Sam Fankuchen is the Founder & CEO of Golden, a platform that makes it easy for anyone to volunteer and for organizers to manage their volunteers and staffing programs.
This episode was important to release now because of the amazing free tool Golden just launched, “Mutual Aid,” which helps anyone organizing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic so they don’t have to worry about the infrastructure and can focus on making a difference.
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In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:
- Sam Fankuchen
- Advent Health
- Not Impossible Labs
- Stanford d.school
- Design Thinking
- Arne Sorensen, CEO of Marriott video addressing all associates about the impact of COVID19
- David Kelly & IDEO
- Annenberg Foundation
- Pledge LA – Diversity & Inclusion for Companies in LA
- ReFed Project
- Feeding America
- Ritz Carlton Culture
- Disney Culture
Transcripts may contain typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Andrew 00:02:14 Is this thing on? okay. Got it. Okay. Well, Sam officially welcome to the show. It’s so good to see you. Thanks for being here.
Sam 00:02:20 It’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me, Andrew.
Andrew 00:02:23 Oh, absolutely. I I’m so excited for this conversation. You’re I remember when I first conceived doing this podcast, I had a brainstorm, like, who would I want to have on this, on the show? And you were one of the people I liked. I was like, I really got to get them on the show. So I’m so excited you’re here. Where I actually want to start is I’m a little bit more on the personal side and in a conversation like we’re about to have, and with your story in particular, the personal and the professional are definitely interwoven. And so I was hoping you could tell me the story of how this all started, which I think was on a road trip at the end of high school.
Sam 00:03:00 Sure. So before I get started in a very long founder story, which is a great pleasure me to share, I’ll just share some background that today. I guess if people know who, who I am or think of me in any kind of professional setting, they’re probably thinking of me in connection to golden, which I found it and, uh, my interests and volunteering and what it’s like to volunteer have gone back for many years since I was in high school. And I graduated high school in 2004. And when I was in high school, I was at the regular kid. I was interested in the same kind of things. Most people are interested in, in high school meeting people, having fun, playing sports, going out on the weekends, going to the beach. And where was the yeah, I was in Southern California. I went to a high school called Sage Hill school, which if you’re trying to place it mentally many beliefs, there’s inspiration for the TV show, the OC.
Sam 00:03:52 You could say that, that my high school experience there, uh, many ways resembled the show. And I also went to a very old boarding school on the East coast for a little bit, and then ended up transferring back. And at the time that I went to stay at shell, it started my freshman year. And by the time that I graduated in 2004, I was part of the first class to ever graduate that school, which was a very entrepreneurial experience in its own kind of setting things up from scratch. And so after high school, I ended up going on a 12,000 mile road trip all around the country, basically with three of my best friends. And I remember writing in my journal an entry about never really having a good volunteering experience, which is a bizarre thing for me to write about because I was never really into volunteering in high school.
Sam 00:04:35 I tried a lot. And at first I was an Intuit because my perception about what volunteering was, was informed by a bunch of what I thought to be disingenuous. Whereas other people found their way to volunteering. So somebody told them to do it. They got in trouble or they’re very involved in a religious community and it was a part of it. Or they’re trying to go to a competitive college and they wanted to look compelling on paper. And none of those paths really spoken. But what was really interesting about the idea of volunteering to me was there were things I hadn’t experienced yet. Maybe volunteering could be a freeway to go and experience those things while improving somebody else’s quality of life, where while becoming more familiar with things that affect all of our quality of life. And maybe through those experiences, I would have a better understanding of where to spend my time and really what I wanted to do with my life.
Sam 00:05:25 And so I tried volunteering every possible way I could think of. I asked my school, I asked friends, who’d done it. I went online and I tried to look on every single website. I tried calling volunteer centers. I tried calling random nonprofits. And what I found was a journey that just seemed impossibly difficult to navigate. So I would have to become inspired and relate that idea of what I wanted to do to what organizations might exist to go do. And those things have to figure out what programs they offer. If they had volunteering a part of that who was in charge have to get ahold of them. Usually that meant leaving a voicemail and waiting a couple of weeks. If I was lucky enough to hear back from them by voicemail or email, then I have to see if they needed to screen me with an interview or an application after that, if I was qualified to do any of the activities, if I’d commit to doing like a year or two years of work regularly in advance before even having one experience, if I’d have to do a background check or a TB test or get references and all these things, basically to act on an idea that I had to be helpful to somebody after school or on the weekends.
Sam 00:06:30 And when you go through all those hoops, or when I did, I just had this sense of a system working against me. It wasn’t just one experience. It was every experience. And I ended up volunteering a lot. Some experiences were terrific. Others were not, um, terrific. And none of them met my expectations, you know, whatever it was I thought I was going to be doing at the onset. Usually didn’t resemble the reality. And I just thought, well, it’s one thing. If things don’t work out the way I imagined, but if I’m this motivated, then what does everybody else has experienced if they ever thought to volunteer? And that’s kind of a shame and you know, the statistics now and they’ve changed over the years has gotten a little better in recent years, but it’s used to hover around 2020 5% of Americans would volunteer every year, even though somewhere between 80 and 90% of Americans say they want to volunteer.
Sam 00:07:19 And the difference between the number who think they do want to go, and those who do go is purely just the difficulty of navigating the process. And it’s a, that’s a real shame. It’s just tough numbers to look at. And you know, all of us go through life. And every once in a while we find things we’re good at, or we’re interested in and we wonder how much of a difference we can make. And I’m very interested in trying to make a difference through direct service. But one of the things that I think I can do really well is take a little chip away at that huge disparity between the number of people who say they want to help. And those who do by making the system more intuitive, more natural, more friendly, more engaging, more meaningful, more personalized, all the things that we come to love in other consumer experiences, um, that, that we do.
Sam 00:07:58 So I had this idea in the journal too. This is, you know, 2004 to build a website that could match anybody of any background with any level of experience, with some form of service. That was an extension of who they are, what they like to do with their time. And so I ended up going to Stanford as an undergrad, and I started as a public policy major and soon after discovered the field of social entrepreneurship, which I didn’t even know how to a term associated with that everybody’s definition of what social entrepreneurship is berries, but I have my own right around that time. That was about the time I first heard that term as well. Do you remember when you first, when that idea first hit you? Like what was the setting? I remember exactly where I was, it was in a public policy class when we started doing some case studies on cross sector initiatives, um, that were entrepreneurial in their nature, but also delivered a social benefit as the core of their operations.
Sam 00:08:50 And I just knew it right, right then and there, the things I’d always been interested in how to discipline wrapped around them. It was called social entrepreneurship. And I approached the teacher after class and just said, Hey, I’m so thrilled about this section of the class. This is the most important thing to me. This is what I really want to understand. And so if you can point me in the direction of any other resources or things I can think about, or maybe what I should study, or here’s the idea then working on, it’s trying to create this website. I’ve been working with a kid in my dorm on it. Um, how do I develop this idea while studying the material? And it’s, it started a whole thing. I ended up being the first person ever at Stanford to major in social entrepreneurship. I designed a whole program around it.
Sam 00:09:30 Oh, wow. Basically by going through the course catalog and trying to find everything that looked like it was relevant for social entrepreneurship. And I had a very interesting advisor at the time, this guy, Doug McAdam, and I just, you know, started workshopping the ideas with him and we designed a curriculum and that’s what I did. And about a little later in the year, my sophomore year, I was pitching the idea for what would become pinwheel in class or a website where anyone of any background could find and sign up for opportunities as an extension of whoever they are doing whatever they like to do for fun. And, uh, we got offered funding like legitimate, huge documents, term sheets, everything from two very large Silicon Valley companies. Um, and so I went back to my advisor and I said, this kind of unexpected thing happened. I’d say, go meet some people in the Sheridan Palo Alto on a Sunday.
Sam 00:10:22 I just met them on Thursday in class. And they want to talk about investing in this idea. Um, how should I think about planning the major around this? Can I do some work study things or whatever? And he just turned around, went to his printer, printed out a piece of paper, stuck it on the desk and said, this is all you need to stop going to Stanford, just sign this form. And I was so taken aback. I, my mind was that, you know, this is a dream for me. I want to do whatever I can do to, to make this work. But how am I going to juggle this with studying abroad and all the other plans I had for school. And he just looked at me and shook his head and he goes, now, this is, this is a good idea. You should do it.
Sam 00:10:59 You need to quit Sanford. It’s like, get out of here. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, try explaining that to your parents. And that was gonna be my next question, what our kids did something right. Somehow this person who wasn’t studying all the time in high school ended up in a good school, a good college. And it seems like he’s got opportunities in front of him, but why does he want to stop going? And surprisingly, my parents just said, okay, just go do it. They didn’t even ask any questions. Wow. Um, so I’m very lucky to have parents that believe believed in me, um, at that time. So anyway, I ended up forming a team and scaling pinwheel. It became the most popular website for anybody age 13 and up, um, of any background to find and participate in volunteer opportunities in San Francisco. And over the course of doing that, this guy, David Kelly, who founded the firm IDEO, uh, and is generally kind of recognized as being the father of design thinking or the field of looking at a problem, putting yourself in the perspective of somebody who’s trying to do something and going through the journey of what you would do to do the thing you want to do and figure out where there’s friction, where things didn’t seem natural and then design products and services that better suit what somebody’s natural intent or behaviors.
Sam 00:12:09 And my advisor said, Hey, this guy’s really interesting. And he’s starting this program. Would you consider coming back to school and maybe applying to the design school at Stanford? So, um, having only done two years of undergraduate, I technically wasn’t eligible to go to the design school cause you needed to be concurrently enrolled in a graduate program at Stanford in order to then apply to the design school. And it was very competitive among generally engineering business education students to apply to D school. But, you know, I applied to graduate program, got into a graduate program, uh, applied to the D school. I got into the D school and there was this, you know, I don’t know how old I was, maybe 21 or something kid in a class with a bunch of graduate students, um, there, which was basically pure magic for anybody who’s, who’s interested in those fields.
Sam 00:12:58 At the time. I also wrote my master’s thesis based on a bunch of research I had done with the organizations we were working with on how to recruit, retain, and optimize the lifetime value of volunteers and donors. And I became interested in that because I had been approaching the experience of volunteering mostly from the standpoint of a volunteer or a participant. And then very quickly realized after working with hundreds or that a thousand organizers, a lot of the patterns of how they run these programs are very similar. And yet there are no best practices. Nobody trains you on how to run an engagement program. It’s kind of something you inherit from whoever was there before you or something that you stick your thumb in the wind and guess what kind of tools you’re used to using and see if they could apply. And most of the time that met just a lot of paperwork, a lot of back and forth communication, a lot of churn of participants. And that really bothered me because if you’re a resource constraint as an organizer or a nonprofit, why do you want to be spending so much money trying to recruit people that don’t work out and that don’t deliver lifetime value to you, either as a volunteer or a donor or, you know, some kind of a activator or the network.
Andrew 00:14:03 So a little bit earlier you were mentioning that design thinking is this sort of very particular way of approaching a problem and designing a solution. And so I was curious if you could tell me a little bit more about that. Like when you, you know, if we fast forward in time to where you are, you know, it’s, I think it’s roughly 2015, 2016 when you started golden. And I’m curious if you could, um, tell me a little bit about that process that you went through in terms of choosing, like, how did you think through and choose and design that intervention? Like how did you know there’s so many ways you could’ve gone after this, this challenge that you’ve been interested in since high school, how, what was the process you use to come to this one?
Sam 00:14:36 So in design thinking classically, you identify a pain point that you think, for example, a consumer of something they have, and you start to do a bunch of user research about who that consumer is. And eventually through that user research, you develop persona persona is for example, Andrew and Andrew is a 30 year old male who works in innovation around agriculture and also runs a podcast. And you sort of, you put flesh on that person, you really understand who they are. And then you say, you know, Andrew wants to do this thing. And so we’re going to watch the way he currently does it. And we’re going to see over the quarter because of what he’s doing, where he’s encountering friction or pain, trying to do what he wants to do and start to test ideas that we think we might have. I have about things that would make his process easier so that it ends being more straightforward, more natural for him to get to his goal, whatever it is, and that’s called the journey.
Sam 00:15:33 So once you define the persona and you map out the journey, the idea is that you can start prototyping solutions to the original problem, much more naturally and quickly got it. And, uh, for me, the initial problem was always, why is it so hard to volunteer if being helpful should be the easiest thing to go and do it? Why is it the hardest? Why is it literally harder to apply for a mortgage times than volunteer? And then through the experience of starting pinwheel and working with all of these organizers, another problem statement became well, if there are one and a half million official five Oh one C, three nonprofits in the United States on can there really be 1.5, a million different processes for engaging volunteers like that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. And so using a lot of the research, I did my master’s thesis and original research after that too.
Sam 00:16:24 Um, there were basically two problem statements. How do you make it easier to volunteer in a meaningful way, kind of over your lifetime? Okay. And then how do you help organizers spend as much time as possible working on their missions directly and interacting with their staff and as least time as possible administrating programs. And, uh, so you basically, you have to do two different users, the center design exercises for each of those parties, and then you have to figure out exactly for lack of a better term, what kind of transaction makes most senses most natural for them to do together? So what happens next is, um, you know, after the D school and after working at Penske, I had worked, um, at a firm that at the time was the biggest onshore mobile app development company. And I had a lot of experience there, um, working with mobile first and, and connected device technologies and thinking about platform, business models, and really how to deliver value at scale with minimal operating costs. I was again, you know, learning all of these things in the context of consulting work and bringing them back to the problem statements. I’ve always been most interested to, um, to dress. So basically applying those design, thinking frameworks and techniques and practices involved in building internet of things, ecosystems basically created an environment that made it easier for everyone to participate in, uh, volunteering and frankly, any form of engagement advocacy or, or even got
Andrew 00:17:50 It. And so that’s what resulted in golden.
Sam 00:17:52 Yeah. I mean, the idea with golden is two things. One, we want everyone to be able to live in more of their golden moments through service, those moments in life, where you look around and, you know, you’re really happy doing the things you’re doing. And if you could repeat that moment forever, you would do it, but that’s what life’s meant to be for. And that we can help organizers get to their missions more quickly by helping them recruit and allocate resources, optimally toward their programs rather than spending time learning how to be a small business operator and learning how to use all kinds of different tools when your background is in working on the mission or organizing people offline. So, you know, today, those who know golden, either known for being the most popular app for volunteering or being the most globally awarded platform for organizing these programs.
Sam 00:18:36 And the reason that it’s scaled up, um, you know, to the degree that it’s scaled up so far. And I say that just thinking that where we are now is nowhere near where we’re trying to be. Um, but we’re on our way is because we just created things that were much more intuitive for people to use to accomplish their objectives. So if you’re a regular person, you can go download our app on iOS or Android or go use it on the web on any internet connected device. And in seconds we’ll know who you are. We’ll give you opportunities. Those are live signups. It’s not, Hey, this is kind of what we might do. Why don’t you express some interest and then we’ll get back to you. It’s a hotels.com priceline.com experience for finding your right ways to engage. And on the other side for organizers, it’s no longer which, you know, free or paid tools, do we have to cobble together to be able to find people, qualify them, schedule them, check them in, get all their documents processed, um, you know, keep track of what they were doing, report it to their company or their school, you know, reengage them.
Sam 00:19:35 Um, and you know, how do you do it with all the things that your advertisements for instead, it’s just, you know, there’s a simple website it’s probably free for you. It’s only a paid service once you really get into robust use cases and, you know, within seconds or minutes, it can be running a program. And, um, so it’s, it’s a pleasure for us to work with people that have that mindset.
Andrew 00:19:54 Yeah know, I love that. Like one of the things that came up a lot when I was, when I was doing the research and getting ready for this conversation, um, I, you know, you and I have known each other for a while now, but I didn’t realize the, the, um, almost psychological, uh, Genesis of golden. And what I mean by that is like, I didn’t, I had never really thought about that. I never really considered the idea that volunteering is a really great way to improve your own happiness. Like that’s kind of obvious and that’s, that’s sort of a well known thing, but I didn’t realize how big of an influence that was on doing this project. Like, you know, it seems like one of the motivations for you, uh, you know, you talked about, you’re very interested in helping people improve the quality of life on, on like the largest possible that largest possible scale you can get to. Um, but I had, I just thought it was so interesting that that idea of really helping people live more fully and like make the most out of their life and that this was like your access point into doing that. I didn’t, I just never realized that before. And just, that was, I thought that was such a cool motivation
Sam 00:20:48 And so distinct from what I often, what I often hear from other founders. Thanks for that. As an entrepreneur, my deepest personal motivation is to, is to recognize how precious life is and to be spending as much as my time living as possible, doing the things I think that are most meaningful and maybe even some things that might outlast me. Um, and the deepest frustration that I’ve had my entire life is watching other people live their life without access to the things that they know are going to enrich it, or, or make them happier or suffering, or even worse than suffering. I’m not taking advantage of the opportunities that they have, that they can’t even recognize. Yeah. And there’s some things in life that make everybody happy, but for each of us, those things may be slightly different. And if you look at what most of us consider to be wellness, many of those things are core drivers of happiness.
Sam 00:21:43 So you’ve got diet and exercise and spirituality and all these other things that are now mainstream kind of lifestyle things. But there is no more sincere pleasure for me. And for many people than the experience of surrendering yourself and adopting somebody else’s point of view for a period of time walking in their shoes, understanding the life they lived and then returning to your own life, because that experience will just show you some contrast. It’s not necessarily good or bad. It’s not like saying, Oh, you know, this is tiding for having a high quality of life. Why don’t you go and find somebody who has a lower quality of life and then appreciate what you have it’s instead, what would happen if I changed everything about my life, you know, are there opportunities for me? Are there things that I would really miss that I didn’t appreciate enough?
Sam 00:22:32 And then you can spend more time focusing on those things. Yeah. If you’re looking at it from like a purely selfish point of view, that’s why we think service is a really excellent wellbeing lifestyle. And there’s a lot of scientific and academic evidence to show that people who volunteer live happier and fuller lives, it really comes down to that basic interaction of let’s put somebody else’s priorities first and let’s, let’s see what’s happening. And the beauty of that in the context of service beyond yourself is you’ll start to realize that there are a lot of things happening in the world that don’t need to be the way they are. And if we maybe were a little more thoughtful that then everybody’s life would be better because of it. And one other way to think about that is there are problems that for sure could be solved if people thought about them better and made better decisions.
Sam 00:23:20 So an example of a problem that can be solved for me is hunger. You know, in the United States, we preserved, we produce somewhere between three and seven times more food than we need to feed everybody. And yet even 25% of veterans are food insecure. Those numbers are much higher in certain, in certain communities. And, um, that just doesn’t seem right. I think if you had enough intelligent people on, there are some really intelligent people like the re fed project or America who are working on these things, um, thousands of organizations working on these things, um, and we can fix them and you’ll develop a real personal connection to, for example, hunger, if you understand what it’s like to be hungry or run a program, serving hungry people, and you start to see where there’s loss in the system or things aren’t done right, then you have a personal commitment to it and you have context and you know, where if you donated money, that money would be going and how much of it is needed.
Sam 00:24:09 And you can activate your network based on your own firsthand experience. And you can give to your full potential instead of just the $5 or the a hundred dollars. So they asked you to give, um, those are terrific. And then those things that are, that are existential, or maybe not going to get solved, for example, or get solved in a certain time presence. So will we find a cure for COVID-19? Well, we find a cure for cancer. Will we be able to be an interplanetary species before the world melts any of those questions and those need R and D and they need more exposure and more ingenuity that only comes from just getting more familiar with the problem. So, um, yeah, that’s, that’s the psychological,
Andrew 00:24:45 You’ve also mentored a lot of entrepreneurs, right? You, you were a mentor at two of Ellie’s biggest accelerators, um, and have, you know, undoubtedly it between that and the other work you’ve done and the Bay area, you’ve, you’ve coached a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of people wanting to be entrepreneurs and, and, um, looking to make their Mark, we’ll just call it that one of the things that has come up a lot and people that I’ve gotten a lot of questions about from listeners and I have certainly grappled with in my own life. And I’m curious to get your take on is basically the choice of where, where to direct one’s energies. And I’m curious, just what advice do you have or what advice you’ve given to people when they are trying to find their version of volunteering as it is for you, so that, you know, that’s that space in which they can go and really lose themselves in contribution, uh, and enjoy all the benefits individually that that creates for them, but also make a real difference.
Sam 00:25:31 It’s hard to speak in general, in really general terms for them or for anybody else. I don’t, I don’t have anybody else’s genius idea, you know, tucked away somewhere. But what I do have is a profound, genuine interest in helping anybody else really pursue their dreams, whatever their dreams are. And there are plenty of people who may fit into a category that you mentioned, where they just haven’t found out what it is that they’re passionate about yet. And, um, I think there’s no harm in that at all. I think nobody, nobody should be in a position of being forced to just find a passion or else you end up like one of these unfortunate children and some countries elsewhere in the world who get trained from age two to be an Olympic athlete for 70, you end up, you end up getting funneled into a super competitive environment where you’re treated like a commodity.
Sam 00:26:19 And at some point somebody is going to be better at you than the one thing you were trained to do. And that to me is kind of not a fun outcome. Um, I think another way to think about how to coach people, to find their passion might be, if I were to imagine being a parent, every parent probably thinks about this, you know, your, your kid is born not knowing what’s expected of them. And, um, not really understanding exactly things that come to them more naturally, or that may be more interesting. Other people, you kind of go through that process with them. And I think, um, I’ve never parents it, but maybe someday I’ll be lucky enough to be a parent and one approach I might think a lot about in terms of parenting. And I’m glad my parents did for me. And my grandparents did for me, um, is to have a chance to explore a bunch of different things without judgment and, um, to, to really develop any interests. I mean, I am passionate about volunteering for the reasons I said, not the reasons other people told me you should be passionate about volunteering. And I’m also passionate about a whole bunch of other things in my life. And, you know, we should, we should all be so lucky to encounter things that stimulate us and to have an Avenue to pursue them further. And then sometimes those things are shared interests and sometimes they represent needs that nobody else has addressed yet. And then that’s when you know that you may have an opportunity.
Andrew 00:27:33 Absolutely. So I wanna, um, I want to talk about what you w what golden just launched into the world, because I think it’s, it’s timely. So for, for the listener, we’re recording this in April, 2020 during the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic, uh, which is obviously a giant black Swan event that nobody saw coming and just happened and has disrupted everything. Um, but one of the things I really, um, one thing I really love that Sam and his organization have done is they’ve taken action, right? So Sam, I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about, tell, tell me a little bit about mutual aid. Well, first of all, what does that, what does that concept, and then what is it that golden has developed around that and, and just recently put into the world?
Sam 00:28:10 Uh, so the idea is basically like somebody needs some help or if they need some supplies, I will give it to them. Maybe someday, if, if, uh, I need something, I will specify what I need and somebody else might, might help me out with it. So it’s sort of,
Andrew 00:28:22 It’s sort of neighbors helping neighbors, so to speak
Sam 00:28:25 Neighbors, helping neighbors, and, um, you know, it’s a form of volunteering. And with, you know, it helps to know a little bit more context about golden than what we shared. So when we say we support volunteering, we support all kinds of volunteering that can be in person. It could be self guided, it could be virtual, it can be video trainings, it can be, um, pro bono work. Uh, it can be research, you know, it can be, um, donations of supplies or money. It can be advocating for something. Um, it, it can be a lot of different things and it can also happen in a lot of different environments. It might happen with your local grassroots on profit. It might happen with a global NGO or a company doing, um, corporate social responsibility, volunteering, or it could be a high school that might or might not have a service learning component of their curriculum.
Sam 00:29:12 It could be university bringing their alumni association together, could be a foundation trying to help, you know, provide resources to their portfolio of nonprofits that they give grants to a lot of different stakeholders. But one thing all of those stakeholders have in common is that they’re professional organizers. They’re either organizing activities on their own, or they’re partnering with other direct organizers to aggregate their programs and to sort of bring hoards of people together, to go and participate in other programs. And that’s terrific if you’re looking at the ecosystem from the standpoint of careful organization, and you’re trying to drive a lot of volume, but during COVID-19 everything changed when there became risks for anybody interacting with anybody else. And as a result of that, there became widespread adoption of shelter in place and social isolation policies, meaning, you know, for the record, when we come back years from now and look at this, basically federal governments, local governments are telling their constituents that you have to stay in home in your home unless it’s an emergency.
Sam 00:30:13 And if you leave, you can do kind of one-on-one visits for essential things like buying food or getting fit. And, uh, that means that you can’t deliver traditional programs, even though it’s a time of immense need at golden, we’d had a lot of experience working with government and partner agencies of government strategic disaster work and in disaster relief. There’s three common phases. The first is preparation. The second is kind of getting out of the way so that the professional entities whose job it is to be first responders or to be in the thick of it can go do their job. And the third phase is a recovery once kind of the dust has settled. And, um, you know, you can, you can think of a bunch of different natural disasters, uh, where those phases would have come into play. What’s tricky about a pandemic is that everything’s on at once. It’s all of a sudden you’re in the middle of the disaster and you don’t know when the end is going to be. And in the meantime, the vulnerable people are gonna suffer.
Andrew 00:31:06 Yeah. And, and it’s hard to deliver services because nor in a normal disaster, you can, I could walk up to you and like help you. That’s the exact opposite of what, what is helpful right now. And, and I I’ll just add some color to it now, so that we can look at this case study later. Um, right now
Sam 00:31:22 The last several weeks, we’re about a month or six weeks into the COVID 19 response. As of now, governments realize that there would need to be resources set up for people to get the help they need right now. And they basically said, go to your local volunteer center, your United way, or your food bank, and they’ll have something for you to do. Well, all those places told everyone to go work from home except for the food banks. And, uh, they’re set up to do a lot of in-person volunteering and groups, which can’t happen right now. So, uh, we basically realized that there would be this bottleneck because the professional organizers are not used to doing direct peer to peer stuff. And we spun out a whole new platform called mutual aid with the idea of being anybody who has a need or anybody who wants to offer help or anybody who wants to just see what needs are out there and go and take care of them can go at mutual aid dot going, volunteer.com.
Sam 00:32:09 Or if you’re organizing a community, like let’s say you are a United way, or you’re a veterans group or your homeless services group, or you’re an elderly care, you know, group, you need to figure out how to get everything to your stakeholders right now, in a way that’s safe and how to keep track of who’s doing what for him. And so there’s a free set of dashboard tools for organizers, where they can keep track of all of these needs, where they stand, who’s doing them when they’ve been finished, how much work was done in real time, which means that you don’t have to say spend time building lists and then trying to call around and see who can do what checking in with them to see if it’s been done. Especially when there are short time lines for a lot of these things, if somebody’s missing food or if they’re missing medicine or they need to go to the hospital, um, they’re gonna be in trouble.
Sam 00:32:56 And if they’re waiting for somebody to work their way down a spreadsheet during a pandemic, there’s so many people who could be classified as, as isolated or vulnerable. And there very few facilities that are prepared to, um, receive people and everything, the onset of this crisis was immediate. So there wasn’t really any time for preparation. And yet they’re vulnerable people everywhere, whether they’re across the street from you in a city, or whether they live in a very remote area, you know, it still could happen where somebody could get sick. And so because of shelter in place and social isolation, you can’t mow a mobile wise teams the way you would normally get volunteer teams. You can get professional teams in a lot of cases to go and do this work. But even in those cases, like if you look at Mount Sinai hospital in New York city, various teams, healthcare institution, they’ve had deaths of their healthcare workers and doctors are getting sick when they’re and all kinds of other, you know, nurses and people working in hospitals can get sick.
Sam 00:33:49 So the solution here has to involve in some form people we’re going to help each other in a controlled way so that everybody gets the attention they needed and that everybody’s accounted for. And to do that, you could work primarily with these grassroots mutual aid groups that exist. And there’s, there’s some in most neighborhoods, there’s thousands of them. And you could do that. But a lot of those organizers are self appointed and not early experienced where they are experienced with the community. They know, but they’re bringing in new community members now, and they certainly didn’t have software to do this. And then the more sophisticated ones are maybe using spreadsheets or air table or Slack or something like that. But that’s a lot of noise and it’s a lot maintenance to keep track of human lives. And you could also go to the channels that normally are set up to do these things right now, don’t have the staff and they’re not organizing volunteers to go and do these things on their own.
Sam 00:34:40 For the most part, some are in very small pockets and governments historically have still been directing people to go to those channels. And, you know, for example, food banks, food pantries, some of them have had, you know, illness affect them as well. And, um, so there have to be ways to manage, making sure that everybody gets fed and these systems keep working well while keeping people safe. And a lot of that has to do with decentralization. So we took a very radical move and suggesting to the formal organizers, okay. We piloted this software with a bunch of hospitals, um, with advent health, she like a big hospital group and with not impossible labs, which is a really terrific, um, innovation research firm, particularly for social impact stuff. And we’ve been prototyping the software and using it in clinical healthcare environments and said before, or, you know, we were ready to release this. We’re just going to, pre-release it, we’re going to make it a data offering, but now everybody can get in touch with each other and everybody can keep track of these for free during, during COVID-19 and for free forever after it. Um, this is just a set of tools that don’t otherwise exist, that we’ve developed with a lot of rigor. We’re obviously trying to make it even better than it is now. It’s a first pre-released version, but it’s still helpful right now.
Andrew 00:35:52 It sounds like if I’m understanding, right, is that what you all have decided to do is to turn on the tool and make it freely available for anybody, um, to basically take all those organizational headaches out of the way. And just like here, you can just, here’s a good process. Just use it. And that way they don’t have to figure all that out and they can just focus on, on getting things done. Is that, am I right?
Sam 00:36:10 Yeah, that’s right. It’s a website where you can go to post your needs. It’s a website where you can go to get help for those needs, um, or to help other people’s needs. And it’s a set of tools for people organizing communities to keep track of needs and offers. See what’s been fulfilled, what’s outstanding, who’s done it. Um, how much work was done if it’s ongoing or not, and keep track of it in real time. And also we offer all of those tools in a branded way. So if you’re an existing organization was a big brand at a big reach, like, you know, any national nonprofit or a government, you can just email [email protected] and the same day usually we’ll have for you all of that stuff branded up and running. So you have your own private environment where you can control what content appears in there. And, um, you know, that’s, that’s kind of the idea is to get the tools out there and get them used. So our general website for this is mutual aid dot cold and volunteer.com, and anybody can go there and use it.
Andrew 00:37:08 Um, it let’s say I’m a community organizer, right. Or, and I’m running some, let’s say it’s a small scale thing, right? Let’s say it’s just, you know, the part of the city I live in, I’m connected to the community leadership groups and we want to help, what does it like, how long does it actually take for me to get set up on this or, or for my group to get set up and, you know, basically how long until we’re up and running with this, and then what do we no longer have to do because we’re doing this instead.
Sam 00:37:28 Excellent question. The short answer is that this is totally turnkey and the truth of it is, uh, once you start using it, you’re going to have to think pretty critically about what needs and offers are and make sure that they’re properly defined so that somebody can follow through, um, which is something you would have to do. Anyway. What does that mean? If you were to say, Hey, I need help. That can mean a lot of different things. It can mean I need help right this minute, because I’m having a heart attack and I didn’t ambulance. It can mean, Hey, normally, you know, I go to my bowling class and, uh, I feel lonely. Is there somebody who can help me feel some companionship, it could be anything in between. It can be something that, um, has to be done at a certain time has to, or it can be something that has to be done by a certain time.
Sam 00:38:12 It could be something that could be done ongoing or in short period of time. It could be something that requires physical strength. It could be something that requires an understanding of some subject matter, um, or a credential. Um, there are a lot of different interactions. And if you’re in the business, for lack of a better term, if your, if your role as a community manager is helping everybody get what they need, um, you may have to apply more rigor than you’re used to, um, you know, to make sure that people are set in the right direction. In other words, if you’re, if you’re doing this on your own, nobody’s looking over your shoulder to validate your work. Um, so you can just say, Hey, this is Jenny, and this is Bob. And like, you know, maybe you guys can get in touch with each other good luck.
Sam 00:38:52 Um, we try and, uh, help standardize some of those things. Um, you can post a need or an offer on golden in a few seconds with very little definition, but we add structure that allows for a lot more definition and allows for clarity for anybody trying to figure out if they’re going to get the help or be able to get the help. And, you know, the, the biggest, you know, if you’re a community organizer, let’s assume that you don’t know about, um, Goldens mutual aid offering. What you’re probably going to be doing is canvassing. You’re a group of people like your neighborhood and saying, okay, I’m going to set up resources for everybody. This is going to be the email address for the WhatsApp number or something that you’re going to text. Tell me if you need or are offering anything, I’ll be monitoring that some other people will be monitoring that I’ll take everything and I’ll put it in a spreadsheet.
Sam 00:39:36 And then we’ll try and make sure that we can match people with what they need. And that’s very time consuming because you would have to, you know, establish your destination, whether it’s a website or a, you know, an email address or what’s accurate, you need to publicize it. And you get everybody committed to helping you organize everything. You need to figure out. If things, people are telling you a reel or to be able to get in touch with them, they can’t just submit something. You need to be able to get back to them. Um, you need to understand how urgent things are. You need to be able to apply your judgment, to what they’re saying, see if it matches your expectations. And then, you know, you need to make sure that everybody’s following through with the things I say they’re, they’re following through and doing it.
Sam 00:40:13 It’s very stressful. It’s a lot of work. Yeah. It’s like, you know, if, if you’ve never been an air traffic controller, a nine 11 operator, and you’re assuming these responsibilities, these are gonna be high pressure situations. And there are situations where if you’re the broker, if you’re a certain, assuming that role of putting everyone in touch with each other, and there’s some laps in your system, or you overlook a piece of information, it may have consequences. And where we want everyone to have the ability to be. If they want to be is where they can open up any web browser, phone, tablet, computer, and see everybody. And what’s outstanding where things stand and quickly send people, emails, push notifications, SMS, automatically track when they go someplace, if it’s been done and get feedback, um, all of that, and it’s helpful for just engage community members.
Sam 00:41:03 And it’s helpful for organizers that now need to figure out alternative approaches in conjunction with their standard approaches. So what I was saying about all these traditional organizers, they still want to coordinate the help. They still have great institutional knowledge and resources and networks, but they’re just not used to how to assign jobs to people one-on-one and keep track of them and send people places they’re not used to going and be safe and practice sort of like CDC and who, um, you know, guidelines for hygiene. So we’re just trying to eliminate the administration so that people can focus on delivering the programs today.
Andrew 00:41:37 Yeah, no, I love that. I’m so I’m so appreciative of what you all are doing. And the fact that you’ve, you’ve just chosen to say, you know what, this isn’t where we would have intended to launch it normally, but we get, we got a thing and it can help right now. So let’s just do it. Um, and I think that’s an awesome, awesome thing you all are doing. So thank you for doing that and kudos to you.
Sam 00:41:52 Thanks. Um, I, I will say, so it’s not typically my practice to speak about, you know, people who are doing similar things, unless I’m speaking about a partnership or something, but, um, you know, two very prominent mainstream, um, platforms, uh, also piloted their, their own version of something like mutual aid. I will say we were first to market, but, um, both Facebook and next door released features that can do some of these things. Um, so you can post the ads and offers on next door. And next door has a nice math interface where you can see where the person lives, and then you can go there and you can help them Facebook. You can just help other people on Facebook that have a need or want to offer something. Um, what’s kind of interesting. If you look at those environments to be on next door, you have to actually have a lot, a lot of your stuff together.
Sam 00:42:35 You need to have a stable place to live. You need to want to be on next door. You need to validate your address by getting a flyer in the mail and sending it back. Not everybody wants to go through that. You have very committed neighbors who want to help each other in that environment on Facebook. There’s not a lot of police saying about content and they’ll get better with that. They’re very good at, at improving products once they launch them. But right now, um, the kind of stuff you would see on there, a lot of it’s like, Hey, can you send me some money? I think I might have a use for it. And it’s probably somebody you don’t know. And it’s your best guess about where that money’s going. And some people are not comfortable with that, um, where Golden’s different. You know, we’ve already kind of spoken about it from the participant side, but what’s most important to us is that anybody who’s organizing these programs have a centralized view. And, you know, that’s something that we really shine at doing that our system was designed to
Andrew 00:43:21 The experience that golden has working with organizers, working with nonprofits. This is the world you live in. You understand these people, their needs, and you, you already, it’s like we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can just plug into this existing system. That’s already going to work and tap into all these resources that are there, which makes perfect sense. I think you have a really interesting perspective on really like cross sector collaboration and agreements. I know that’s something you’ve thought a lot about, you’ve talked about that. Um, but especially in a time like this, how do we actually get, you know, if I’m listening to this and let’s say I work at it in one of these organizations, that’s trying to get something done and we have to engage with other people or, or other organizations that are maybe just, they have different values than we do. They just work in a different way. Um, how do we actually go about crafting agreements and like actually getting things done to across sector way? I mean, I think that’s something very relevant to timely right now for COVID, but I think it’s also, there’s probably lessons in there that we can all use for other things and are just generally helpful. But what’s your take on that?
Sam 00:44:16 That’s something I’m very passionate about. So thanks for asking. Okay, great. Let’s do it one way to look at this is to say, you know, I’m a leader of some institution, any sector, and this is what my institution exists to do. And this is what I think the best version of our institution is when we’re doing things a certain way, this is what it looks like. And even when things are not normal, like now they’re not normal. Um, what would, what would the best version of our group do under these circumstances? And then, you know, to get through whatever conditions we’re in, who do we partner with? What do we do to kind of get through it? Um, well, for example, you know, when I mentioned to you that really stuck with me a couple of weeks ago is Arnie Arnie Sorenson Sorenson. Who’s the CEO of Marriott.
Sam 00:45:00 Um, they, and all travel. The entire sector has been really hurt by the current economic conditions and regulations and safety. And none of them, you know, all of them of course, would love consistent revenue and to be able to keep everybody on their teams around and all the businesses they work with around right now, but it would be dangerous to do that. And so, um, he published and everybody, you know, we’ll link to this should, should see this video of a very heartfelt corporate leader explaining the depths of the suffering that their, um, their firm is facing right now. I mean, for example, Marriott express that they’ve been hit harder by this then, you know, 2009 financial crisis, September 11th, um, every other downturn combined because they’ve shut down everything. And that means that they’re running on a very small fraction of their original team. And it means that all the vendors, they work with all the ancillary businesses around where they operate, um, are feeling that as well.
Sam 00:45:57 And he was trying to communicate to his team and probably his investors. Um, you know, this is how it feels in my experience personally, I find that the job of forming cross sector partnerships is a lot easier. If you have that mindset from the onset or everyone on your team has that mindset, that you don’t just stay in one lane that you exist as whatever, some kind of value is there other people in other sectors that are interested in seeing that value come to life, you know, just try and be friendly. Don’t even like ideate on what the agreement should look like and who you got to get ahold of. Just sort of think like, you know, maybe we could work on this stuff together and develop a genuine friendship or professional relationship around, um, ideas. And then when there’s a need or where there’s a clear lane to do something, then it’s a lot easier to kind of set the wheels in motion.
Sam 00:46:43 I find that if you’re trying to force something most people’s operational cycles, aren’t set up to receive it. What do you mean by that? If any contractual project has a structure, right? You, if you’re going to form an agreement with any partner in any other sector, um, usually there’s some legal form of that agreement. It could be as simple as an NDA and sort of like, Hey, let’s think about things together. Or it could be a contract. Um, there could be something more, it could be a joint venture. And, um, you know, you don’t just go and approach an entity in another sector and say, this is what we’re going to do because they’re not used to working the way your sector works. Okay. And just as every organization has their own procedures for getting projects done, you have to synchronize when you’re working with somebody.
Sam 00:47:25 Who’s, environment’s a little bit different. For example, if a nonprofit is not earning income or doesn’t have a lot of cash, um, they’re going to be fundraising and their fundraising cycle is going to affect their project cycle. You know, likewise, if you’re dealing with a company that manufactures things, you’re going to deal with their production cycle. And, um, if you’re going to synchronize on those things, like, for example, right now, um, there’s a wonderful company in Louisiana, uh, called Lamar. It’s an outdoor advertising and other forms of advertising company. They make billboards. Okay. And Lamar just donated a bunch of their surplus vinyl to a program that’s run, um, you know, with Louisiana government and a couple of health care systems like LSU and Tulane on cause one Louisiana now to convert, uh, Vic vinyl, um, to PPE or like medical equipment, um, to be used to help keep everybody hygienic and healthcare facilities, masks, gowns, stuff like that. And that’s a terrific cross sector partnership. Um, you know, you can’t just imagine, uh, that a company company is going to go to the healthcare providers or the government’s going to go to healthcare providers and say, how can we get this down? You kind of have to have a community where people are in a mindset to do what they can to collaborate. Um, so I, you know, I think that’s, it just helps to have that mental commitment before you even get into the negotiation,
Andrew 00:48:44 Where do people go wrong with this? Like where, what are the stumbling blocks that people commonly trip up when they’re saying, okay, I want to, we want to pursue some sort of cross sector partnership. Where does that go sideways?
Sam 00:48:54 A lot of different places, people who are interested in these projects, sometimes they may not get to where they want to go because they don’t have authority. They may have credibility and experience, but they don’t have the permission, or it could be some other combination of those variables. They have the permission, but they don’t understand how to execute it. They don’t have the resources to execute it. They’re afraid what the consequences could date. Another really common problem is that people who are interested in cross sector partnerships tend to have a role that has some kind of creative authority in what they’re doing. Maybe an innovation role of some kind, or maybe an experimental role. And those roles don’t last forever. Typically, unless they’ve been totally institutionalized, like let’s say you’re Google and Google has an, every single company in the alphabet portfolio of people whose job it is to do cross sector partnerships, or to look at interesting opportunities. You know, most other institutions, can’t support team members like that, unless they’ve got a really strong project pipeline. And so you’ll see a lot of churn and then there’s no continuity between contacts and you have to start from scratch. Um, political climates can change those things. Regulations can change those things, um, you know, demand competitive environments. Um, so a lot, a lot
Andrew 00:50:01 That makes sense. So, you know, one of the things that when, when you and I were talking earlier this week, one of the things that’s so interesting about this time, uh, that is interesting now as leaders, but also to look back on is, you know, it’s basically the question of like, when everything goes wrong, what do we do? But I think one of the interesting questions as well, that I’ve heard from people in this time is that, Hey, you know, this is difficult and there are some, there could be some silver lining here, right there, there are opportunity hidden, hidden in this crisis, whether that is we’re going to get stronger as an organization, we’re going to get more responsive, more agile, more flexible, um, you know, whatever. There’s a lot of different ways of looking at this, but how are you and your team at golden looking at this as, as potentially an opportunity to get stronger as an organization and better do what you intend to do in the world
Sam 00:50:45 Precise moment, we have a really clear example to point to our typical business is in working with organizers and their, their core operations and new programs that they start, regardless of which sector they’re in. And we kind of help them, you know, with software or their own partnerships or analyzing how their programs are doing and scaling them. And right now most programs aren’t operating the way they normally do. And what we could have done is just done a bunch of financial engineering and found other ways to grow our company, you know, go raise some money, do some R and D for things that we know people are going to want in a year from now, um, and not focus on client work, focus on core work, um, and position ourselves, you know, to scale in that way. Instead, what we decided to do was what we thought a good partner for organizers would do, which has helped them recalibrate their programs for now, which means let’s see what we can move online.
Sam 00:51:36 Let’s see what we can make more independent. Um, let’s see what we can do in a more safe way, and let’s see if we can partner with, and then immediately after that, recognizing that it’s an interesting opportunity to pre-release the mutual aid product, because we know that that directly services, um, workflows that people aren’t used to doing, um, but does it in a pretty safe way and use the opportunity to understand what’s working. What’s not how to make the experience better iterate on it. Do all the user center design things, which are at our company’s core. Um, we will get through this. Everyone will get through it and who we are as a team. Um, isn’t a team that exists to make other people’s organizations more powerful. And so that’s our priority right now. It’s not that we’re looking things. It’s not things that are gonna produce revenue for us now, or in the future.
Sam 00:52:23 It’s about being reliable, understanding how to prioritize tasks, understanding how to make sure that people get the help they need. And, you know, maybe down the road, people want to work with a partner like that. Maybe people will look at us and say, you know, this practice of mutual aid, that seems so fringe to me, that I associated with anarchy. And I associated with people who wanted to form their own society, not societies that they were born into, um, are, are respecting the genuine benefits that you get from that form of organization in the context of like a government, like the antithesis of that. And, um, I think it’s cool. I think at the end of the day, we all want a higher quality of life. And if there are tools that we have, whether it’s Golden’s tools or anybody else’s tools or in any other space, um, I think it makes sense to share them and start working together and, and work toward the future. Uh, we want to live in the fat.
Andrew 00:53:15 Yeah. I love that. I love that. I’m curious. How, what has this been like for you personally, as a leader what’s been, what’s been challenging for you, or how are you finding that your growth, like, where’s your growth edge right now, going through this process?
Sam 00:53:26 Honestly, a lot of it’s personal. Um, you know, I, I got married about two years ago, moved, um, my wife moved from a different country to be here. Um, and we’ve had a wonderful romantic journey together, but being home has allowed me to spend more time with her, um, to, you know, to focus on different things than I would normally focus on. It’s a challenge when I’m used to being on a plane twice a week. I typically fly about 500 hours a year while, um, to go from, you know, one or two different flights, you know, round trip flights every week to being in the house for six weeks. So far is really different. Um, the team is terrific when we first started, you know, first two years we were working out of my kitchen and remotely. And, um, so we grew up with all the collaboration tools that you would need to function today.
Sam 00:54:19 And I think all of this has a huge, genuine respect for each other and our talents and our schedules anyway. And I’ve seen more of the depth of that. I mean, we’ve, we’ve done all kinds of things internally as a team that would have required incredibly deep ion from team members. Um, then we, we actually worked, this actually may be a tip for other entrepreneurs. So we’re working with the Annenberg foundation to support a program that they’ve started called pledge LA, which is diversity inclusion, civic engagement for companies in LA and nonprofits in LA as a part of that. They, um, engaged Pluto, which is pluto.life, um, to do all of their diversity inclusion surveying initially. And then we’re helping with some ongoing surveying through, through hold on. Um, and it was a terrific tool and we used it internally. We got a bunch of scores and feedback from that that we’ve used to improve and recognize the quality of, of work experience that we have. And we did all that prior to this and going into the shared experience of being all remote together. Um, we kind of just have a lot of faith in each other and, and respect for each other’s work ethic, which has been a huge blessing.
Andrew 00:55:24 You said that, um, the golden team has been able to do things internally that often would require a really tremendous amount of buy-in. And I’m curious, how do you go about creating that kind of environment that kind of trust and or when there’s, when, when it’s absence, how do you go about putting it in? How do you go about creating that
Sam 00:55:43 Sure is the single most important facet of golden. And it is for a lot of the best companies and as somebody who studied organizational behavior very deeply, and somebody who had the privilege of working with some really great companies, like for example, Penske and Disney and others, um, when you see a good culture, genuinely an action, you know what it is, and you don’t want anything, but to be a part of something like that work, and 2020 is a huge part of many people’s lives and their identities, and we want it to be a positive, meaningful way to invest your life. And so the first document we assembled as a company, even before all the business plans was a culture manual that defined everything who we are and what it means to be a golden. Um, at some point we may publish that so others can see a very key tenant in our, uh, in our culture is that golden is a place where you come to do your life’s work.
Sam 00:56:38 And we screen all of our employees for that. And a number of other things, our interview process is very different, um, than, than most companies who hire for the sort of team members that we hire for. Um, and the single most important thing is if the person is, is a golden person, um, and if this is what they really, really want to do. And, um, and then the company holds ourselves accountable for, for being that version of the company. All the time culture is infused in all of our regular meetings in a genuine way. It’s not the kind of thing where, you know, we put our values on the wall and people look at them on week one, and that’s it like, we all know what those values are. If somebody or an activity that we’re doing as a team, and doesn’t seem to pass the smell test or the filter of anything, that’s a fundamental, um, you know, value or mission, vision, or set activity of the company. It will not, it will not move forward. Um, and so we, that is the most dear thing to us, but our voice comes from that place of really understanding what we want to be in the vision that we have, and that, and, you know, anybody who’s looked at our products or interacted with us, worked with us that should hopefully be pretty,
Andrew 00:57:41 I’d love to explore culture a little bit more. That’s actually been one of the major, major themes of this podcast. Could you tell me a little bit about how do you actually do that? How do you make your culture like real in the day to day lived experience? First of all, send a clear
Sam 00:57:52 Example to anyone who is interested in this as a real nerd about it. There are two great places to go to see carefully documented cultures that are in practice and trained. Um, one is, uh, the Ritz Carlton, if you just Google like Ritz Carlton culture, kind of the mantra there is ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen, and they do daily meetings every day with all their staff in their hotels, where they understand what’s happening, who’s coming. Um, they, they train people to do whatever they can to deliver the best level of service. And that is a part of their ongoing operational procedures, everything. Um, it’s a great, easy to copy template. Another, um, excellent example is, is really Disney and, um, there’s extensive literature written about Disney culture, you know, the magic kingdom, all of that, what it’s like to work at Disneyland, uh, that’s a really good place to go, not going to say everybody’s gonna have the privilege of working at Disneyland.
Sam 00:58:43 Maybe you work in the chemical processing plant, but understanding what a vision is and how to wrap everybody’s heads around being in something together. And what’s important to you is a really, really good exercise. So for us, it’s about mission, vision, and values activities, all of them. Um, you know, we had an idea at first about what they should be, and then we created a document that’s living and breathing. It sort of took a year or two to, to be totally a result of the way we actually work, but also offer us guidance in the way we work so that we’re not forcibly applying some external frames,
Andrew 00:59:15 You know, like it’s a SWOT analysis or something, or like a BCG,
Sam 00:59:22 This isn’t that this is who we are. This is our identity. This is the standard we hold ourselves accountable to. This is what we’re going to do to make sure that we stay true. And, um, you know, it’s a lot easier to uphold that.
Andrew 00:59:34 But what I’m curious about is, um, a very specific place where I see cultures fall down, which is in the overstepping of cultural violations. So when someone does something, when someone behaves in a way that is out of step with, or out of line with the culture that we have agreed on, that we want to, you know, how we want to show up together, how do you empower people? How do you make it safe for anybody to address that and, and move in and sort of right the ship and, and keep things moving forward in an, in a generative healthy way.
Sam 01:00:02 The two things I would say to frame to frame that are one, as companies grow, it gets more difficult, you know, to make a culture consistent and to, and to honor the culture and the way that you originally did. It’s just part of the life cycle of a company that grows. And by the time that you’re going down that path, you know, sometimes you’ve already kind of lost sight of the shared goal. And in some big companies, you know, there are plenty of excellent big companies that have strong cultures and others that would like to have strong cultures and really struggling there. It depends on how they grow. If you’re a company that grows through acquisition, then you’re going to have to roll up and consolidate other cultures that you’re bringing in. If you’re a company that grows organically or that’s franchised, those are different sets of ways of thinking about culture.
Sam 01:00:43 Um, but for us, the values and the guidelines of the culture have to be so clear that everybody can hold themselves accountable. And that evidence of somebody not abiding by the culture or obvious enough, um, that most people would want to avoid them or that it doesn’t have to be. Somebody’s direct manager that has a conversation with them. It’s just kind of matter of fact, and that’s easier for everybody because the HR conversations are not fun for anyone. It doesn’t matter who you are in any of those conversations. If you get to a point of friction, the best possible scenario is coming clean and sort of saying, Hey, right now, things aren’t in a place where we want them to be. But here’s what we could do is if we sit down together and we put our best foot forward, um, what you really want is where things are a matter of fact, everyone knows what’s gonna happen and you kind of move forward. And the only way to get there is to have such clarity and have it ingrained in everybody that they understand what they’re should be doing.
Andrew 01:01:37 I want to start to transition here and close out with a couple of rapid fire questions. Uh, the questions are short. Your answers don’t have to be, but, uh, just a couple of quick questions I like to ask fire away. The first one is, um, uh, but what’s a small change you’ve made. That’s had an outsized impact on your life, and that could be at home at work, but small change, big impact
Sam 01:01:54 Right now, quarantining sheltering in place. I’m doing daily activities. I didn’t used to do like cooking and, um, it’s never been my favorite thing, but the experience of learning new skills has been mentally stimulating and fun to spend time together doing it. Huh.
Andrew 01:02:07 What about that experience is, is surprising to you.
Sam 01:02:11 I don’t like cooking cause I eat really healthy. And to do that, you have to go grocery shopping a lot, which means taking time to do it, getting fresh things, waiting in line, you know, preparing them then cooking, then cleaning up. And then it’s a lot of work. I think if you’re working really long hours, it’s sometimes hard to motivate to do that, but I’ve discovered all of these meal delivery, you know, like hello, fresh and blue apron and stuff like that, which has made it easier to learn, not ashamed to admit
Andrew 01:02:39 Sure. Uh, one that I’ve been using that I like is called sun basket for exactly that reason. So it might be a good one to go into to try. Um, so another one is when you think back on, uh, the arc you’ve been on so far, who or what do you think has most influenced the way you think it’s show up?
Sam 01:02:54 Yeah. I think my grandfather who had the privilege of knowing for a little while he was a, was a Navarik in his own, right. Um, you know, it was a prisoner of war who, you know, became a doctor and, you know, became interested in doing the first human heart transplant was in the race to do that to the first one in the country, and then went on and created a whole bunch of medical devices that people use, like artificial heart parts and balloon pumps and stuff like that. Wow. Um, and being around somebody who doesn’t allow other people’s ideas of what should be done interfere with creativity is, is really important. And also somebody whose legacy includes improving quality of life for millions of people, um, is also, it helps as a child, um, frame what’s possible. And you know, it’s maybe a standard, none of us will live up to how many people are there that are able to make contributions like that. But it it’s one way of looking at life and feelings and meaning associated with it. And it’s something that I’ve always had as a, as an inspiration.
Andrew 01:04:01 Yeah. I love that. It’s funny the way you said that, because I was going to ask you one of the themes that has emerged very clearly in our conversation today is how, how pulled you are to increase the quality of life for people. And I was going to ask you where that came from for you.
Sam 01:04:18 All three of my siblings are also social entrepreneurs, which is crazy. Um, but there are a lot of social entrepreneurs in that film. And now I’m realizing it, it comes from a couple of things. One is the thrill of a new venture. It doesn’t matter what kind of venture, but creating something from scratch and holding yourself accountable and your team accountable for performance or delivering something new is thrilling. And, you know, you can relate to anybody in any discipline doing those things. And the other is there’s some privileges in life. Some of which I’ve been lucky enough to have, um, that feel a certain way, but nothing feels quite as good as not having to worry about, uh, other people’s suffering. And, um, I think the fun thing about social impact. So like one of my brothers, um, is doing a finance and agriculture company in Africa called cinch.
Sam 01:05:08 One of my other brothers in aquaponic ecosystem, you know, in your house, aquaponic, fully contained ecosystem for growing food. Um, my sister is involved in a lot of this, um, you know, infectious disease and, um, you know, recovery efforts, both medically and in terms of the sociology of the affected communities. And, um, it’s, it’s pretty rewarding. We don’t have like, there’s a sense of purity and is it sleeping at night? If it’s not about you, it’s really just, um, you know, what you can do. And one of the other things that’s pretty cool about having an outlet like that is doing any venture, especially one that’s a little unconventional. You’re not, you’re not copying and pasting a business that was successfully executed another venue. You’re just kind of doing a new version of it. If you’re really kind of pursuing an original idea, um, you can’t really think about interference.
Sam 01:05:56 You can’t think about all the friction and things that make life a little hard. You gotta just stay motivated on, on seeing your picture, um, come to life until it’s not possible. Like not, not until you run out of money, not until people tell you it’s bad idea. Not until you can’t get any partners, but until it’s impossible. And, um, when what’s driving you to that impossibility or like to avoid that impossibility is something that’s not just altruistic, but it’s something that you believe should exist for other people. You find support in places where you don’t expect. So in our case, we’ve been so lucky to have investors who’ve, who’ve helped us get to every phase of growth in our company. And, um, I don’t think we would have earned the ability to share our responsibilities with them if they didn’t believe that what we were doing was so interesting and important. And some of those investors are not ones in my wildest dreams that I thought I’d ever had the chance to work with them. There are people who admire what we’re doing. Um, and frankly only found us because we were on a war path to do things the way we had imagined. So you never really know. You’ll never earn those partnerships unless you’re really embodying what you say you want to embody.
Andrew 01:07:09 Yeah. I love that. And I also, I really love you, the distinction you’re making in the, in your language of earning those partnerships, right? Like it, isn’t something you just get, it’s something you earned by the way you show up and what you stand for and actually delivering against that in proving that you’re demonstrating with your, with your life, that you are, who you, who you say you are. Um, I think really cool. It also makes me really want to like, interview your parents and be like, how did you raise? Did you raise four kids who are like this? Don’t tell me that.
Sam 01:07:32 Yeah. I’ll have to ask them someday too. Yeah, for sure. It’s not always easy. I mean, it’s, you know, every family has to work through things, but having, having a family to support you is, is always nice, you know? Yeah.
Andrew 01:07:44 No, that’s beautiful. Do you have any asks of the listener? Like if someone listening to this wants to wants to help, wants to engage, um, what would you request at them?
Sam 01:07:52 I would just say, if you have any ideas whatsoever, please email [email protected], all of us see all of that. And I’ll, if it’s something that’s a personal ask of me, it’ll get to me, um, right away. Or if it’s something of the team or an idea that you have, we’re very interested in collaborating and supporting. If any of the products we, um, discussed today are interesting to you check them out or just email us and we’ll set up a time to go through them with you. Other than that, I just hope that, you know, this has been a little bit of a departure from whatever you’re working on at the moment, um, to think about maybe when you get back to it, what you, what you want to do, or maybe what’s most important to you. I don’t think there’s any standards for what is most important. Um, it’s just, you know, it feels right. So get out there and go have some fun. I love it.
Andrew 01:08:40 Great place to end Sam. Thank you so much for being here and taking the time it’s been an absolute pleasure and I’m really, really excited about what you’re doing.
Sam 01:08:46 Keep up the great work. Thanks so much Andrew, congrats on the podcast and everything else.