20 Under 20: Transforming Tomorrow

5 Minutes With a Visionary: Jimmy Wales

Gregory Saperstein

Editor’s note: As part of CNBC’s “20 Under 20: Transforming Tomorrow” TV documentary, we interviewed thought leaders and visionaries who have paved the way for the next generation of entrepreneurs. In a series of Q&As called “5 Minutes with a Visionary,” we discover what has shaped and molded the careers of these innovators.

Jimmy Wales
Photo by: Manuel Archain

Jimmy Wales founded one of the most ground-breaking websites ever: Wikipedia.

“The goal has always been to create a free encyclopedia for every single person on the planet in their own language,” Wales told CNBC in a phone interview.

He’s doing just that. Today, Wikipedia is offered in in more than 280 languages.

Q: What do you consider to be your greatest success as an entrepreneur?

Founding Wikipedia. It’s been an amazing thing to develop.

Q: What innovation in the last 20 years has had the most positive impact on society?

The thing I’m most excited about of recent innovations would be tablet computers — the iPad and the cheaper Androids that they are going to be sending out in the next few years. I think that we have the opportunity to create inexpensive devices that are 3G capable, which will lead to the next billion people coming online which I think is the one of the most important cultural things that’s going to happen to our generation.

Q: What current challenge, when resolved, would do the most to change the world?

Unwise government regulation is the biggest challenge that stands in the way of us. We need to make sure that, worldwide, there are policies that promote entrepreneurship and that get out of young people’s way and get young people to create new businesses.

Q: If you had the world's intellectual elite all in one room, what thought provoking questions would you pose for debate?

Intellectual leaders or political leaders? Because I don’t think they’re the same people!

Q: Intellectual.

What is the nature of human rights? I think that would be a great question for intellectual leaders to come to debate.

Q: And political leaders?

For political leaders — could you please leave us alone? *laughs*

Q: What individual or innovator has had the biggest impact on society?

One person I would have to name would be Richard Stallman, who is the creator of the GPL open source licensing. He was a great, early intellectual leader in the concept of freely licensed software and that had a huge impact on the development of the Internet and online thinking.

Q: What was your mindset in creating Wikipedia? What exactly did you want to accomplish?

The goal for Wikipedia has always been to create a free encyclopedia for every single person on the planet — in their own language. So, that’s what we’re doing.

Q: Any advice for entrepreneurs trying to pursue their dreams?

Just do it. Move forward. Be bold.

Tune in:

Watch "20 Under 20" on CNBC. Part I Premieres August 13 and Part II Premieres August 14 at 10p ET

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