It was a trifecta of inspiration for all social entrepreneurs this evening. The founders from three bay area start-ups gathered in HUB’s first bay area home in front of a sold-out crowd to talk about their origins, give the audience – and each other – advice and insights on the “secret sauce” for creating impact.
Set up as a “201” panel discussion, the moderator asked the audience and participants to be honest, avoid soliloquys and “pitches” and stick to the business of user-worthy advice. Matt Flannery, co-founder of Kiva.org, Steve Newcomb, co-founder of Virgance (new owners of this blog), and Ben Rattray founder of Change.org then answered questions designed to help fledgling business idealists through the realities of what it takes to rally social change.
While each shared very different approaches, what became most clear as each shared meaningful moments and epiphanies from their recent ventures, is that there is no “right” model. Rather many innovative approaches will be necessary to “fix what we’ve spent the last tens of years tearing down”, said Newcomb. There was a central theme of intense productivity and passion that threaded their discussions and it was ironic that 10 years after the spectacular emergence of the .com era, that here were the next generation of entrepreneurs using social networking as a prime driver for each of their business platforms.
But since revenue generation is not the ultimate goal, the “business models” discussed were different. Rattray preached the virtues of the carrot and the stick approach. “Brands are remarkably exposed. All you own is your brand”, he said. In the negotiation over what is right in a public outcry, brand can be an activists’ savior in the face of less-than-altruistic behavior. With an ultimate message of democratizing power, Rattray conveyed that Change.org‘s goal is to create universal access for the purpose of mass coordination, taking away the barrior of cost and enabling individuals to lead and participate in a framework for change.
Flannery’s approach is still considered a bit unconventional he admitted, but with over $80 million in loans distributed to individuals working themselves out of poverty around the world, something’s working. And his advice to change business start-ups, “lots of sticky touchpoints” to engage and bring back your audience time and time again.
But Newcomb’s message was perhaps the most universally useful. Newcomb talked about his revelation a number of years ago that the world needed an Apollo project. But not just one. He spoke of the need to bring capitalists and activists together to create many Apollo projects. Virgance is one Apollo project creating many more.
And with the arrival of HUB to the bay area, perhaps many many more Apollo projects were born this evening and we’ll be that much closer to change in the next evolutionary cycle of this region’s rich innovative history.