When David Gorodyansky and his co-founder Eugene Malobrodsky launched AnchorFree in 2005, it was a cloud-based company offering a way to keep your personal information secure when you surf the Web. The duo had loftier goals in mind, however: they wanted to positively impact a billion people. Unfortunately, they hadn't yet worked out how to accomplish that.
Then in 2011, during the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt, one million people downloaded the company's free app HotSpot Shield in 24 hours to bypass government censorship of the Internet. The app enabled the protestors to use Twitter to organize. Once the founders realized their company was achieving such widespread social good, they "added freedom to the business model."
"I always tell entrepreneurs that what you have in your heart often happens to you and you don't know how," says Gorodyansky, a 2011 Inc. 30 Under 30 honoree. "You don't always have to have a business plan, but you have to have an idea to impact a billion people. There's no company in the world that has impacted a billion people and isn't a multimillion-dollar company."
With 200 million users around the world and 250,000 new users signing up every day, HotSpot Shield is the reason protesters from Egypt, Turkey, Thailand, China, and now Venezuela have been able to access Twitter. The virtual private network app works anywhere and protects against 3 million different types of malware threats, phishing attacks, and spam. AnchorFree generated $35 million in revenue last year--not too shabby for a company with such a heavy emphasis on making a positive impact on the world.
Gorodyansky tells Inc. that three people inspired him to start a company committed to social good. Read below about those who pushed him toward that goal, and the lessons he learned.
Have a vision
Gorodyansky's grandfather instilled a vision in him to do something big--the desire to help a billion people. "My grandfather fought in World War II for Russia. He flew with the Russian air force as a photographer to take pictures of German bases and then bomb them. But he also took part in freeing concentration camps. When I was growing up hearing these stories over the dinner table, I'd wonder what I would do when I grew up to save thousands of lives," Gorodyansky says. "That was always an inspiration--my grandfather helped save the world, basically. What was I going to do to save the world?"
In college, Gorodyansky came across Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus's books
Banker to the Poor and Creating a World Without Poverty. Yunus, who found Grameen Bank to provide microcredit loans to the poor in Bangladesh, created the idea of microlending, and has helped 100 million people raise themselves out of poverty. "Muhammad Yunus influenced me in a very practical way. His books taught me that yes, it is possible to take 100 million people out of poverty with an unconventional idea, and it can be profitable," Gorodyansky says.
Figure out the logistics
Bert Roberts, former chairman of the telecom company MCI, was a major business influence on Gorodyansky. Roberts, who was AnchorFree's first investor, helped Gorodyansky and Malobrodsky build their board and get smart investments. "At least three days a month he would come out and we'd spend time together in person, and I'd talk to him every other day on the phone," Gorodyansky says. "He was very involved in helping us through all the details of the business, the technology, the patents, the partners we should make, but it was never like he was running the business. He was a mentor and a huge inspiration. He always believed in me, especially in the hardest moments. I'd think, if I don't succeed I'd be letting him down."
What Differentiates Social Entrepreneurs
If the goal of your business is to improve the world, you're ultimately trying to put yourself out of a job.