10,000 Coffees founder Dave Wilkin ready to take on the world by storm

Dave Wilkin and John Betts, CEO of McDonald’s Canada, chat about Ten Thousand Coffees over a McCafe. The mentoring pairing site seeks to unlock the potential of youth and experience with conversations over a simple cup of coffee.

TORONTO—Like any doting grandparent, Marge Wilkin of Little Current is proud of all of her grandchildren, but one of those grandchildren is currently making some pretty impressive waves in the big pond of global social media and attracting media attention far beyond his family’s Facebook pages.

Dave Wilkin, founder of 10,000 Coffees, a “social movement company” that has taken Canada by storm and which will soon be launched onto an unsuspecting world, took some time out to talk about the company and what it means to for youth and experts in the worlds of business, politics, art, music—just about any field you can imagine.

The mentoring website that forms the basis of 10,000 Coffees is booming, with thousands of experts and novices signing up daily. The site pairs experts in various fields with young people seeking to enter those fields, encouraging them to step out for a cup of coffee and share knowledge and insights.

Mr. Wilkin explained that the concept grew out of his own experiences starting out in business and at the ripe old age of 25, he is fast becoming one of the most sought after social media gurus on the planet. The hundreds of mentors who have signed up to share their insights with youth over a cup of coffee include astronaut Chris Hadfield, comedian Rick Mercer and politician Justin Trudeau.

“I started out by emailing everyone I could, looking to learn from people about how to get into business,” he said. “It was tough to get that first big break. I knew that I had a lot of skills to offer. I emailed and emailed trying to talk to people.”

He finally got to talk to one of the people he was bombarding with questions when he met a fellow Northern Ontarian, social media columnist and business consultant Mia Pearson. “When we realized we were both from Northern Ontario she gave me her business card and we arranged to meet for coffee,” he said. “She looked at my portfolio and said ‘Well, I’d like to hire you, but I’m not going to. You need to start your own business and I won’t talk to you again until you do.’”

“I took that as a personal challenge,” said Mr. Wilkin. Five weeks later he had a company name (Redwood Strategic), business cards and a sales book filled with orders. “When I emailed Mia about the progress I’d made she was shocked and told me to get on the first train to Toronto. Without Mia I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

That mentorship was key to his early success and Mr. Wilkin is convinced that the future will be fueled by that kind of pairing of passion and experience. It informs his own approach to growing his business.

“Young people inform everything I do,” he notes in his web profile. “They’re not just my peers, they’re the people I interact with in business and in my community. I started working with young people in high school, but I had the opportunity to really embrace that work in university when I noticed that many companies were disconnected from what really mattered to my generation. That’s why I started Redwood: to create that meaningful connection. I won my first client riding around Waterloo on my bike and pitching the idea of helping youth instead of selling to them. Now Redwood is growing globally to help young people unlock opportunity, but it wouldn’t have happened without the people I was lucky enough to meet along the way, particularly my many mentors who I shared coffee with. I’m proof that all it takes is a conversation with the right person to make it happen, and I want to help young people everywhere find that same success.”

Mr. Wilkin said there is a huge potential in both the experience of experts in Northern Ontario and the passion and exuberance of the North’s youth.

Redwood Strategic is a company aimed at connecting businesses with the Millennials, the so-called “always on” generation.

The 10,000 Coffees concept isn’t all a one way street. “Young people have a tremendous insight into emerging markets and where things are going,” said Mr. Wilkin. CEOs and managers, sales and artists, writers and musicians all gain from tapping into those insights and learning from youth.

“I grew up spending my summers on Columbus Mountain,” he said. “I was sitting on the Wilkin family float in the Haweater Parade for more than 20 years. There is so much potential, there are so many people who have great ideas, well, now is your chance.” Mr. Wilkin said that he would encourage everyone to log on to 10,000 Coffees either as a mentor to share their experiences and knowledge or join to learn from those who have that experience and knowledge and to find that first big break.

“As a company, we want to unlock that opportunity,” he said.

The 10,000 Coffees website can be found at www.tenthousandcoffees.com.

Michael Erskine