Related article at Harvard Business Review.
Just a year ago, in April 2012, I published the beginnings of this essay, then called “Killer App for Angel Investors: Authenticity.” To my delight, ideas like these are really taking off. Not only at start-up enterprises like WetheP, the new online Community that will connect people’s passions for collaborative progress, with proven culture change methods and nimble technologies. But also in Companies nationwide that are following in the footsteps of leaders who continually break the business norms. To prove ‘Conscious Capitalism,’ as the title of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s recent book implies, means better bottom lines — big time.
Smart investors have been getting the point, too.
Many no longer risk their dollars and common sense on the seductions offered by solely self-interested corporations. They see promise instead in authentic evolutions offered by citizen-serving leaders and companies.
It’s established that the economic crash produced an influx of disruptive innovations. Now, an new movement and serious movement of social enterprise leaders is evolving new promise for America’s economy, iterating a not-so-far-back history.
Luck of Age and Angels
By luck of age and angel investors I co-founded a startup during the last recession. We started Peoplenet Communications Corporation with more energy than experience, bootstrapping the ideas for our dot-com baby with nascent abilities, outside-the-box-creativity, lots of sweat equity and very smart colleagues.
One, a wild-haired engineer, stood in my office in 1996 explaining the World Wide Web and Global Positioning System. I wondered if we should cut off his Mountain Dew.
Now familiar, Internet and GPS technologies then sounded too good to be true. Not only because of what they could do, but also because of what they cost: little. Anyone with a good idea and some seed capital could cook up an app.
We sought private investors, who, in exchange for stock got equity and access—the early-in draw of an early-stage company. They told us they were investing equally in our potentials as people.
In industry vernacular we were early adapters of “sustained innovations” in wireless locating and communications, among more recognizable ones like GM’s Onstar and the now ubiquitous IPhone.
For all its advances, many think the 90s boom was a market-manufactured bubble—the overleveraged, irrationally-exuberant front of the economic tidal wave that’s drowned so much commerce. Or that it served to over-enrich global capitalists who could provide cheap labor for products like ours while Americans lost jobs.
If true, investors should question the prudence of underwriting less than altruistic killer apps. And ask: are today’s endless “next best things” just the latest vaporous cloud of bleeding-edge wares for competitor countries to produce? Or worse, part of yet another smoke-and-mirrors Ponzi- scheme perpetrated by the latest flock of financial sociopaths thumbing their noses at us while simultaneously picking our pockets.
Needless to say smart investors exercise their options by regulating their own feverish hopes with heavy doses of due doubt. Only rank rookies and those harboring megalomaniac magnate fantasies of Depression-era proportions are wagering willy-nilly in this mess. Or those “greed-is-good” throwbacks who sound like fat-cat gamblers snubbing their cigars on the craps tables they operate.
Angels Don’t Flock Into Sunset
Still — angels aren’t flocking off into the sunset. Rather, they are rethinking allocating funds from agenda-driven institutional interests over-focused on flimsily measured capital. And consider investing in authentic assets spreadsheet can’t easily show: the wealth of wisdom real-deal flesh-and-blood citizens can offer.
This requires a paradigm shift that goes beyond funding popular stocks or “this will save our economy” over-promises. And transcends altruistic philanthropy, which addresses problems like poverty and obesity with expert-only-created campaigns of “fly-in” or “high-tell” compassion. Even, yes, social enterprise efforts, if all they provide is PR gloss for halos tarnished by less-then-holy hidden agendas. Especially if only by offering income-producing solutions for only far-away countries. While income needs–and intellectual capital–here at home are profound, too.
Coffee and Start-up Capital
Many agree we need more wild-haired ideas to break the wave that’s nearly drowned us, and to surf us to a sustained sunset. But, of course, the ideas and the sometimes over-caffienated types like us who develop them, need much support.
Astute angels have instincts for such. Where others envision collapse they see in the rubble underneath, scaffolding for new transformations. These were the ones quietly investing in dot-com babies like PeopleNet when stock brokers were plunging out of office windows to death on WallStreet’s pavement. True, their idealistic tendencies shouldn’t be confused with naïve nostalgia. Still, such angels do tend towards hope, not despair.
Relativism plus Pragmatism
These are relativists who see underlying patterns. And pragmatists who’ve seen what really works. They don’t condescend to mass-culture pressures. They know people trump spreadsheets for big-picture returns.
Like Henry Ford, Founder of Ford Motor Company. The Great Depression “welfare capitalist” who was initially derided by peers and politicians, wasn’t perfect, but he did beat them by not playing their games.
“They don’t seem to see that we must lift together and pull together,” said Ford. He powerfully proved the point, revolutionizing not only manufacturing practices, but with his private/public business savvy.
They are of the constructivist prototype. Like Bill George, the Harvard professor and former CEO of Medtronic. Who succeeded there by modeling the depth of the Company’s human capital and empowering his employees to do the same.
Leaders like George (and, us, too!) believe fiscal responsibility is measured not only by growing revenues, but also with diverse growing leaders, and many. Leaders who find their “True North,” by orienting their authentic gifts both to and in meaningful corporate, community and cultural development. This ethos of alignment, argues George, is harder. And yet, it’s a better harbinger of success than much spreadsheet-able “evidence.”
Such humanitarian-businesses are making a come-back. George’s grandchildren’s generation, “the Millilenials,” express similar common-good genes. A 2010 study by The Carlson School of Management at University of Minnesota shows business-school grads reject superficial “scratch-your-way-to-the-top whatever-the-cost” careers in favor of employing personal passions that improve predicaments in the common-place public arenas.
Monetary Function follows Meaningful Form
In other words, these up-and-coming industry leaders are seeking meaning as much asmoney in their work. Which companies like Whole Foods Market, which employ ‘conscious capitalists’ to post strong growth earnings, seek. This reflective mandate is part of the Company’s core principals–embedded in our criteria for hiring, managing, partnering and purchasing.
Alert angels are paying attention. They dare putting their private investments behind authentic leaders who marry personal good to public good, through professional work. They remember their best interests and ideals go well beyond “only-on-paper” returns. Because they know what few do: plunging into the chaos of new beginnings can return rich rewards. Not only of money but with the thrill of serving as an empowering crucible for authentic leaders of cutting-edge innovations.
WetheP’s new app is no ‘killer’ — far from it. It’s a comprehensive jolt of people power, a catalyzer and maximizer of human potentials. Who WetheP expects will serve as living legacies. But they’ve only started
Worth – Equal parts Meaning + Monetary
WetheP is measuring its worth on both monetary and meaning criteria, equally. The kind savvy investors are looking to lend their money and name to, one that creates a new common wealth abetted and built by the brilliance of common-good American energies.
WetheP is one of many who hope to create some real commonwealth!
Andrea Morisette Grazzini a writer and participatory researcher, is CEO of the start-up tech company WetheP.org.. Her work has influenced numerous local, national and global conversations on cross-sector collaboration. She co-founded the tech-company Peoplenet Communications Corporation in 1993. And founded the cross-partisan initiative DynamicShift in 2009.