to people effectively and how to manage your money,” says Austin Chan, creator of Wydlis, or What You Didn’t Learn in School, a series of online video courses. (Photo by Aaron Wynia)

Features | From Pivot Magazine

Life lessons

He’s only 16 and has no formal background in education, but Markham, Ont., student Austin Chan is determined to prepare his peers for life after high school

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“I became an entrepreneur when I was 14. My friend and I realized that fidget spinners were about to blow up, so we bought a bunch of them in bulk and sold them at a markup around our school. They were gone within a month. Soon after, I stumbled across the online learning website Udemy and decided to try teaching to make some extra money. I started with cheesy courses like Minecraft and magic. The content was low quality, but it was fun. Today, I have 4,000 students worldwide.

Through Udemy, I realized I loved teaching, but I wanted to do something more meaningful than video game tutorials. So I created Wydlis, or What You Didn’t Learn in School, a series of online video courses that teaches you life skills that aren’t covered in the high school curriculum. My friends were always mentioning skills we weren’t learning: how to file our taxes, how to make a great presentation, how to develop emotional intelligence. I realized it was a big problem—and a big opportunity. It’s easier to learn these things as a teen than to enter adulthood unprepared for life.

I couldn’t get Wydlis started without some money. So, this past May, I entered Make Your Pitch, a business competition for high school students. I submitted a video, which earned me one of 20 spots to make a final presentation in Toronto—and I won! 

To decide what topics the course should cover, I asked myself, ‘Is this something you should know as an adult?’ I was surprised at how many of those topics weren’t being taught in school. The course, which goes live in January, has five sections: money management, social skills, professional development, personal growth and lifestyle. Each category costs about $97 and includes videos, quizzes and interactive content. The videos are three to 10 minutes long and feature a talking head and some images to explain the concept. I took inspiration from other courses on Udemy, and I got most of my information online, using only reputable websites. I go to conferences and business events, so I asked people in my network to verify everything that appears in the course.

Personally, I think the most important skills the course teaches are how to manage your time, how to speak to people effectively and how to manage your money. Many people are generally not great with money. At my age, I find there are three camps: those who save and spend as necessary, those who buy things that do not benefit them for the future, and those who save because they’ve taught themselves how. Some of my friends know how to do their taxes, but most don’t. Everyone should get a lesson in that.

I’ve been busy trying to balance Wydlis and school. I skip a fair amount of class to do interviews for publicity. At first, my parents thought it was taking up too much of my time, but they still encourage me and help everything go smoothly. I’ve been reading the book How to be a High School Superstar by Cal Newport, which talks about how concentrating 100 per cent on the task at hand is more productive than multitasking. When I get home, I do my homework first. Then, when I’m content with it, I spend the rest of the day on my business.

I think about being a serial entrepreneur every day. I’ve already played around with YouTube and Shopify, and I have an ideas board in my room called Passive Income, full of things that I’d love to try in the future: stocks, real estate, social media marketing. I’d love to build a business and then pass it along to someone else. What’s stopping me? I don’t believe in genius; I believe in hard work and talent.”

As told to Katie Underwood

November is Financial Literacy Month, a time to help Canadians strengthen their money management skills. CPA Canada has many materials available, on a range of subjects, aimed at people of all ages. For more on CPA Canada’s financial literacy programs, visit cpacanada.ca/financialliteracy