Nov 18, 2017 Marianne Vikkula
Ultimately, we see profit and purpose as a virtuous circle. In the right combination, they form a flywheel that will deliver enormous financial returns while transforming capitalism in a world positive way. Companies with leaders guided by strong moral compass drive the creation of built-to-last cultures.
Recent data – from McKinsey to Nielsen – also demonstrate that consumers are rewarding companies with this worldview, and companies with more diverse teams are more profitable and able to hire the best talent. We are also starting to see emerging venture capital funds who are using a similar lens to make their investments.
The elements of successful companies are the same, irrespective of industry. It all starts with the company’s purpose aligned to solving a big problem, and are supported by four interconnected operational levers: aligned culture, innovative product, social or environmental benefit, and profitable growth.
Today, our firm invests across three categories: sustainable systems, healthy living, and people power. However, we are currently thinking about how different emerging technologies (Blockchain, AI, Robotics, Machine Vision) can solve those big problems within the framework we have established. Specifically, I’m interested in their applications in the future of health, work and money.
We invest in areas that leverage technology to make life better for people on the planet: healthier food, electrification of transportation, outcome-based healthcare, transparent financial systems, and many more. Our idea is the opposite of corporate philanthropy. It’s the idea that businesses addressing systemic social and environmental challenges have advantages in the market and can outperform their more traditional peers. These types of businesses have a sustainable positive impact. Their profits further their purpose, and their margins drive their mission.
We start by running each investment opportunity through a rubric that includes evaluating the systemic challenge, the disruptive solution, the entrepreneur, and potential venture returns. We then use that to create an aggregate world positive score and subsequently have a team discussion about it.
We’ve invested in a new payer model where the aim is to build an insurance company that incentivizes and enables providers to keep people healthy, and in the process lower costs by improving patient outcomes.
As an operator, you’re driving the business. As an investor, you’re a guide. And one has to know the roles you’re playing.
We obsessed about our mission and purpose: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. We didn’t accept business practices that fly in the face of what we stand for. Sometimes that caused tension, but our patience and dedication to purpose paid off. I wrote earlier this year a piece on what today’s entrepreneurs can learn from the culture that made Patagonia tick.
30 minutes of clearing my head, and 15 of minutes of thinking through what needs to be accomplished today.
In the business world, it was Patagonia. As an operator and later as an investor, I’ve found that doing the right thing almost always pays off.
Two things: is there a way to reimagine corporate structure in a distributed way that is more inclusive and rewards people in ways commensurate with their contributions? Also, how can technologies (AI, robotics) be utilized to augment human potential?
I have chosen, after Patagonia, to build a career around investing in meaningful things which move the world forward. If you’re a capitalist, that line of thinking has not always been well understood or embraced. It’s been a calling for me and something I can contribute. Between Patagonia and today, there have been a lot of ups and downs as relates to this – calling all of which have been learning moments.
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