He’ll start out by telling you how he spent every waking moment of his teenage years in low-income South Dakota, studying and scheming over how he could be the first one in his family to go to college, and the first kid in his highschool’s history to go to an Ivy League school. His dream school: Stanford. As a kid from a low-income family, he knew the biggest way to change his family’s economic reality was a Silicon Valley startup.
Ok, so he’s an impressive kid. But that sounds like a lot of Silicon Valley rags-to-riches stories, right?
Then, he’ll tell you about how he spent much of his first year building a non-profit called Gumball Capital. It aims to spread entrepreneurship and philanthropy to college kids by challenging them to take $27, 27 gumballs and one week, and turn it into a project that raises money. Schemes range from midnight Pizza sales to tiny carnival games substituting the gumballs for regular balls. (You can see videos of what they’ve done here. Most people, he admits, just eat the gumballs.) Last year 12 schools had 47 teams competing and raised just under $2,000, which was donated to micro-lending organizations like Kiva with the goal of eradicating hunger in the world.
Ok, so he’s spending what should be his most selfish years trying to help others. He’s just young and idealistic.
Then, he’ll tell you that he took a year off at Stanford to run the organization fulltime, taking no salary, sleeping on his friend’s dorm floor and borrowing other student’s guest-meal passes to eat.
Wait. This kid killed himself to get into Stanford, find a way to afford it…and then he just took a year off for this cause? Ok, that’s a little impressive.
He wants to expand Gumball Capital to fifty schools this year all over the world. Next week, one in India has organized 100 teams of three-to-five students to raise money for the poor.
Well, that’s ambitious…
But the organization needs money for the materials, shipping and the administrative stuff entailed with organizing all of these teams. So he’s trying to raise $125,000 this year that will fund the program for a while, given the $27 given to each team is always paid back out of the proceeds. He’s already raised $75,000 and has pulled in some well-known Valley people like venture capitalist David Hornik as advisors and mentors.
Wow. This kid is actually building a pretty impressive little company…
How’d he raise all that money? By pledging to run a marathon on every continent. He’s done one in Ireland, Argentina, San Francisco, Zimbabwe, Australia and Japan. In a few days, he’s headed to Antartica. He’s been jogging for three hours at a time in the cafeteria meat locker at Stanford to train. Oh, and he just started running last March. ”My biggest fear was getting injured before this marathon, because I didn’t have a contingency plan. So now I can relax a little,” he says, grinning and looking as wholesome and idealistic as Kenneth from 30Rock. “I mean, even if i get injured during it, I can at least walk the rest of it.”
I just look at him.
“Yeah, I’m a little crazy,” he says with his Kenneth-like-toothy grin.
So, I’ve met a lot of impressive people in fifteen years in the Valley, but talking to this kid for an hour yesterday just blew me away. He is everything the best entrepreneurs are: He’s smart. Hardworking. Has insanely huge visions and goals that only get more outsized the more he achieves. He’s a tenacious networker and pitchman– by the time he left my office, I’d committed to writing this and doing a follow-up video once he gets back and, of course, donate to the cause myself. I even sent him home with a few Diet Cokes since he was planning to stay up all night building this site. And yes, he’s a little bit crazy. This won’t be last we’ve heard of Travis Kiefer.
But back to the cause: Kiefer is hoping this final marathon will put them over the top for their fundraising goals and support the organization through the spring semester. He has a ten day trip to get $27 out of 2,000 people. So, if you go here (NOW!) and donate $27, in exchange Kiefer will do something for you in Antartica. He’s open to suggestion, but you only have two days to do it. He’ll claim a plot of land in your name with a little flag. He’ll sing a song for your girlfriend via YouTube. He’ll call and wish your mom happy birthday. He’d probably even take your garden gnome and take a picture of it in Antartica.
His dream is to be on the Colbert Report– so he’s starting a Twitter campaign to get Colbert’s attention. If you are too stingy to give $27 to Gumball Capital, at least RT this. He’s running seven marathons to help end poverty when he should be doing keg stands. The least you could do is hit the RT button, right?