The last few months have been quite a ride for me.
I’ll save the lessons learned (and there are many) for a later date, but the question I’ve been asked the most since January is, “how long are you staying at Causes?”
This question probably has something to do with the last time I was part of an acquisition, but a lot is different this time around.
This time, I didn’t find out about the acquisition of Votizen by reading TechCrunch in the morning. This was a deliberate decision I had a large role in, along with my co-founder and the rest of the company. Everyone had a say, and I’m proud that nearly all of us made the decision to go along.
Second, in 2007 I joined Mint as lead designer because I saw an amazing opportunity. I saw a compelling value proposition that most startups were missing back then (and still are). There was an opportunity to build an amazing brand, and I could learn a lot about startups that I could apply later.
When it sold, I felt I had done what I had set out to do. Although I felt the larger mission of the company—to help people understand their money—was unfinished, I didn’t see the same kind of risk-taking and innovation as likely to happen at Intuit. I wouldn’t be able to have the impact in the world that I became an entrepreneur to have. My days became filled with design-by-committee conference calls where people were compelled to say “no” to justify being on the payroll. We also spent our entire existence positioning ourselves against them so it was tough to feel good about joining in. The culture of our startup and the culture of Intuit were not well matched in my opinion, and it seemed that the mission had long since bled out of that place.
There’s also the matter of appreciation. Everyone wants to feel like they have value to an organization. I heard later from more than one Intuit employee that they were excited to have me, but nobody from Intuit reached out. It wasn’t clear to me what Intuit truly valued about the company, but it clearly wasn’t me–and that’s okay.
Most importantly though, I wasn’t passionate enough about personal finance. My mission wasn’t to transform money management, though it felt good to help people. I worked in the problem space for a few years, but I became swept up in electoral politics during the 2008 election. I had an interest in elections ever since the first one I could vote in ended via Supreme Court decision. Carnegie Mellon was a campaign stop for Al Gore in 2000, for John Kerry in 2004, and finally the wide open primary of 2008 was too compelling of a story to ignore. I saw my very first episode of Meet the Press with Tim Russert and I was hooked. It was something that I couldn’t shake, and I began to think about the problems in the space and play around with building products in my spare time, sacrificing fun and relationships in the process. I couldn’t not build something in politics, and over the next year I found my mission.
Once you figure out what that is, and believe it’s possible, the rest of the decisions become a lot easier. Your mission becomes what defines your success. So I asked myself, where is it that I can go that gives me the best chance of success as I define it?
I’m not interested in being a founder for the sake of the title, or hacking on an inconsequential project just to build, or raising money because I can. I’m interested in making voters so powerful that no amount of money or top-down advertising will make any difference in an election. Social media has created a new era of many-to-many communications on a massive scale, which has yet to fully break down our politics.
I’m now working with a lot of incredible people with a common vision. We’ve spent months now re-imagining the product, and integrating the never-realized Votizen roadmap. Long gone is Causes on Facebook, and birthday wish, and in its place is emerging a new, powerful platform for citizen-driven change. I’m valued, appreciated, there’s culture alignment with Votizen, and—most importantly—I’m making a difference.
How long will I stay?
I’ve told many people I’ve run into over the years, that entrepreneurs are irrational people. You can have a safer income, and usually a higher one, doing a lot of other things. Success is incredibly rare. Starting a business and changing the base of political power in America takes that to a whole new level, but that’s me. As long as I’m crazy enough to think I can do this, I’m going to do so.
So if you’re contemplating a change of scenery, ask yourself where you can have the greatest impact on your mission. It could be a small startup, or your own if nobody else will let you pursue the innovation you want to see in the world. It could be a large company that will give you the resources to get you where you need to go, or if your mission is the same as mine, It could be right here, sitting next to me.