For some entrepreneurs, their stories start at business school. Some start working a side hustle on the side of their grown-up, adult jobs.
My story started at age eleven during a family holiday. We were trying and failing to navigate around the airport, my entire family was stressed, and that was where a spark of an idea began. I saw a problem that needed a solution. It’s the same situation that ignites any entrepreneur’s journey.
When we got home, I opened up my mum’s laptop and started building a website. Little did I know that this simple act would mark the beginning of my first business, which I named Planeapidea: The Wikipedia of Planes.
My vision was clear: to create a less stressful air travel experience for everyone. As I delved deeper into the business, I began to form partnerships and collaborate with some of the biggest airlines in the world.
By 2017, I was working alongside giants like Qantas, and in 2018, I proudly added Singapore Airlines to the list. Planeapidea wasn’t just a business, it was also a learning experience that taught me the foundations of entrepreneurship – from branding and websites to partnerships and the importance of a strong work ethic.
But at such a young age, I had to make a choice that would set the tone for my entrepreneurial journey. I committed to following a side hustle that I believed was right for me, despite the doubts and concerns of others. It was my first opportunity to own my story, but not my last.
As I continued down this track, I was exposed to the opportunities of leadership and entrepreneurship, which sparked yet another idea. I felt frustrated when I saw that not all young people had access to the knowledge and opportunities I was fortunate enough to stumble upon. This frustration led to the birth of YLAA (Young Leaders and Entrepreneurs Association).
My goal was to create a one-day event in Perth where young people could embrace ambition without limitations, providing them with the chance to level up as leaders. I vividly remember my days in year 11, aged 15, spending my lunch breaks cold-calling every school in Perth.
Finally, on the 28th of August 2018, our first event took place, with 65 students from five schools. I began speaking at events, and it wasn’t long before I was invited to Hawaii to deliver a keynote speech.
As I entered year 12, something changed. I had become known as the ‘entrepreneur,’ and my ego started to take over. I dropped out of the ATAR (the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank), fully expecting to never attend university. We hosted a national tour that year, and it completely flopped. We only managed to sell 30% of the tickets, with just one school attending in Sydney.
It was a tough pill to swallow, but it forced me to do the self-work and become more self-aware. I reflected on the ‘why’ behind our work and reshaped my mindset. The ego needed to step aside, and self-awareness took its place.
Fast forward to today, and we’ve been selling out our events with record numbers each year, now expecting up to 12,000 attendees. We expanded our reach to include primary school programs, aiming to address the growing gap in depression, anxiety, and suicide rates among young people. We see ourselves as early interventionists focused on instilling confidence and awareness in the next generation.
In 2020, we experienced an incredible growth spurt, going from a yearly turnover of $30,000 to hitting six figures within just two months. This success prompted two significant decisions on my part: I was accepted to study for my Masters in Business, and I sought the guidance of a business coach. Looking ahead, YLAA’s current goal is to support 100,000 young people annually by 2025.
My journey from a kid with a laptop side hustle to a successful entrepreneur has been filled with challenges, self-discovery, and ultimately, success. Through it all, I’ve learned that entrepreneurship isn’t just about solving problems but also about personal growth, self-awareness, and staying true to your ‘why.’ I can’t wait to see where it takes me – and, of course, the young people we’re leading through their entrepreneurial journeys via YLAA.
Youth Leadership Academy Australia (YLAA) is a youth-led organisation dedicated to empowering young individuals to lead themselves, schools, and communities for a positive future. Through impactful in-person events and tailor-made school programs, we provide accessible leadership opportunities across Australia.
About Wil Massara
Wil Massara is a young social entrepreneur, whose journey began at the age of eleven. At 15, he founded the Youth Leadership Academy Australia (YLAA), revolutionising youth leadership nationwide. YLAA is now the largest youth-led provider, positively impacting over 30,000 lives and earning the trust of 1000+ schools.