Interested in starting your own journey in chess but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Michael Korvyakov, Co-Founder and Co-President of NYC Chess Connections, Inc., located in Pelham, NY, USA.

What's your organization, and who are your members?

NYC Chess Connections, Inc. is a 501(c)3 that provides free online chess lessons to students interested in learning the game — especially those who struggle to afford a chess tutor. Though we focus on New York City students, we have learners all around the country. Our tutors are high schoolers with phenomenal chess expertise who are excited to impart their years of wisdom to others.

Tell us about yourself

In my early days of chess, my tutor, Mike Amore, would tell me, "Chess is about the 3 Cs: Concentration, Calculation, and Confidence." Throughout my chess career, I've noticed myself developing these skills. I credit chess for creating a strong foundation for me to learn and grow in other subject areas. So when my Co-Founder, Eugene Yoo, approached me two years ago to ask if I wanted to start an organization to introduce other students to the game, I gave him an enthusiastic "yes!" I was thrilled to give others the opportunity I had growing up.

What motivates me every day is knowing that our tutors are making an impact on the lives of young students. Speaking to tutors, I've heard their excitement at the progress of their learners. I had the pleasure of tutoring two of my own students, and I was blessed to see them develop and experience those "a-ha!" moments when they finally solved that chess puzzle. I'm thrilled about what we've accomplished, and I'm eager to see what else we can do!

What's your biggest accomplishment as an organization?

My biggest accomplishment in organizing NYCCC was creating a team of dedicated co-workers. Every day we run the organization, they amaze me with their dedication and their ideas. My Co-Founder, Eugene, has been by my side through every up and down in NYCCC. Our Director of Marketing, Maddie, is always ready to create fantastic art that boosts NYCCC's image. Momoca's writing work has been invaluable in creating promotional and educational content. Maya, through organizational outreach, has expanded our reach more than anyone else. Aaron's work as Director of Outreach is what keeps our organization running. And, of course, we'd be nowhere if it wasn't for our amazing tutors, whose love of what they do makes NYCCC what it is.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being an organization?

The hardest thing about running NYCCC has been maintaining motivation when the organization gets stuck in a rut. When we started the organization, we had a nonstop flow of students and tutors signing up — about 50 tutees and 20 tutors in the first month and a half. In the following months, we struggled to get more tutors as our number of student sign-ups continued to rise.

With a volunteer tutor system, it was tough to encourage teachers to join and stick around. When this first became an issue, Eugene and I sat down with our Director of Outreach to find a solution. We found more effective methods of recruiting new tutors and increased tutor retention by providing resume-building benefits and developing close relationships with our team. It's an issue that we continue to face, but one that we confront head-on.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow an organization today?

  1. Find a cause that excites you. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, says, "how you climb a mountain is more important than reaching the top." When you grow a business or a nonprofit, there are undoubtedly going to be tough days when the failure of your company is in sight. Select a cause that you're willing to sit down and work for. I love learning and teaching chess and being constantly reminded of how far the game has taken me — creating this opportunity for other students excites me.
  2. Don't glorify the process. There's nothing wrong with dreaming big — in the words of Norman Peele: "shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." But before you start your business, don't expect it all to be sunshine and rainbows. When we were seeking 501(c)3 and state charity status, we weren't prepared for the hours of waiting on hold or the pages of repetitive forms that we'd have to fill out. Don't expect perfection — be ready for a few bumps in the road.
  3. Surround yourself with people you enjoy working with. There's nothing more conducive to running a great organization than having a team of people who are similarly passionate and who you enjoy working with. Creating a strong team allows you to have fun even on not-so-fun days. The first step is always the hardest, so if you're committed to starting a business, you've already made phenomenal progress. I'm so excited to see how far you'll go!

Where can people find you and your group?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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