Words by Param Jaggi | Edited by Mohsin Mohi Ud Din
It is not everyday you hear about young children questioning the status quo, revolutionizing the automobile industry, or filing for patents at age 13. But they’re out there, and this is the story of one. Today, Param Jaggi is a 23-year-old entrepreneur and social activist. He is the founder of Hatch, a simple and user-friendly app creation company. But to get here, his changemaker journey started when he was a teenager. This is a follow up piece to a #LeadYoung story published by Ashoka’s Youth Venture. Here, Param shares his story in his own voice.
To #LeadYoung means exercising resilience
I’m 22 years old, and CEO of a fast growing software company called Hatch.
If you are young, confused, and searching for something without knowing what it is, I am here to tell you ‘It’s ok’. I’ve been there. Don’t let the fear stop you from dreaming, leading, and taking action. If I did, I wouldn’t be my own boss today. Stick with me here...
Sure, the entrepreneurial lifestyle comes with a good amount of glamour. That said, I want to share and equally celebrate how my #LeadYoung story and changemaker journey would not be real without the day to day battles of fear, self-doubt, bread sandwiches, and jumping into the unknown. The space that I had in my teen years to exercise resilience and wrestle with failure helped me to lay the bricks for being an agent of change, a disrupter.
In tech speak, to ‘hack’ means giving yourself permission to solve a problem in a non-traditional way. My changemaker journey is about fearlessly hacking yourself, before hacking the system.
Like most college students, I always felt like a part of me was missing while in school. Between lectures, homework, cramming for exams, and frat parties, I didn’t feel fulfilled. Originally I assumed I was failing myself— maybe not living up to my potential. Then I realized that the formal education system was failing me. I’ve always been innately curious but came to the realization that the formal education system just wasn’t for me.
When I was 19 years old, I left college to pursue an entrepreneurial life. I’ll never forget the day that I flew into the Dean’s office to fill out the forms. Think of it like my Independence Day. The day I was set free.
With only a general idea of what I wanted from my life, I set out on a journey to find some purpose by hacking my own fears and limitations in the world before hacking the system. I needed to experience things that I was not getting in a classroom. After traveling the world a little bit, I came home and reality hit me like a freight train. I saw and felt how the world was not always fair and that the person who works the hardest, is not always rewarded for their effort.
One of the turning points in my life was when I was 20 years old. I was living in a studio apartment. Just barely getting by. Some nights I had to choose between saving for rent or eating dinner. At one point, I went to the local grocery store and bought a loaf of bread with the money I had left in the bank. I started to eat “bread sandwiches” to keep myself full. Have you ever had a bread sandwich? That’s when you toast 2 pieces of bread and put a third piece in the middle to make it into a sandwich.
I distinctly remember one night sitting on the floor of my apartment, after having one of my sandwiches, and crying myself to sleep. Terrible anxiety ran through my veins. No idea what was coming next or how I would be able to support myself. I’ll never forget that moment because that night changed me. You have to spend time in the dark to appreciate the light.
(If my parents are reading this right now I’d like to apologize for never telling you that. I knew it would break your heart.)
Challenge yourself to exercise empathy
After that night, things turned around. I started supporting myself with building websites, designing apps, and doing product commercials. Once I had enough money to afford some real food, I joined the Halcyon Fellowship in Washington, D.C.. Surrounded by some of the most brilliant social entrepreneurs in the country, I finally felt at home.
That said, it’s amazing how you can be surrounded by hundreds of supportive friends, family, investors, and community members but still feel completely isolated. Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink. No one prepares you for the emotional struggle of being an entrepreneur.
To be an innovator, you have to have a contrarian view of what the future will look like. With that, comes a different view of the world than everyone else. Not always the easiest place to be.
It’s hard to be social entrepreneur if you are isolating yourself in the pursuit of your vision. If you are feeling alone in pursuing your passion and vision, challenge yourself to strive for empathy, because without that, you’ll disconnect yourself from humanity around you. Consequently, you may isolate your vision and idea from the communities you need for realizing your vision for change. For me, the loneliness goes away when I remember how similar we all are. As different as we act— as different as we look, we’re all the same. We want the same things. We feel the same way. Happiness. Regret. Betrayal. Jealousy. We’re more similar than we are different.
Adults: listen to us, and don’t underestimate the power of mentorship for young changemakers
It’s funny now that everything is coming full circle. I started this journey when I was 12 years old, just building things alone in my bedroom, and eventually filing patents at 13 years old. Now I’m the leader of my own company, helping other people build their dreams.
Ashoka’s Youth Venture was one of the first organizations I reached out to for support. When I was just a teenager, Bill Drayton, CEO of Ashoka, was one of the first adults to take me seriously and inspired me to get involved with Ashoka. They were the first group of individuals that made me feel a little less alone, and not only believed in my ability to lead young, but gave me space to experience it while I was young, to mess up freely, and to practice how to build support for my ideas for change.
This should be the norm, not the exception.
Give yourself permission to dream, build, fail, and grow
Fundamentally, as humans we want more from our lives. We want to make a change, be remembered, or even just provide a little bit more for our families. Hatch gives you the tools to do that by opening the power of mobile technology to the many, and not the few.
My company Hatch is working to democratize software development for the masses. I founded the company in my apartment when I was 21 years old because I’m a strong believer that an understanding of computer science and technology should not be a barrier of entry to social innovation, community-building, or running a business.
If you are a young person feeling confused, alone, or unfulfilled, realize that you are not alone. I was there too. Yes, the journey of change is not easy. But guess what, the world is changing around us all the time, every second. You can give yourself permission--- right now--today---to hack your internal system--yourself--and then see what’s possible for making change in the world around you.
Now who’s hungry for change? Bread sandwiches on me!
Note: Param experienced Youth Venture's Storytelling for Changemaker Program and used aspects of the program to support the development and unleashing of his own changemaker story.