Tis the season for come-back stories: It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, some new Sylvester Stallone vehicle. So as per holiday tradition, here’s my rumination on how to do better as a CEO/colleague/human the second time around.
Along my journey to find meaningful work, I struggled a lot with whether to work on a nonprofit. It seemed like the right thing to do, and I wanted to make a difference. I spent a chunk of time in the sector as a board member and volunteer, and worked diligently on learning about different causes.
But something didn’t feel right. Philanthropic work was meaningful, but felt a bit like playing a different sport than what I was used to in the for-profit world. And I wasn’t ready to give up on my game just yet, nor did I feel compelled to work on one specific cause above all else.
Still, I wanted to do some good in the world and create some kind of legacy that mattered. Would working on another company mean I was selfish? That I was failing to achieve my legacy? Was I a lesser person? Was there a way to make it all work in harmony?
51% of what I make from this venture will go towards a foundation to support children’s education.
Having been inspired by colleagues at Andreessen Horowitz, who pledged 50 percent of their earnings to charity, and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge (for people in the wealth stratosphere), this felt like the right path: I get to keep playing my favorite sport, and also get to help others if the company does well. My pledge became 51 percent because it’s in the majority. And my one-upper personality wanted to at least win on percentage, since they’ll destroy me on the actual amount.
51% of who-knows-what may be a small contribution in the scheme of things, but it feels right and hopefully has some ripple effect. As one of the characters says in Hot Tub Time Machine (a more recent second-chance movie): “One little change has a ripple effect, and it affects everything else. Like a butterfly floats its wings, and Tokyo explodes, or there’s a tsunami, in like, you know, somewhere.”
My mother taught me something about ripple effects. She was a long-time special education teacher whose passion, dedication and optimism were a huge source of inspiration. Often, she was the only one who didn’t give up on her students, and instead created the environment for them to become their best possible selves. One of my closest friends from high school who worked with her as a teacher said: “She would work with the toughest and roughest kids and give them a soft place to fall with no judgment. She would even feed the ones that didn’t get breakfast. She was worth 10 regular teachers.”
If any other second-time, venture-backed founders want to join me with the same pledge, regardless of the cause you support, I’ve already bought the domain 51Club.org. Raise your hand, and we’ll get our own handshake and hats. And maybe give those fancy-pants Giving Pledge people a run for their billions in softball.
The purpose of this blog is not to brag or fish for compliments from readers (but you know, if you really want to say something…) I am merely sharing the details of my own journey because your engagement helps me hold myself accountable – and perhaps the ramblings can be helpful to others along the way.
I’m thankful that we live in a time when giving is becoming a bigger and more common part of the conversation and financial equation. The greedy and self-preserving tone set by early American entrepreneurs like J. Paul Getty who said, “If you can actually count your money, then you’re not a rich man,” seems to be drawing to a close.
I’m more drawn to Churchill who said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Here’s hoping this second chance is a lot more givey than Getty.