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Thanks in no small part to the Internet, the function of education and learning continues to change drastically across the globe. Not only is there an entire wealth of content out there to help you become an expert in almost anything you can dream of, but it’s increasingly becoming available for free. With such a vast wealth of information right at our fingertips, the question of education is quickly transitioning from “How can I learn about this?” to “Where can I learn more?”

MentorMob, a Chicago startup operating out of Catapult, is gunning to make sure you can easily find all the best info on the topics you want to know more about, utilizing visual maps and playlists of curated quality content on an ever-growing range of topics ranging from the academic to the recreational.

Instead of searching around Google for hours, trekking from one great instructional video to a poorly researched article, MentorMob has carved the path ahead to let you learn efficiently from only the best resources available around the web.

We talked with Charles Perry, MentorMob’s communications director, who let us in on how the Chicago startup is fighting at the forefront to help change the American education system for the better.

What was the inspiration behind MentorMob?

I think the clearest way to say it is that there’s this continual frustration with trying to learn things online. For everything that anyone has ever wanted to learn there are good free resources online somewhere to help you learn that thing.

The problem is that if you’re learning how to play guitar, if you want to learn how to bake, if you want to learn algebra 1 all of those resources are available but it’s up to you to scoop through all the BS online and get to the good stuff.

Once you find a high quality resource, if that’s a video or a blog with a bunch of comments on it or a subreddit or what have you, it’s hard to figure out where to go next. With MentorMob what we’re trying to do is take out all of that frustration by mapping all of the very best free content that exists so that, in the future, if you search for “how to play guitar,” you’ll be directed to a resource map rather than just a single resource one at a time. With MentorMob you’ll be able to spend your time learning rather than searching.

When did you know you wanted to work in startups?

I think probably after I spent a little while working in the corporate world. When I was in college at Northwestern -- and you’ll have to take this with a grain of salt -- but it really was about self-improvement, learning and becoming an erudite citizen. In the corporate world what matters is how many items you can get from your in-tray to your out-tray.

In startups there’s this real sense of purpose or responsibility that I find very attractive. The people who are working for startups haven’t been able to find what they want in a company already available, so by their very nature they’re hungry for something new, for something different, something better, more efficient, lucrative and fun, but pretty fulfilling.

Who are some people that inspire you?

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a self-reflective question. I guess I should self-reflect more often.

I’ll start personal and then I’ll get more celebrity after that. This isn’t sucking up, I promise, but Kris (Chinosorn) and Vince (Leung) are an inspiring pair simply because it takes a lot of humility, I think, to admit all of your weaknesses and finding a good co-founder is really almost completely about that.

They’re both incredibly talented but together they are two or three times as cohesive and capable. They really tag-team very effectively, they really spur each other on, sharpen each other’s strengths, and shore up each other’s weaknesses. That’s just a neat thing to watch. It’s almost like a marriage that works well.

Out about in the world, I would say that I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of really inspirational people through the Digital Media and Learning Competition, which is a big experiment funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation.

The people at Mozilla I think are really inspirational. One person that comes to mind is Erin Knight, who is really good at articulating what we can do on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis to improve education, which is one of the reasons that at MentorMob we’re doing what we’re doing.

How can we reinvent the wheel a little bit in America because our public education system is having a tough time? When you’re having a conversation about something like that -- “How do we fix education?” -- it’s really easy to get lost in the ether and talk about a bunch of pie in the sky possibilities that aren’t really possible.

But the work that they’re doing on digital badging, which is a way to alternatively credential people and give them accolades for self-directed online learning, is a way to sort of put your boots on the ground. It’s a way to stay encouraged in a process that is as long and complicated and difficult as reshaping education for the 21st century.

What tends to be your daily soundtrack around the office?

Well whenever Dave Matthews Band ever comes on Pandora, I pick up the speakers and throw them out of the window. On Friday we get a little dubstep-y, we try to just pound it out on Fridays and get excited. We’re probably going out to an industry event at the end of the day.

It’s a combination of being completely wired in and managing contacts and staying alert on social media, and then making sure to unplug from that every once in a while and have face-to-face contact with team members. Even though we’re a tech company, like a lot of different startup businesses are, it’s hard to overstate the value of face-to-face contact. It keeps me energized and it keeps me focused.

Whenever I talk about an issue that I’m working on or a problem that I’m having or a sudden idea that I have I’m always rewarded by bouncing that off of coworkers, even people who are developers that have nothing to do with communications and marketing, which is what I do. Typically they’ll have a point of view that sharpens what I’m doing, or at least gets me to think about it in a different way.

What was the first job you ever had?

The first job I ever had was being a laborer at a construction company over the summer in Nashville where I grew up. I learned the value of asking pertinent questions.

I was doing a lot of brainless demolition work on construction sites. We were taking off old wallpaper at one point and then we were going to scrape all the sticky stuff off the wall and paint the walls. I took a bunch of wallpaper off and my boss came in and said, “Oh that’s beautiful work. Great work, Charles.”

But I didn’t really know why he had congratulated me. I’d never done this before; I didn’t know anything as a rising sophomore in high school. So I kept working and started peeling off the paint and the top layer of the drywall underneath, but I didn’t know any better so I kept doing that.

My boss came back in to check on my work and had a conniption fit. “Charles, what are you doing? You’re wrecking the wall!” If I had asked him to clarify his praise earlier, because I didn’t know why he was giving me a pat on the head, I wouldn’t have gotten into that pickle.

If you could have one super power what would you choose? What would be your kryptonite?

I think it would be stopping time, giving myself a breather so that you could just pack eight hours of work into an hour period, and then turn time back on and you could continue on your day caught up.

My kryptonite would probably be an unlimited gift card to Morton’s Steak House. I would weigh 300 lbs and not ever do any more work ever again.

What’s next for MentorMob?

It’s really exciting how connected learning, social media, and learning platforms like MentorMob are empowering people to self-direct their own learning. What’s in store this year is we’re going to see, all over the country and the world, and specifically through MentorMob, the increased democratization of learning.

People are discovering and pursuing their own interests and we’re going to start seeing the fruit of that. People are starting to be convinced that it’s okay to let kids and young adults choose what they’re interested in and pursue those things.

If they’re terrible at geometry it really is okay, and maybe they should spend less time pulling up their crappy grades and more time taking Android phones and toasters apart, if that’s what they love doing.

We’re going to start seeing the kids that are doing that succeeding and doing well. That’s really going to start a policy shift. I just can’t wait to be a part of that revolution in learning.

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