Video Transcript

00:09 Ben Rattray: So you might say, "Well that's all nice and good, Ben, you run this really great social good company. It's really feel-good, but how are you gonna scale the damn thing? How do you make money and build a real business on this to build something substantial over time?" So stepping back in 2006 when I was here in DC and decided to start the organization, I had never had any experience in the non-profit sector.

00:33 Rattray: So while my natural inclination was we're in a social good space, what should we do? Should we be non-profit or company? I said, "Look, I think the company is where there is immense capacity for social good and credible ability to have impact in massive scale and grow like no other kind of non-profit that I've seen, so naturally I'm gonna start it as a company, as a social enterprise." And the non-profit sector was shocked at this because we're called change.org and they thought this was these crazy mercenaries. They're really skeptical. These guys are just trying to make money and my response is the dot org that we have in our name, this is because the mission we have as an organization not because of our tax status.

01:13 Rattray: And if you look at over the past several decades, the 100 companies that have been or the 100 organizations that have been the biggest and had the most impact in the lives of people, actually in most cases are non-profits. They're mostly companies. We think companies are this incredible force for social good, and so we started the organization as a company and because of that, of course, didn't make it any easier to start or succeed, but it meant that revenue really mattered from day one because we wanted to maintain our independence, I'll talk about in a second.

01:43 Rattray: And so over the past couple of years we built the biggest ad network focused on social causes in the world, around social good businesses, around companies, around political campaigns. Immense, immense, immense network right now that is generating millions of leads for organizations. So this became sufficiently successful that about two years ago, a year and a half ago, we decided we wanted to accelerate and wanna go international. I wanna use this model that's happened to the US and we wanna spread it around the world 'cause people power is not an American thing. It's not even a Western thing. It is a fundamentally human desire to come together to call for basic justice, equality, or whatever the public might want.

02:21 Rattray: So we start to talk to investors and then I do something that people think is crazy. I say, "We're never gonna sell the company and we're never going to the public, but we want your money." And my friends in the valley all of whom had raised substantial money from venture capitalists thought this was ridiculous and so did venture capital firms. So we ended up talking to bunch of firms who otherwise would've given us a lot of money, and we said, "Look, we have this passion, this vision, of a company that's gonna last 100 years, have a massive impact in the world. We'll be profitable, we'll make money over time, but the purpose of this organization is about the global empowerment company."

02:58 Rattray: And I said, "We're not gonna sell and we're not gonna go public," and I wanna highlight why that's the case. So on the selling side of things, the obvious reason is that we're a mission-driven company and wanna be able to maintain our own mission, but it actually goes beyond that, I think, in the fundamental core of business. I think that a lot of people in this room, a lot of friends of mine have sold their companies, and felt that was the right time for them, and I have enormous respect and no judgment for them at all. But, generally speaking, in the valley in particular, technology, but just in business in general, it's very rarely the case that a company once sold is even as successful as it could've been had they remained independent.

03:39 Rattray: What you wanna do if you're an internet company and you have all these competitors, the best thing that can happen to you is that AOL buys your company because they'll kill it. And so what you want is, you want all your competitors who were bought up by these big players and you have this bleeding of talent, the founders leave, all the innovators leave, the stagnation occurs, bureaucracy insets, and ultimately the company is a shadow of its former self. And then that's not why I started this company, that's not why entrepreneurs I think, in general, start their companies. They see this as the epitome of success, but really I think the epitome of success is a 100-year company that's independent, building awesome things that improve the world. So on the selling side, that was the first step.

04:17 Rattray: Then for going public, and I think a lot of you can be sympathetic to this, but it's not just the case that going public is this ridiculous extraction of time and resources for all these rules and regulations. It's this incredible infatuation with short-term profits at the expense of adding real value. This idea, this insidious idea, that the only responsibility of business is maximizing shareholder value, which while important if that's the exclusive thing that you're focused on, that is an incredibly impoverished perspective of the possibilities and power of business and we are better than that.

04:51 Rattray: And most entrepreneurs, if not all, certainly the successful ones, aren't starting their company because they wanna maximize the value of a bunch of day-traders and pension funds. They wanna change the world and make money in the process as a necessary condition of doing so. But I think I wanna call people to a higher service. The idea that all you're doing is focusing on the bottom line and the short-term or medium-term, I think again, is just loses the incredible vision of entrepreneurs putting a dent in the universe, which I hope most of us want to do.

05:24 Rattray: So despite those two things, we did receive a number of offers of investment and a number of very large ones and we turned almost all of them down except one that was, I think, from people that we think deeply feel the same way about the future of business, the possibility of companies as a tool and instrument for social good and the desire to start epic, iconic companies that last the test of time. And the lead investor is the Omidyar Network, Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay who is dedicated his substantial fortune to building businesses that matter with substantial impact. So we took those funds and we've been expanding ever since.

Rattray
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