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Golden Oldies: If the Shoe Fits: Making Your Company Socially Responsible

Monday, May 15th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of some of the best posts during that time.

I wrote this in 2012 with high hopes that more bosses would move in Chris’ direction, with an eye to making their workplaces more socially responsible and individuals more aware of the world outside their little corner of it. Sadly, the importance of ‘me’ has grown considerably, dwarfing, at least in the media, those who strive to move beyond that narrow focus.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI met an interesting guy over the holiday.

“Chris” has a small startup in the financial services sector and is starting to gain traction.

He said it’s been an uphill battle and that he wishes he had spent the same energy doing something “socially responsible,” because it would be a lot more satisfying.

I’ve heard similar comments from other entrepreneurs and small biz owners.

Happily, this is one of those times it is possible to “have it all,” because all it takes is changing the way you look at the world.

Having a socially responsible business doesn’t require a focus on solving social ills and it certainly doesn’t mean forgoing profit—without profit your business won’t be around.

It does mean running your business in a responsible manner

  • pricing fairly, passing on savings whenever possible and never gouging
  • fair wages and other compensation
  • fair employee treatment (not playing favorites, etc.)
  • reducing your carbon footprint
  • community involvement and contributing whenever possible; and
  • believing that it’s not all about you.

None of this is rocket science and all of it makes good, profitable, business sense.

In fact, Chris and others who feel the pull to help fix the world would do well to read Richard Branson’s Screw Business As Usual to see how others are ‘doing well by doing good’.

Note: the unseen pause is between ‘screw’ and ‘business’, not between ‘business’ and ‘as’,

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Tracy Kidder’s A Truck Full of Money

Thursday, October 27th, 2016


I read Tracy Kidder’s Pulitzer winning Soul of a New Machine, when it came out 30 years ago and still remember it. He is a superb researcher and writer and an excellent storyteller. This is one book I definitely plan to read (it’s on order from my library).

SNM is a story of hardware, namely the computer that emerged from Data General’s skunkworks, and it’s still worth reading; I highly recommend it.

30 years later Kidder wanted to do something similar only focused on software and asked serial entrepreneur and Kayak founder Paul English, whom he knew, for help.

The book Kidder ended up writing is quite different from the one he set out to do.

The book that emerges, A Truck Full of Money: One Man’s Quest to Recover from Great Success, may disappoint those looking for a nuts-and-bolts breakdown of coding or of Kayak’s innovations in user interface. But it will reward readers open to its philosophic nature and collage-like structure. It is at once a portrait of a precocious programmer and entrepreneur, and of his team of life-long collaborators; a meditation on mania and the peculiar mindset behind computer coding; and a look at men driven to create and build, make a lot of money, and then give it all away.

SNM provided a fascinating backstory to the philosophy, people and intangibles of tech and it seems Kidder has done that again.

It’s a somewhat rare, in-depth look at the humanity that exists in the tech world.

I sincerely hope A Truck Full of Money wins Kidder another Pulitzer.

And that you enjoy it.

Attention: California Residents

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

If you live in California and care about the environment you should know about OhmConnect.

OhmConnect is the intermediary that keeps your unwary actions from instigating the use of dirty energy sources and pays you for the privilege.

Shouldn’t we be allowed to influence those decisions that affect us all?
Now, we can. Every five minutes, OhmConnect reviews the electricity grid’s performance and calculates when our community can make the greatest positive impact on the grid. OhmConnect works directly with the energy markets to balance the grid by automatically adjusting thermostats, electric cars, and smart plugs. Best yet, the electricity grid pays OhmConnect for this service and we pass those dollars on to you.
We founded OhmConnect to make it simple to optimize our electricity, enable a sustainable energy future, and have fun while doing so.

Right now OhmConnect only works with California electricity providers, i.e., PG&E, SCE, and SDGE; hopefully it will spread further as time passes.

Welcome to OhmConnect from Ohmconnect on Vimeo.

So whether you do it because you care or you are too busy/cynical/self-absorbed/unbelieving and do it for the money, or a combination thereof doesn’t matter.

Just do it!

Video credit: OhmConnect

Ducks in a Row: CSR Goes Straight to the Bottom Line

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015


Richard Branson started talking about “doing good by doing well” years ago and multinationals across the globe are finally getting on board.

Not because they suddenly grew a social conscience, but because it pays.

CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility has gone global, with companies across the spectrum.

But increasingly, it is what investors, customers, employees and other stakeholders have come to expect and demand. Millennials — industry’s new and future customers — cast a particularly keen eye on companies’ commitment to social impact.

Microsoft, Disney, Gap, JP Morgan Chase, Mattel, Coke, Pepsi, India’s Tata Group and Suzlon Energy, Chinese battery maker BYD, Brazil’s Natura Cosmeticos.

“The better CSR programs, either in emerging multinationals or developed-country multinationals … are not just philanthropy, they’re strategic.”

Internally CSR attracts customers and investors, can be used as a recruiting tool and beefs up retention.

And keep in mind that corporate social responsibility isn’t just for big, wealthy companies. SMB and even solopreneurs are in a position to make a difference, especially in their own local community.

Read the article for ideas.

Look around for a project that excites you and all your stakeholders.

Then do it.

Talk and planning don’t count.

Flickr image credit: JustyCinMD

If the Shoe Fits: Startups of Value

Friday, November 6th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mGranted you want to change the world, but whose world?

“If we live in a world where the technologies we’re talking about are for rich white people in Silicon Valley then we’ve failed. The idea is to try and distribute this technology as broadly as possible.” –Bill Maris, founder, Google Ventures

So true.

But what else would you expect when entrepreneurs follow the advice to look inward to identify the problems to solve.


And then there is the question of what purpose our economic growth actually serves. The most common advice V.C.s give entrepreneurs is to solve a problem they encounter in their daily lives. Unfortunately, the problems the average 22-year-old male programmer has experienced are all about being an affluent single guy in Northern California.


Unfortunately, the traits common to entrepreneurs in the US aren’t particularly diverse.

The average U.S. entrepreneur is educated with a college degree, closer to mid-career in age, from a higher income household, and more likely to be male. He is likely to be opportunity-motivated and comparatively likely to be operating in the knowledge-intensive sector (business services).

Most of the under-thirty entrepreneurs whose startups have a strong social side found the problem while traveling or doing some kind of volunteer work and used ingenuity and tech-as-appropriate to solve it.

Other places to find young entrepreneurs focused on solving serious problems are at any of the major science fairs, such as Google’s, and the Society for Science and the Public’ awards to the under 13 crowd.

The Federal Government, in the guise of the National Science Foundation started Innovation Corps, essentially an incubator using the Lean approach to commercialize academic research with the help of Steve Blank; those entrepreneurs are definitely older.

The opportunities to change the world are numerous, all you need to do is open your eyes — if a 13-year-old can think of way to change the world, so can you.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Maximizing Profit Isn’t Everything

Thursday, September 24th, 2015


That said, here are some stories that drive the point home.

A beautiful 23-foot air purification tower developed by a partnership of three Dutch companies that’s not for sale to the highest bidders.

“We’ve gotten a lot of requests from property developers who want to place it in a few filthy rich neighborhoods of course, and I tend to say no to these right now,” he says. “I think that it should be in a public space.”

Marco Arment built an ad-blocking app that blazed to the top of Apple’s App Store, but he pulled it almost immediately.

But he said that building such a successful ad-blocking app “just doesn’t feel good.”
“Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: While they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit,” Arment wrote on his personal blog Friday.

Finally, Kickstarters founders, with the full support of their board, reincorporated the company as a B Corp, i.e., a public benefit corporation.

“We don’t ever want to sell or go public,” said Mr. Strickler, Kickstarter’s chief executive. “That would push the company to make choices that we don’t think are in the best interest of the company.”

Still for profit, but focused on something more.

Other companies, including the e-commerce site Etsy, Warby Parker, Brazilian cosmetics maker Natura, Plum Organics and Method are B Corps — and Unilever is considering changing.

Doing good by good by doing well, as Sir Richard is so fond of saying.

Flickr image credit: opensource.com

Ducks in a Row: Attracting Women to STEM? Simple

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015


Considering all the hand-wringing and diverse efforts to attract women to tech, it turns out that it’s relatively simple.

Lina Nilsson is a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and director of innovation at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley, noticed a quaint factoid.

…if the content of the work itself is made more societally meaningful, women will enroll in droves. That applies not only to computer engineering but also to more traditional, equally male-dominated fields like mechanical and chemical engineering.

This held true at dozens of universities, such as D-Lab at MIT, Arizona State University, University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University and Santa Clara University.

And it’s important to recognize that the primary, or even secondary, intent was not to attract women, but to solve problems.

None of the programs, clubs and classes were designed with the main goal of appealing to female engineers, and perhaps this is exactly why they are drawing us in. At the core of each of the programs is a focus on engineering that is cutting edge, with an explicit social context and mission.

The problem, of course, is that most existing companies and current startups are focused on money, while “women seem to be drawn to engineering projects that attempt to achieve societal good.”

Higher purpose vs. greed says it all. 

Image credit: Kurt Bauschardt

Entrepreneurs: Consciously Build Your Culture

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015


Great culture is about values, not fancy offices, free food, perks, etc., because, done well, it provides a blueprint for any worker faced with making a decision.

Great cultures don’t happen by accident or benign neglect, nor do they grow organically.

They are the result of focused thought, intentional design and, focused effort.

They are sustained through exceedingly careful hiring and the willingness to walk away from a candidate whose values aren’t compatible.

For great insight into building a values-based company read this interview with John Montgomery, founder of Bridgeway Capital Management.

The investment industry is known more for its greed than its social sensitivity, but Bridgeway has been making waves for more than 20 years by giving 50% of its profits to charity and capping top salaries.

Montgomery’s approach has been profitable, as well as a talent magnet and retention tool.

John, you founded Bridgeway Capital Management 22 years ago and your firm grew to manage billions in assets. Many people are drawn to your firm because you are values-driven, and your website says your core values are: ‘integrity, performance, efficiency, and service’. What does it mean to live these values? (…)  “We’re not trying to create golden handcuffs to keep people in place. We’re trying to create an amazing place to work where people can provide investment advisory services and give back at the same time. On my team — the investment advisory team — we’ve lost one portfolio manager or researcher in 20 years.

If a culture built around ‘integrity, performance, efficiency, and service’ can propel and sustain a company in an industry like financial services where talk is cheap and talent is supposedly focused only on what’s in it for them, think what strong values can do for your company.

Image credit: Dave Gray

If the Shoe Fits: a Prize Worth Having

Friday, February 13th, 2015

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI have a great appreciation for those in the 1% that give back, especially those like Richard Branson, who became an entrepreneur specifically to finance his desire to give back or, as he says, “do good by doing well.”

But even the most philanthropic like their toys — especially the kind with four wheels.

Maseratti, Lamborghini, Tesla and others.

But they pale in comparison to the AeroMobil 3.0.

Which was developed in just 10 months.

AeroMobil was designed in a way to fit into existing road infrastructure – its size is comparable to a limousine or a large luxury sedan. It has low maintenance costs and can be parked in regular parking slots in cities. It uses standard gasoline instead of kerosene, and it can therefore be fuelled at a regular gas stations.

You’ll need flying lessons, but it sure beats those fancy, earthbound cars — they’re so common.

Image credit: HikingArtist and youcar

If The Shoe Fits: Marc Benioff

Friday, January 9th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWhen tech people talk about philanthropic role models these days they focus on people like Bill Gates and his foundation or Mark Zukerberg’s donation to schools where he grew up, which, obviously, are very important.

Sometimes they talk about a few million donated to San Francisco to off-set the anger directed at commute buses and general tech arrogance — which we all know is no more than a rounding error to companies like Google.

Marc Benioff has a different take on what companies owe to the cities that host them.

We have done a phenomenal job creating value for the world through our technology, but we are not really an industry known for giving that wealth back.

Benioff’s attitude isn’t a reactive to the current anger at tech; he instilled philanthropy in the company’s culture when he founded it in 1999.

He called it the 1-1-1 model of corporate philanthropy, in which the company would send 1 percent of its stock, products, and employees’ working time to the company foundation.

His approach inspired companies like Yelp, NetSuite, and Google to develop their own variations.

“Marc has been pounding the table getting everyone to pay attention and come up with their own philanthropic strategy,” says Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s CEO.

Benioff has a new initiative called SF Gives (run by nonprofit Tipping Point Community) to change things.

SF Gives to raise $10 million for regional antipoverty programs. Benioff got on the phone himself and successfully pushed executives at Box, Google, Jawbone, Zynga, and 15 other tech companies to join.

His goal is to add another 85 companies in 2015 and I have no doubt he’ll succeed.

In short, Benioff is a true proponent of doing well by doing good and sees it as a substantial competitive advantage and recruiting tool for Salesforce.

Embedding your own version of Benioff’s 1-1-1 in your startup’s culture and joining SF Gives at the earliest opportunity may not guarantee you the same success as Salesforce, but it will certainly garner you good press, important connections and a significant competitive advantage, which won’t hurt your chances.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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