It doesn't take much to notice that the definition of success in Silicon Valley is Uber. Their recent valuation of $72 billlion dwarfs the parade of unicorns we've seen in recent years and their global scale has changed transportation in nearly every country in the world.
While their growth is remarkable, Uber's focus on growing at all costs created a history of well-documented issues, from a toxic culture that includes claims of sexual harassment, assault and unequal treatment of underrepresented people, to documented threats made by senior leadership to journalists.
By anointing Uber as the gold standard for success, then we - the tech community - are complicit in a culture of toxicity. We are teaching entrepreneurs and investors to continue putting growth and profits ahead of creating a company that can make a positive impact in their employees' lives (through a safe and equal culture) and make a positive impact with products or technology that "do good" in the world.
But it doesn't need to be this way, and gratefully, there are examples of companies living with a new definition of success - one that is built on positive impact. There are leaders who treat "impact" as more than a buzzword.
Here's a look a three companies, at different stages of growth and in very different industries, proving that impact can create success while also "doing good" in the world.
Industry: Design Software
Stage: Series B (according to Crunchbase)
With over $24M in total funding, investor backing from Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures - among other Silicon Valley heavyweights - and clients like Spotify and Everlane, Abstract is a rising star in the design space with its collaborative software. But what makes this company so unique is that they see inclusion as the key to building a resilient, creative team that can build a better product in a changing market.
"If you have a homogenous monoculture, chances are you aren't going to adapt quickly or bring creative ideas to the table," says Chief People Officer, Jabulile Dayton. "This limits your perspective and ability to expand as a company and a business as you grow your product. When you bring in different points of view, backgrounds, ages and perspectives, you strengthen your ability to respond to market demand."
Even at this early stage, Abstract is investing in its employer brand identity and inclusive hiring and recruiting practices to include people of color, women, LGBTQ+ and remote talent outside of Silicon Valley. Leading the charge is Dayton, who spend 13 years at Nordstrom and built HR and Customer Service teams for Airbnb, Shyp, Taskrabbit and other Silicon Valley start-ups.
Her work is paying off, not only has the company seen 40% quarter-over-quarter growth in the last year, but their diversity stats blow the Silicon Valley standards out of the water. In less than two years, women represent a third of Abstract's employees, two-thirds of senior leadership and half of their investor board. African American and Latinx employees represent 20% of the company, people who identify as LBGTQ+ represent 14% and 60% of employees are remote.
To this company, diversity and inclusion is more than an initiative. It is their success model, and they aim to prove that it can - and should - be Silicon Valley's.
Industry: Outdoor Apparel
Patagonia - an outdoor outfitter - has a simple business model: it makes money by selling clothing and outdoor products to consumers. It also has a very powerful impact model: to support the environment and advocate for sustainable and responsible consumer behavior. In many notable cases, Patagonia chooses to put impact ahead of profits.
Led by founder Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia bucks the Silicon Valley "grow at all costs" attitude and lives its own ethos of sustainability. Patagonia surprised many with their "anti-growth" strategy and even marketed a "Responsible Economy" campaign which aims to reduce waste by reducing consumption and to build a sustainable business that can prioritize social impact.
Perhaps the best example of the power of impact is Patagonia's bold announcement to donate 100% of profits from their 2016 Black Friday sale to charities that help save our planet. They anticipated grossing $2 million in sales, yet ended up selling $10 million. With results like this, it's clear that putting social impact first can resonate with customers and increase sales.
It's hard to argue with the results. Patagonia makes hundreds of millions in sales every year and founder Yvon Chouinard is a billionaire.
While blockchain has the potential to be as disruptive as the internet, we are at risk of creating a new paradigm based on the same gender inequalities that currently exist in the finance and tech sectors.
In fact, some estimates state that women investors, users or creators only comprise between four and six percent of the blockchain industry. By becoming a block producer for the EOS blockchain, shEOS aims to address the gender gap and make a positive impact on achieving gender equality in blockchain.
By making diversity a priority at the first stage of the business (the entire leadership team is comprised of women), shEOS is helping change who owns the power and equity in blockchain. This helps shift the power from the people who have it now (men, and mostly white men), to underrepresented people. shEOS also has a scholarship program to help support women in blockchain.
Through their actions, shEOS is advocating that "decentralization" will be achieved through a diversification of stakeholders in cryptocurrencies and blockchain, and is not just a buzzword that describes the governance for blockchains.
In our existing paradigm, success doesn't need to include impact. It's all about the bottom line. It's about money, fame and power. But these three companies are demonstrating that making an impact can actually drive your company to be more successful. We are living in a time when consumers are watching how your brand shows up in the world. You have the opportunity to make impact a priority and make a more positive impact on the world.