This month I had the privilege to chat with the founders of Webblen: Sir Nathaniel Thoreson & Sir Mukai Selekwa.
Nathaniel is an entrepreneur passionate about designing digital products that make the world a better place. Mukai is a digital entrepreneur and humane technologist with extensive experience developing software applications and internet marketing strategies. His passion for psychology and business has led him down a path focused on creating technology that provides real benefit to those that use it, not just those that have created it. With the next generation of Tech, his mission is to help create a world that is more rewarding for our humanity, our social life, and our environment.
The Red River Valley is fortunate to have them call Fargo their home!
Next time you see them ask them why they love it here!
Where do you call home?
Nathaniel: Born in Wheaton, IL but I have spent most of my life in Fargo.
Mukai: Fargo, ND. However, I spent most of my early childhood in Tallahassee, FL.
Can you share the story of your passion for giving back to the community?
Nathaniel: I have a life philosophy that life is absurdly short. We only have ~100 years to live on this planet and it is our job as individuals to use every second that is given to us as well as possible. I believe that our time is best spent doing whatever we can to make the world a better place. Growing up as a member of GenZ in Fargo, I have seen firsthand the negative effects of social media on the well-being of people. In Fargo specifically, people often say there is nothing to do here so they spend their time at home scrolling through social media. My mission with Webblen is to show people that there is more to life than a screen while encouraging the people of Fargo to get involved in the community.
Mukai: Living in Fargo, our team knows that there’s a lot of different activities and events occurring in our community that people (including ourselves) are missing out on. Community engagement is one of the most important aspects of what makes a healthy community a “healthy community”. However, it’s one thing to have an event calendar that lets people know what is happening in their area. There are many resources for that. The real issue is not necessarily having the information of what’s happening in your community. The real issue is what is going to incentivize you to be engaged in the first place?
What started the Webblen App journey?
Nathaniel: Social engagement has been on a steady decline, especially in the age of social media and the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this, we are seeing epidemic levels of loneliness, depression and anxiety. At the same time, local businesses have been in a decline. The solution to both of those problems is community. With an engaged population, people will be happier and healthier while helping local businesses.
Mukai: This is a slightly similar answer to the previous one, but I’ll touch more on how Webblen has become what it is today. Originally, back when we were in high school, there was a program provided by the FMWF Chamber of Commerce called the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA). I joined the program and had a business focused on integrating all social media into a single platform… Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn… you name it. Along with that, it would have an additional feature known as an “Event Notifier”. The goal was to truly create the “end all social experience” platform. Most of the interest we received was from the Event Notifier and honestly, it’s not wise to create a business that’s too dependent on other businesses, so we scratched integrating existing social platforms specifically focused on our Event Notifier. I spent about two years developing the beta version of our event notifier and asked the rest of the team about an issue I stumble upon while working with our product. Outside of knowing about an event, what is going to incentive us to attend it? That’s when we realized the problem we’re solving. The problem that we’re experiencing worldwide has to do with community organization and engagement. What is going to incentivize you to be engaged with the world around you? That was the beginning of what has made Webblen what it is today.
Why should young professionals care about community engagement?
Nathaniel: The younger generations grew up at a pivotal time in human history. We are more connected with the world but less engaged with our local communities than ever before. We have seen firsthand the problems that mega-corporations and social media platforms have done to mental health and the bottom line of local businesses. Webblen is a tool that can help with the three main values that every company cares about, profit, people and the planet. By creating a more engaged community, it helps companies and cities make more money, create a more vibrant community, and encourage people to care about their physical surroundings.
Mukai: There are three keys to having a sustainable ecosystem. This is also known as the “Triple Bottom Line”. Those keys are revenue, social life/ engagement and environmental impact. The next generation of businesses need to provide sustainable solutions. These solutions must not only be competitively viable via revenue, but they must also provide positive results for your community and environment. Neglecting community engagement is to neglect what makes us who we are. We’ve seen and continue to see the consequences of a world where most of our social engagement is through the black mirror you have in your pocket. How can we fix this? Our team and young professionals should really be focused on all our communities’ triple bottom line before it’s too late. Because believe it or not: we’re in a race against time right now.
What are misconceptions of what it takes to be involved in the tech community?
Nathaniel: A common misconception is that to be involved in Tech, you must be a developer living out in Silicon Valley. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Webblen has gained massive traction in the Midwest by building an experienced team with a passion for our mission. In addition, coding isn’t the only thing necessary to build a successful tech platform. For example, I don’t code, I am responsible for design and marketing, two things that are vital for a platform’s success.
Mukai: There are two misconceptions of what it takes to be in Tech that irk me. First, it seems as though people find it difficult or feel they’re “not smart enough” to get involved in Tech. I’ll tell you right away that technology is flexible enough and fluid enough to be worked on by people with diverse skills, interests, and talents. The best part? It’s only getting easier to get involved with the Tech community. It’s the future so you better get with it sooner than later in whatever way makes sense to you. The second misconception… more so a motive I hate to see, is people getting involved with Tech for the sole purpose of monetary and personal gain. You very much can take that route and perspective when it comes to Tech if you so choose. It’s your life. If you do take that route, it will be hard to convince me and many others that what you work on or create makes the world a better place. Technology is only as moral as those that create and use it after all. So, before you get into Tech, ask yourself: what it is that you are passionate about and go from there. Become the technologist you were meant to be. Hopefully, it’s one of the good ones.
Can you share some of the work you do in the tech community? How can other young professionals get involved?
One of our many ambitious goals is to make Fargo a tech hub in the Midwest. So far Fargo’s tech scene has been primarily focused on AgTech and drones. We hope that by building a communitydriven platform, Webblen is a part of a place where Tech workers from all over the country want to work and stay.
What is your vision for 2030 for the TriCollege community?
I see the tri-college community as being a center for innovation in the region. By investing in our communities, I see our campuses attracting innovative people from around the country that want to stay and be a part of the innovation happening here.