Jacob Colker

Founder and CEO

The Extraordinaries

Jacob Colker is part of the rising generation of entrepreneurs who prefers to shape the future rather than react to it. When he left the world of politics to co-launch The Extraordinaries, a crowdsourced micro-volunteerism venture, he sensed a mass of human potential waiting to be tapped. He and co-founders, Ben Rigby and Sundeep Ahuja, acted quickly.

“We saw an opportunity, we became obsessed with it, and we chased it down,” Colker says. “If not us, then who?”

The idea behind The Extraordinaries is based on two assumptions about the current state of human nature: one, we all have a lot of downtime that we spend doing value-neutral activities (neither work nor play); and two, many of us have an urge to volunteer, but about 75 percent of us do not. With an iPhone and The Extraordinaries new app, we can change that.

Colker explains that we can “micro-volunteer” in small chunks of time—15 minutes standing on line in an airport, for instance—by performing a few tasks on our iPhones. Those tasks would be based on our personal skills sets that match the needs of a non-profit group. It could be as simple as making a few phone calls, or creating a new tag line for an organization in need of publicity.

“We’re trying to capture a few minutes of spare time and turn it into social value,” Colker says.

Some of the figures that he presents to support his case are chastening: around the globe, people spend 274 million hours a day on Facebook and watch one billion YouTube videos. To put into perspective how much we might be missing by spending our time this way, Colker notes that it took seven million hours to build the Empire State Building.

With that amount of human labor, he says, “we could build 40 Empire State Buildings every day.”

In Colker’s ideal world, we could build something even better. He is interested in shaking up the status quo for the greater human good. He says his parents, whom he describes as “very inspirational, humble people,” have modeled this type of behavior for him all his life. Colker’s mother struggled for 10 years to leave communist Poland, finally immigrating to the United States in 1970. She always reminds her son that he was lucky enough to start out in life with an American passport. His father has worked for ShoreBank in Chicago for years, increasing community investment opportunities around the globe.

Through their example, Colker’s parents have taught him to think outwardly and to change directions, if necessary. He started a master’s program in Communications at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. because he planned to go into television. But the local political scene drew him out from behind the camera.

“It’s more fun to be out in the thick of it day to day than just covering it from the fringes,” he says.

Working for a long-shot candidate in the 2006 Democratic primary race for Maryland State Comptroller, Colker learned what it meant to face discouraging odds: “Absolutely nobody knew who our candidate was. We just said to ourselves, we’re fighting an uphill battle to get volunteers in the door—let’s figure out how to raise awareness; we’ll try just about anything. That was the environment we worked in.”

The volunteer recruitment strategy that Colker and his fellow 20-something political campaign staff settled on was to go straight to what he calls the “bread and butter” of most political campaigns—college students. Rather than take the traditional route of wooing the leaders of campus Democratic clubs, they logged onto Facebook.

“By using social media,” Colker says, “we didn’t have to go to the Democratic clubs to recruit volunteers. We circumvented the hierarchies and went straight to several thousand kids on campus—people we would not normally have been able to get hold of.”

His candidate won. Not just the primary, but the statewide election as well.

With his political experience, social media savvy, and his natural gravitation toward community service, Colker seems destined to spearhead a venture like The Extraordinaries. He is inspired by the immense possibilities of crowdsourcing, or as he says, “one million minds all acting as one giant super computer.”

A great example of how we might pool our human intellect beneficially, he says, is NASA’s “clickworkers” program that uses volunteers to view images of the surface of Mars and “click” a mouse to identify craters. This project saves thousands of hours of labor for NASA scientists and is creating a comprehensive map of landforms on Mars.

We are only beginning to unveil the potential for this widespread community engagement that is now possible through your iPhone, according to Colker. And it’s simple, he says.

“If you have a few minutes free, just log in and share your skills.”