Startups Giving Back: Living Life Deliberately - 1

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Startups Giving Back: Living Life Deliberately - 1
This is a discussion between ExitEvent founder Joe Procopio and Coursefork founder Elliott Hauser about The Startup Giveback, a charitable endowment endeavor to be kicked off with a cookout on Saturday, November 16th at ShoeBoxed (112 Broadway St, Durham, NC, 27701) from 1:00 to 4:00. You may know this location as the other half of the building that serves as the location for many ExitEvent Startup Socials. You should register, donate, and come have an awesome time at this family-friendly event.

Joe Procopio
I love this. Finally, a startup event to talk about something other than startups. And actually, I'm kind of sheepishly puzzled as to why this hasn't already happened. I wrote in another article that at some point in the arc of the Triangle startup growth story, you have to stop separating the startups from the established players when you're comparing companies. If the startups here want to be taken seriously, they have to be able to go head-to-head with them.

So I see the Startup Giveback as a first (maybe THE first) step in that direction.

Let me explain.

The Startup Giveback idea came up at an event back in September. Elliott brought it up, and it had obviously been on his mind, during a conversation with me and Adam Klein over drinks. The idea is for the Triangle entrepreneurial community to create its own charitable fund, in the form of an endowment that will benefit local charities perpetually. It's a big goal, which is why I like it and why I'm betting other entrepreneurs will like it.

Elliott Hauser
The common thing between benefiting charitable organizations and starting a business is that they're both about grabbing hold of the way things are, believing they can be different, and making them different. Of course not all startups or charities live up to this potential, but that's the goal, and what makes them unique.

What I love about what you've done with ExitEvent is that it's that same taking charge of life, but on a broader social level. You knew there needed to be something like the Socials and you made them happen. This has brought us together and made a platform for those of us who are making the world the way we know it can be to get together and form friendships around the mission. Turns out, that's the perfect group to start doing awesome charity work with :)

Are what you do at work, ExitEvent, and the good things you want for the world linked in your mind? I hadn't thought about them as connected for me but it seems like they are coming from the same place.

Joe Procopio
In certain aspects, yes. Automated Insights is about pushing the boundaries of science and technology. If personalized, automated content helps humankind in some way, and I think it will, then great, but that's not the focus.

ExitEvent definitely links the two. There's more to entrepreneurship than the average person knows about. To me it has to do with freedom and finding joy in life more than valuations and paydays. I want to spread that word via ExitEvent, free some minds, get people in charge of their own destinies.

But something like Startup Giveback is unique, because the cause is the direct driver. But ultimately, I agree with you. I think the idea of the Startup Giveback is very startup, it's very big, bigger than the sum of the parts.

So why do you think something like Startup Giveback hasn't happened yet? I hate to say it, but it seems like sometimes we entrepreneurs spend so much time heads down on the mission that we block out the bigger picture. I know I'm guilty of that.

Elliott Hauser
You know I think our community already is doing all sorts of great things. But we're doing them in isolation right now. For instance, the founders of recently exited startups iContact and Sharefile all gave back to the community in very big ways, but did so discretely. Our opportunity is to come together and celebrate not just the individuals who made the decision to give, but how we're building an explicit culture of giving.

You said, "To me it has to do with freedom and finding joy in life more than" money. That's something I'd say about the Giveback too. Sure, there's a fund, and we're raising money. But much more important than the cash is the statement that this is the way that we want to live and it's a way we can live. That's why there's that second set of goals: getting entrepreneurs to pledge 1% of the equity they personally own. If we can get broad buy-in to the idea that we're all working towards building up the same community buy pledging our equity I think that will be an unstoppable force in our culture here.

So, what remains to be seen is whether this call to action will resonate. We're taking a typically entrepreneurial approach to the event and the fund. This initial event is like an alpha, and we'll refine from there. It's built on conversations we've had with lots of entrepreneurs over the past month so I think we're on track.

Thinking ahead to next year or even next decade, do you have a vision of what an engaged Triangle startup community looks like? What things besides this event and the fund are needed to get there? I'm honestly not sure what the answers are here.

Startups Giving Back: Living Life Deliberately - 2
Joe Procopio
You know, Brad Feld talks about the startup community build being a 20-year endeavor, and I think we're in about year five now. We've crushed it so far, and I see this as a necessary evolutionary step. As much as our startups need to stand with the local corporate entities, our startup "scene," so to speak, needs to start focusing on the next level of growth, not just going from idea to reality, but what that reality means.

So what kind of impact are they making on the world at large? What are we doing, outside of just creating the company, to make that company a commercial and community success.

Startups Giving Back: Living Life Deliberately - 3
Elliott Hauser
The fund itself can be kind of a record of our collective success. It remains to be seen whether it will become the cause of choice for our entrepreneurs but whatever form it takes, I think we'll look back on this formative time and see that by getting together and thinking about what kind of community we really wanted, we were able to build it.

This brings me back to something I've heard many entrepreneurs say: "focus on building the best business you can- the rest will fall into place". That's exactly right, and the 1% pledge makes it official. All the hard work we're doing as a community really will come back to benefit our region tangibly.

So, my 'ask' for ExitEvent readers is to come to the kickoff, enjoy some food, fun, and beer, and think about what kind of community you want to build. If the fund's monetary or pledge goals resonate with you, join us!