It’s been a good spring for Oakland entrepreneur Jason Young. His startup MindBlown Labs launched its first product in April after garnering thousands of beta users.
Then last week, President Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans.
Young, 31, will be sitting around the conference table with the likes of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Visa Corp. CEO Charles Scharf, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Girl Scouts USA chief executive Anna Maria Chavez, National Urban League president Marc H. Morial, Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat and others on the high-powered Council.
“I got a call a little while ago,” from the White House personnel office, said Young, who runs his scrappy little company from some unfurnished offices on 17th Street. They said they were considering appointing him to the Council. First, thought, they went through the vetting process in which government officials investigate a nominee’s background. It became “official” last week.
“I’m super excited and honored to have been chosen because the other folks on the council have done a lot and accomplished a lot. I’m also excited because it is just an extraordinary opportunity,” Young said a couple days after he got the call.
President Obama formed the Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans last summer through an executive order. The group is charged with advising the president and the Treasury Secretary on how to “encourage building the financial capability of young people at an early stage in schools, families, communities, and the workplace through use of technology.” The President said that this could help “increase upward economic mobility” as well as make the nation more financially stable.
Despite his age and relative obscurity compared with others on the Council, Young seems perfect for the post. His start up uses mobile gaming technology to get youth interested in personal finance and give them practice making financial decisions.
MindBlown Labs launched its first product, a mobile gaming app called “Thrive N Shine,” for iPhone and Android platforms last month. It is geared toward teenagers and college age youth.
In it, the game player creates a character, chooses a career and then starts making choices about where to live, what to buy or spend money on, and how to save for things like college tuition or mortgages. The game throws obstacles into the path, just like life does, and the player has to make choices to still be able to pay bills, have enough to eat – in essence budget a paycheck. If the choices are wise, the player progresses through the game and wins. When choices aren’t so wise, the player is faced with consequences. If it sounds like life, well, it’s mean to. “It’s an experiential learning game,” Young explains.
Secondly, Young is clearly interested in helping youth; he co-founded the Hidden Genius Project to help low-income youth learn coding skills and develop work habits.
Lastly, Young came to understand the importance of financial literacy through deep personal experience. He and his single mom were evicted from their Englewood, CA, home when he was a sophomore in college at Harvard and home for Christmas break.
“My mom had taken out a variable-rate mortgage and when interest rates increased she could no longer afford to make the payments,” Young said. They had to double up in his grandparents’ home for a while before his mom could save enough money to rent an apartment.
“After that experience, it was more apparent to me than ever the importance of making good financial decisions,” Young said.
After graduation from college he went on to work at Merrill Lynch’s Global Private Client division to advise people about money management. “I learned a lot,” there, he said, but after a while realized he wanted to “do something entrepreneurial and help people.” So he joined the start up Nvest as its product manager. Wanting to focus squarely on financial literacy he launched his own business Zindagi (the precursor of MindBlown Labs) to produce financial literacy software for families and students. It didn’t get the market it needed, so they started over and made a gaming platform to teach these lessons and they renamed their gig.
Mindblown Labs is now a staff of 8 perfecting their “Thrive ‘N Shine” mobile game, marketing it to credit unions and schools and teenage users and ramping up fast with new iterations.
The President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young People will be focused, as Young understands it, on “creating tangible partnerships, innovative partnerships between public and private organizations that will drive change,” he said.
“It is being filled with people who have run organizations,” he said, “what they have in common is they know how to get things done.”