Kids, Music, and Entrepreneurship

Jon Kraft PhotoThe first time my business partner Girish Venkat pitched me the idea for Thrively, I was in the middle of working with Bill Gross at Idealab to get a company called UberMedia off the ground, and we desperately needed a CTO. Although I loved Girish’s vision, I knew I couldn’t abandon my other project, so I flipped the tables on him and recruited him to be our CTO. Girish and I worked together for over two years at Ubermedia, but eventually the pull of Thrively became too much, and we made the decision to join forces and get started building it.

The “pull” of this project was not just intellectual, but emotional. My strengths lie in the world of multidimensional analysis, slicing and dicing data, and breaking things down into their individual components so that they can be better understood. I helped to build several companies using these principles, most notably Pandora where we embarked on the Music Genome Project.  Thrively uses similar principles to match kids to activities and opportunities.  I was fascinated by the idea that by understanding children’s underlying strengths and how activities build and support those strengths, we can connect kids to the activities which can have the greatest impact.

I have spent most of my adult life working with kids in various ways. When I went to Stanford, the fall quarter – as incredible as it was – at some point felt like a trap. I felt like a gerbil in a giant, utopian habitat, but unable to escape. It was both an entirely new and intimidating social experience and a stressful and intense academic experience, and the campus was so huge and all-encompassing that I really never left. At least, I had no idea of how to do it. By the time the winter quarter hit, I knew I had to find a way off campus, and by spring, I found my outlet and my sanity coaching Little League in Palo Alto. I continued to do that for five years, and I also picked up coaching at the Stanford Area Youth Basketball League my sophomore year. I never felt trapped on campus again, because I was connected to the community in a fundamental way, through kids.

As the father of three incredible children, I am constantly amazed by the energy with which they throw themselves into their activities, and I find myself fascinated by what appeals to them in each one they love, and what makes them want to stop going to other ones. There is nothing more exciting than a child who has discovered something they’re passionate about. But it’s not always easy!

Girish’s idea for Thrively turned me on to strength-based education, and the idea that, if we built this right, we would democratize a very important element of education and personal development – that which occurs outside of school. No longer do you have to be a superhuman parent scouring the nooks and crannies of the Internet for unique opportunities that you think will inspire passion in your kids. You can simply engage with a platform that will understand your children’s strengths, connect them to the vast world of opportunity, and allow our engine – the same kind of seemingly magical and omniscient engine that allows Pandora to construct the perfect radio station – to direct you and your family to incredible opportunities you may never have discovered.

A big thank you to Jon for speaking at Tech in Motion Orange County.

About Jon Kraft

Jon Kraft is the co-founder and CEO of Thrively, a website that helps children identify their strengths, and recommends targeted extracurricular opportunities to help children build on those strengths. Jon is married, the father of 3, and in addition to starting a number of technology companies in his career (including Pandora), he has been a dedicated youth sports coach for more than 30 years.