Imagine being offered $8 million for work that you’ve already done – all you have to do is say “Ok, I’ll take it.” Now imagine turning that down.
Avi Schiffmann is a 17-year-old high school junior from Washington State and he did just that. It wasn’t due to a lack of foresight or ingenuity, however, but out of principles.
Back on December 29th of 2019, when Covid-19 was still just a Chinese problem that most people didn’t know about, Avi created one of the first Covid-19 tracker websites – ncov2019.live. Since then, the site has had hundreds of millions of visitors.
As the son of a physician, he did it both with the good intentions of giving people useful health-related data, as well as for a personal software project. In an interview with Bloomberg’s QuickTake series Avi shared that he didn’t know half the things he had to do for the website when he started and he viewed it as a personal learning experience.
“My goal is to make the site the best place for information about the coronavirus, with multiple methods of getting data,” Schiffmann said. “When I first started I was viewing the whole epidemic as an outsider, and I never expected it to personally affect me,” he added, referencing the quickly rising number of Covid-19 cases in his hometown of Seattle.
Avi also shared that he’s had to invest many hours per day on the website, bug-fixing, adding features, and answering to emails and feedback. At first, the website was just taking the data from Chinese governmental sites about Covid-19 and translating it into English but Avi has had to include all other countries after that and add much more extra data than just the raw numbers. He has even included a program that scrapes additional reputable sites like WHO, CDC, and BNO News, and updates itself every minute.
“I am spending most of my free time working on it,” Schiffmann said. “I get about 100 emails a day for bug fixes, feature requests, that kind of thing, so I am always working on adding new things.”
Naturally, pretty soon capitalism “came a knocking” and various major businesses started sending him ad offers for his website. One of them was for a whopping $8 million but Avi turned even that paycheck down. His reasoning? He wanted to keep the ncov2019.live site as useful to the people as possible and not bog it down with ads.
“I think it’s a lot easier for me to turn down things like that just because I don’t care that much about making so much money. I feel like as an adult, it’s like, ‘oh yeah, I’ll retire now,’ but I don’t want to retire at 17,” Avi shared.
Naturally, a lot of people thought his decision was stupid while many others praised him for not profiteering from people’s suffering. At the end of the day, a person with Avi’s obvious skills should have plenty of good job opportunities in his life so we hopefully won’t have to worry about his financial future. He has added a donations button to the website – it leads to Ko-Fi, a donation website where people can donate “cups of coffee” – something Avi surely needs given all the time he spends on his site.
“I hope that what I created inspires a lot of young people to find ways they can help,” he told Bloomberg. “I mean, this is a global pandemic that affects everybody.”
Whether you’re inspired by Avi’s decision to deny these ad deals for his website or you’re puzzled by it, it is in line with most other Covid-19 trackers.
Many of the other best websites for keeping up to date with the pandemic have also kept themselves ad-free, including Worldometers, 91-Divoc, the John Hopkins 2019 novel coronavirus visual dashboard, the Covid Tracking Project, the IHME Covid-19 Projections, and others.