Starting a company — any company — is hard. But starting a company with a social mission to improve the lives of millions of people around the world can be exceptionally difficult. Investors, regulatory agencies, and the mechanics of building something that generates revenue while helping those without the means to afford your wares can really throw a wet towel over a visionary dream.
But it can also be exceptionally rewarding. There’s a particular moment that hasn’t happened yet that I hold on to as if it were a half-lived dream. Handing something I built from nothing to a small child in a war-torn, hopeless village, and watching her glow bright with excitement about how this thing could change her life forever.
That moment is what gives me energy and passion to do the things I need to do to build something great. And that moment, when it happens, will energize an entire team of people around me to take our nascent idea and multiply it by a billion.
Marco writes about the false belief that every startup is solving a real problem — an important problem. From his article:
“Right now, entrepreneurs are trying to fix things that aren’t broken. And we can all name a lot of things that are broken: healthcare, education, homelessness and poverty, food waste, climate change… need I continue? These aren’t even small market problems. There is so much room for people with good ideas to make change, and probably make some good money while they’re at it.”
Startups — especially those based in Silicon Valley — have focused too much on solving problems that have already been solved, or aren’t really problems at all. How many different ways can you really do email marketing? How many sushi restaurant finding apps do we really need?
There are real-world problems in health care, education, digital inclusion, and global connectivity that desperately need new solutions. But too many entrepreneurs and investors are focused on the wrong metrics, and paint themselves as world-changers even though they aren’t changing anything at all. Profit shouldn’t be the only Return on Investment that we seek.
CANDL was started in defiance to the dogmatic belief in the entrepreneurial/investor community that social problems are the work of non-profits and charities. We chose one of the hardest problems facing humanity — connecting displaced, distressed, and disconnected refugees back to the Internet and to one another.
Of course, we made it really hard for ourselves. We could have already made money selling something simpler, and we’ve turned down the wrong kinds of investment money. But our mantra isn’t “revenue and funding rounds at all costs”. Our mantra is “Connectivity is a Fundamental Human Right”.
CANDL has a mission to provide connectivity when and where it’s needed, not just where it’s profitable for carriers and service providers. And boy do we have some awesome ideas on how to do this.
We’re builders. We’re integrators. We’re creators. We’re storytellers. And we’re a team that works better together than individually. Each of us has our gift, and each of us has found individual success plugging into other systems, other companies. But coming together to build CANDL, to create something powerful and good for humanity from nothing but a half-considered idea…our individual gifts light up the room like an over-decorated Christmas tree, and together we will build something that can’t be ignored.
First, we’ll build the world’s best global hotspot with the world’s simplest data plan. This solves real problems for real people. Getting online when traveling is hard, expensive, and oftentimes both. The hotspots on the market are cheap, flaky, and tied down to complex or limited data plans. We’re building hotspots that are fast, sleek, rugged, and work with the world’s simplest data plan — pay a fair and affordable flat rate for what you use no matter where you are.
If we each live up to our potential and work as a team, we’ll build a solution so far beyond anything else out there it will be hard to keep them in stock. And we’ll feel good about each and every sale — because we’ll be connecting tens of thousands of people when and where they need it most — when they’re far away from home and would otherwise be disconnected.
Then we’ll use that success to launch new solutions for the millions of disconnected, displaced, and distressed people around the world. Because a successful, profitable venture is far and away the best platform from which to launch world-changing solutions.
We can repurpose trade-in hotspots and do donation drives for smartphones, laptops, and even unused data. We’ll empower refugees with bandwidth and computers so they can rebuild their lives. We’ll hand CANDL hotspots and battery banks out of the back of Team Rubicon trucks to hurricane & tornado survivors. We’ll connect schools and hospitals around the world, and drag connectivity out far beyond where the cellular networks can go.
And we’ll build radios and networks that even despotic governments can’t shut down when the people are restless.
In short, we’ll Build Something Great.
We should be holding ourselves to a higher standards than just #users, MRR, and SOM. I’m reminded of those metrics on a daily basis because they are absolutely critical to our success as a business venture first. But it’s gotten to the point that even I sometimes lose sight of our actual mission.
Our mission is to reconnect 1 million disconnected people around the world.
Investors are right to want a good return on their investment. And, especially here in Atlanta, the type of company that receives funding most often is some flavor of a B2B, SaaS, Data Analytics, Marketing Automation machine with a Patent-Pending Algorithm that incrementally improves on existing solutions in a saturated market. (That Patent part is especially important to some investors even for seed-stage companies, which is ridiculous. I’ll write about that soon enough.)
In Silicon Valley, it’s worse. When we visited the valley (all startups have to visit Mecca), we were told how outside the lane we were with our approach, and how if we wanted to get any real funding or traction, we’d need to abandon our ideals and follow the script that every startup out there follows. I came away with a renewed sense of direction and purpose — we don’t fit into Silicon Valley, and that’s 100% fine by us.
I guess we could have solved a simpler problem, and made more money. But I don’t wake up excited about an uptick in the MRR for a product that increases the click-through rate for an online marketer. I wake up thinking about how billions of people live in the same world as me with zero access to the Internet and digital tools, and the possibilities this connectivity could provide for them and their families. (Yes I actually wake up thinking about these things. Ask my wife.)
We’re motivated by the vision we share of helping Connect Global Citizens around the world.
I’ve always believed in Building Something Great. I’ve always been attracted to solving hard problems. And I think most of the people in startups feel the same way — they’re attracted to the Herculean challenges faced by startups on a daily basis. Unfortunately they’re wasting their time trying to fake excitement in what they’re building, falsely hoping that one day they’ll be able to do something great instead of something mundane.
Solve real problems people. We live in a world that could end world hunger and create economic and health conditions fair and equal across the globe whilst simultaneously protecting our environment for future generations. Why in the hell would you build another goddamned social media app, or a connected bra or connected diaper, when you could feed, clothe, educate, and put to work billions of real people around the world? That’s the question that defines why CANDL has a social cause.
If you are waking up unenthused about the thing you’re doing, maybe you should think about how you can help solve real, hard, solvable problems. And if you don’t know how to do that, help us.