How businesses can fix the world — History, Philosophy, & Examples — Part 1
It is said a well-known London newspaper, The Times, once sent out an inquiry to famous authors, asking the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?”
After receiving numerous writings from people with long responses about all of the situations in the world, the famous philosopher and writer, G.K Chesterton responded:
Yours, G.K. Chesterton
I’ve heard this story numerous times and it always invokes deep reflection & focus for what to do next to drive impact for my family, the mission for Incolo, and the community.
So, here’s my attempt, however perfectly imperfect this may be.
Start with others. <-period
When my family 1st started on the entrepreneurial journey of starting Incolo (formerly CrowdfundNC) in 2019, our company advisors, my wife Elizabeth, my parents, and experiences at Impact Makers (both the failures and successes) provided a tremendous framework and sounding board. In addition, I kept hearing the words in my head, everyone is created with essential worth and intrinsic value.
It starts with others. It starts with people.
Desmond Wiggan (CEO & Co-founder) of BatteryXchange and me at Venture 135 in 2021
Desmond Wiggan from BatteryXchange (BXE) was one of the 1st founders I worked with after starting Incolo. Desmond is sharp, his company was new, but he, Aubrey Yeboah (co-founder), and team had already managed to land 1,000 paying users with 90% saying they would use BXE’s ‘Redbox for battery rental’ on a weekly basis.
Early BXE Kiosk Desmond, Aubrey and team would use to lease out batteries for cell phones while they stood behind the kiosk to educate consumers.
Yet even with their traction, they could not get investment funding. “You’re too early” was a common theme from the funding groups they approached.
I could see the fire in Desmond soul from the 1st time I met him, even as he told me “Will, [the traditional groups] around here will not fund us. They don’t understand our solution, because the pain point is not relatable. We believe in what we’re building and know it will be something special. The opportunity you’ve presented is our only option to make our dream a reality. Let’s do it.” So he, Aubrey, and crew busted ass soliciting investors and managed to land over $100K from 90 people who did believe in them.
Flash forward less than 2 years later after funding (and a follow on round from a ‘traditional group’) and BXE’s kiosks are in universities, bars & restaurants, and occasionally you’ll find the team at a conference or 2 continuing to build relationships with the community.
Desmond at Innovate Raleigh 2021
The main reason I value my relationship with Desmond is his impact model. He told me early on that while BXE’s financial model is renting batteries & advertising, their impact model is finding that one kid who had never been told they could be a tech founder. “Growing up in [black communities] we weren’t exposed much to being a tech founder. Even when we got into the space we still didn’t see many [people that looked like us], so it’s a question of “who do we learn from?” If I can find that one [person who looks like me] and they become a tech founder, BatteryXchange has achieved success.” At the time, the statement shocked me. As a wakeup call to me, I didn’t realize our society had limited the creatively and untapped potential of so many. I see BXE’s progress and their impact is far more reaching by every metric than Desmond’s original impact vision. Imagine what our society will be in the future as Desmond and crew at BXE are creating more innovators and laying the framework from which others can start.
With people, it starts with valuing the other person. Each person has been uniquely created. Honoring their creativity, passion, and evolving aptitude unlocks amazing potential. If boundaries are violated, the individual can not live into their calling and therefore is not operating in the “Zone of Genius” that benefits them and those they impact.
Operating in one’s “Zone of Genius”
Thank you to Brandon from our team for the term “Zone of Genius.” It’s the area where an individual, when truly challenged, operates at their highest level of aptitude (aka ‘calling’) which stirs innovation & focus for the benefit of the individual and others.
In business, I strongly believe individuals at every level of the organization, should be operating in their “zone of genius” 80% to 90% of the time with a willingness to step outside of it when their fellow teammate needs them to.
If someone finds themselves unfulfilled, I often find it’s because they took on what they thought was a ‘calling’, but a number of other factors were/are at play:
- ‘comfortable economics’ of compensation,
- family-life events shift what is most important,
- management has ‘lost their way,’ or
- the business simply has evolved to a point where market demands require some individuals to move on to fulfill their calling.
Founders’ foundation to honor people & community
In my opinion, in business, founder’s/leadership’s #1 calling is to create a foundation that protects each individual’s ‘calling’ and therefore impact on society. It starts with founders looking at their current & future potential cap table (who owns their company) and governance docs to make sure all the legal, tax, and other transactional frameworks formed upon tons of diverse philosophically informed “grayness” are in check. They should
[A] protect a balanced interest between the community and team (investors, employees, advisors, & founders), and
[B] be as transparent as possible.
Some really big questions emerge from the above
- Does the business purpose state anything other than maximizing share/unit holder value?
- Are operations structured to help individuals operate in their “Zone of Genius” a majority of the time?
- Has the founder/founding team looked at their cap table with an eye on people other than themselves? Are they willing to open up authentically and be vulnerable to others?
- Has the compensation plan (even if there are limited funds) been looked at within the framework of the individual short-term and long-term potential returns? Who shares in those?
As part of this, one of the most common questions I get from founders is, who should be on their cap table and when?
Here’s some discussion on this and some sample models of how economics might be split (which may be completely different than voting control). Note: The models include standard terms such as cliff, vesting, ‘full acceleration,’ but I recognize not everyone may know these. I’ll dive into these in a later article. For now, focus on the %’s. Who can fill these and why?
Link to the cap table PowerPoint file
A founder’s answer to “who?” and “why?” for this impacts everything from business growth to societal benefit. In part 2 of this series, I’m going to dive more into where I think Incolo is failing and succeeding in this realm. For now, here’s a summary:
Incolo’s Cap Table Why: Create holistic, generational community impact that reaches people I’ll never meet.
Original How: Build a really successful ‘funding portal’ & ‘Angel List’ focused on North Carolina to facilitate capital in partnership alongside the founders of other companies. Carve out 10% for community impact (non-dilutive to other equity holders) to influence others to do the same. Build a BROAD and DIVERSE base of investors who over time own a majority of the cap table.
Our goals for our governance and cap table have started, but have quite a bit of room to take flight.
What about Return on Investment (ROI/RO$)?
…or more broadly stated, Return on Equity Rights.
Do you define returns purely in terms of shareholder $$$?
In The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, Adam Smith’s central thesis is each individual’s need to fulfill self-interest results in societal benefit, in what is known as his “invisible hand.” In other words, a free market will balance itself.
In contrast, in 1970, Milton Friedman’s proposed a business’ ‘true north’ ‘end state’ is for a Corporation to maximize share/unit holder profits. Social responsibility is that of the employee, not the employer (aka the shareholders). This proposal, further carried out by financial, legal, and tax systems has caused more destruction to society and families being ripped apart than any other philosophy. Why?
- It devalues the individual in favor of ‘profits’ being the primary motive
- It tends to benefit the few who know how to ‘play the game’ and then are protected by the law to do so. The C-Corp structure (aka “Corporation”) was invented in the 1970’s and accelerated the growth of Friedman’s philosophy.
- Rules created in the 1930’s and continuing until 2016 made it virtually illegal to invest in the potential returns a private company created unless one was already wealthy (aka. ‘accredited investor’ — roughly 7% of the population meet this criteria and even then, most people who qualify as ‘accredited’ didn’t even know there was a term for their wealth status).
Food for Thought: Who owned the wealth Uber created from the time it started until it listed on the stock market at a $75 Billion valuation?
Who owns the wealth generation of the leases paid in an apartment complex or the lease your favorite coffee shop pays? They were & are not accessible via your TD Ameritrade or Robinhood account.
The above are key reasons why wealth gap has increased. A fellow founder I speak with often about these topics who is a force for equitability is about to write a series on this with some other key reasons. Check out Kasem.
Sure there’s a lot to unpack above. Let’s simplify.
When we increase access for anyone to invest & anyone to be funded, we increase the opportunity for more diversity in why, how & where companies are created and investments are made so returns are more broadly felt and meaningful. This rapidly & organically solves multiple systemic issues built up over centuries.
“In 400 years we’ve gone from being the objects of capital, to being the subjects in control of capital. […] and I’ve made that jump in 1 generation. […] I know what it feels like to be downstream of some of the decisions that investors make. […] But, in the same ways we’ve destroyed communities with capital and capitalism, I believe we can actually rebuild them. How can we use wealth to be healing rather than extracted and destructive?”
I hope I honor Rukaiyah in quoting her. Her wisdom comes partially from the context of families of color, who have been far more impacted than most. I suggest you listen to the podcast and learn from Rukaiyah, who is an expert in how private markets work. Her innovation in this space is also super informative to models we are crafting with others.
Using capitalism to rebuild communities
In our institutionalized economy, cap tables dictate who shares in generational wealth building.
Those in control of cap tables have an opportunity create access for a broader & more diverse base of people, earlier in a company lifecycle to drive business growth & impact. However, these founders & investors must also grow successful companies in order for the impact to be broadly felt. As Eric from our team often says, “nothing else matters except [generating traction].” Traction = Impact.
So back to “What’s wrong with the world?”
I am. We are. We all are also the very people who can fix it.
What are individuals part of Incolo’s cap table doing to fix the world of capitalism so it’s healing, innovative, and wealth generation is more broadly felt?
Join us for part 2 to find out what our team and our community is doing.