The last time I talked with Chris Boggiano before about six weeks ago, was probably in 2005. He was an Army officer then, either on his way to or just coming home from Iraq. I was writing a book about his West Point class.
Fast-forward. I opened my email to find an announcement about his new product--a device called the Starling that helps parents keep track of how many words their babies hear, which in turn helps increase kids' intelligence later on in life.
It turns out this is Boggiano's second business. (As I say, we hadn't talked in a while.) He and his brother launched a company called Everblue.edu. They sold it. (I agreed not to say exactly how much he made, but it's enough that he wouldn't have to work again if he didn't want to), and the two brothers went to Stanford GSB together, where they spent most of their time working on an idea for their next venture.
What struck me besides the product (I'm a new dad, so it resonated with me), was the social mission behind it. I asked Boggiano to write down a few ideas about how he launched VersaMe and why the social mission mattered.
Here's what Chris had to say:
My brother Jon and I are Millennials, and our generation craves authenticity. Money is important to me, but only insofar how it allows me to accumulate meaningful experiences and memories.
That's why when Jon and I began tossing around ideas, our only nonnegotiable rule was that the new company had to advance a social mission. We'd founded Everblue.edu in part to address climate change, and we'd loved the experience.
Thirty years of research tells us that 90% of a child's brain growth happens before they start school. Since child-directed talk is like a miracle drug for young brains, we built the Starling to encourage parents to do more of the one thing that can set kids up for success in life: engage.
We eventually founded VersaMe, an education company building the Starling, a wearable device that helps babies and toddlers develop their language skills sooner. (The Starling recently came available for pre-orders, and we expect to deliver the first units to parents by spring.)
As a parent of two little girls (ages 4 and 1), I'm excited to be building a technology that will actually pull me toward my children (unlike say, my iPhone). It will help make my family stronger and reduce my stress by reminding me that by spending time with my girls, I'm also doing what's best for their development.
We are hardly alone in our mindset, and the law is slowly catching up. In 2010, Maryland became the first state to provide for benefit corporations--for-profit entities whose charters express goals of positively impact society and the environment, in addition to maximizing profit for shareholders. In the five years since, 30 other states and the District of Columbia have followed suit.
When I was freezing, wet and exhausted in the Army, knowing that I was serving my country kept me going. Likewise, startups rarely have enough people, money, or resources to do everything they want to, especially compared to bigger and more established companies. A mission mindset--and a motivated and passionate team--can make all the difference in the world.