Endeavor – Promoting Entrepreneurship in Middle-Income Nations

March 23, 2009

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A Non-Profit Profile By Humanity Campaign Writer Ebs Sutton–

Recently, a non-profit organization by the name of Endeavor was profiled in the July issue of The Economist, in an article which gave rave reviews of the group’s commitment to providing not just access to opportunity, but access to the mentoring and investment which turns opportunity into actuality.

When it comes to promoting entrepreneurialism in developing nations, Endeavor believes that a significant part of the problem is not just a lack of access to entrepreneurial possibilities, but a lack of access to the modeling and mentorship which are available in places like the United States. Endeavor seeks to address this need by using successful high-impact entrepreneurs in developing nations to select and mentor budding entrepreneurs in developing nations.

The Purpose of Endeavor

Endeavor is a non-profit organization whose vision is to change communities and countries by promoting entrepreneurship where it is needed most. Using their internal Search and Selection teams as well as panels of successful entrepreneurs from across the globe, candidates for the Endeavor program undergo a rigorous selection process which can take up to 18 months. Endeavor uses six main criteria to evaluate candidates:

  • Entrepreneurial Initiative
  • Business innovation
  • Value and Ethics
  • Role Model Potential
  • Development Impact
  • Fit with Endeavor

Additionally, through the course of this process, each entrepreneur is given valuable feedback and advice, whether or not they are selected. Once entrepreneurs are selected according to the criteria, they are set up with mentors and access to support and advice. Endeavor matches the entrepreneur with selected mentors who can help him or her with specific challenges faced. Some Endeavor Entrepreneurs can have over a dozen mentors.

Interview with Elmira Bayrasli

I had a chance to interview Elmira Bayrasli of Endeavor’s Outreach Team via email. She described the Endeavor process this way:

Generally Endeavor looks for high-impact entrepreneurs who are leading companies that are generating between 500K to 20 million in revenues; and entrepreneurs who have role model potential – who will give back to their emerging market communities and not only inspire, but lead, mentor and support aspiring entrepreneurs. Endeavor Entrepreneurs generally are those who have a business that has great high-impact potential to go to scale – to create jobs, generate revenues and investment opportunities.

The Process

Here is an image showing their selection process from their 2007 annual report:


Many selected entrepreneurs go on to become mentors themselves. Some serve as panelists or as members of local boards of directors.

Before this process even begins, Bayrasli says, Endeavor does its homework:

“Before Endeavor starts to identify and support high-impact entrepreneurs, we spend quite a bit of time building local operations. Endeavor will only launch its ‘mentor capitalist’ model for high-impact entrepreneurship in countries where there is actively backing and engagement from leading business talent and recognized leaders. These individuals form the basis for Endeavor’s local board of directors.”

Here is a graphic that shows the Endeavor “idea to impact” process:


Examples of Success

This year Wences Casares became the first Endeavor Entrepreneur to join Endeavor’s Global Board of Directors. An Argentinean entrepreneur, Casares founded Patagon, an Argentinean online brokerage; Wanako Games, a developer of video games fueled by Latin American creativity; and Lemon Bank, a Brazillian bank designed to help the poor.

Of the roughly ten Endeavor Entrepreneurs profiled on the Entrepreneur website, one in particular stood out to me. Natallie Killasy began a company called Stitch Wise which sews mine safety gear in the Gauteng Province of South Africa. After realizing how many miners were seriously and permanently injured in mining accidents, she customized sewing machines to provide work for disabled miners. The products started as protective rainwear and eventually moved into safety equipment to prevent underground collapses. According to the Endeavor website, “these products are now industry standard and are critical to the industry.”

Some Reader Criticisms

Five out of the eight responses to the article posted on The Economist expressed concern. One concern is that Endeavor is addressing the wrong issues when it comes to entrepreneurialism in developing nations. It is stated main challenges faced are not a lack of well thought out ideas or good business strategy but rather the bureaucracy, corruption, unreliable infrastructure and poor access to loans which plague most emerging economies. Another concern is the Endeavor selection process and its rigorous search for entrepreneurs already brimming with potential. The term “picking winners” appeared twice in reader feedback, seeming to imply that Endeavor has an ulterior selfish motive. If Endeavor strives to “picks winners”, one wonders, are they truly developing an entrepreneurial spirit or just helping an elite few gain their feet?

From my perspective, Endeavor appears to be effectively carrying out its mission and creating lasting positive change in developing nations. Certainly the concerns Economist readers raise regarding the “real” challenges facing entrepreneurs in developing nations are undeniable. I spent 13 years in one of the poorest, most corrupt countries in the world and witnessed the bureaucracy, unreliable infrastructure, and corruption firsthand. However, it takes one look at the Endeavor site to see the statistics supporting their success in countries such as Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Mexico. Endeavor currently works in 11 countries and hopes to expand its reach to include even more.

Picking Winners

Although it may seem that Endeavor only helps an elite few, “picking winners” could be a necessary part of smart strategy. With all the possible Endeavor Entrepreneurs and limited Endeavor resources, Endeavor has to pick entrepreneurs showing the most likelihood of success. It’s about investing precious time and resources wisely it seems.

At a relatively young 11 years old, Endeavor is a welcome addition to the scene of international sustainable development.This noted, it has so far focused its work in middle-income countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Turkey and not in the most impoverished “developing countries” where arguably they could create more social value. Though certainly not the only organization addressing entrepreneurial needs in developing countries (Technoserve, for example, has a very similar purpose) Endeavor is energetic and effective in fulfilling its purpose.

Video on Entrepreneurship & Goals: Work Your Way Up | Dare Mighty Things

March 23, 2009

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In June 2008 a young entrepreneurial filmmaker by the name of Patrick Sargent came out to the iContact office in Durham to do a documentary on entrepreneurship. His film, Work Your Way Up, launched today and is available on his website. Here’s the trailer.

And here’s an excerpt from the film where I talk about the immense impact the simple act of writing down my goals, framing them, and putting them in my closet has had in my life.

Here are some words from Patrick: The purpose of Work Your Way Up was to create a film for aspiring entrepreneurs that they could use to guide and inspire them on their journey as entrepreneurs. This project came to fruition about a year ago when I was scouring the market for a film on entrepreneurship for aspiring entrepreneurs. After lots of searching I realized something. There weren’t any.

It was at this time that I decided I was going to set out to make one myself. It was going to be difficult but I knew that if I approached it right I could make a commercially viable film for aspiring entrepreneurs. I started pre-production on Work Your Way Up in May, started shooting in July, and now nearly nine months later Work Your Way Up has become a reality. Work Your Way Up is unlike anything that’s been made before. It’s a film aimed directly at aspiring entrepreneurs. Work Your Way Up speaks directly to the heart and soul of the entrepreneur. The film proves you that you absolutely can do it. This is shown to you directly from the life lessons of those who have already created successful businesses. The full video is available now at http://www.workyourwayupfilm.com.

StartingBloc Presentation: A Vision for the World in 50 Years

March 23, 2009

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The last two Saturday mornings of my life have been spent on Powerpoint. But it was worth it.

So I’m standing in front of 150 social entrepreneurial peers at Yale on Saturday, attempting to set the scene for why I think we can actually end poverty, hunger, genocide, warfare, and preventable disease in our lifetimes.

First, I start with the challenges.

This is a continuation of the last post “The Great Challenge of our Generation.” The material comes from my StartingBloc presentation on Saturday, “The Immense Opportunity our Generation Has.”

First, let me take a step back and take a shot at some of the major the causes of this economic decline. Some of these causes may be controversial or debatable, but it’s a stab.

The Major Causes of the Economic Decline

  1. De-regulation of financial industry in 1999 (Glass-Steagall)
  2. Low interest rates to stem 2001-2002 recession
  3. Easy credit to unqualified home buyers from 2002-2007
  4. Lack of consumer savings in the U.S.
  5. Over-leveraging of trading accounts
  6. Over-derivitization of securities, de-linked from their underlying assets (CDOs, credit swaps, MBSs)
  7. The collapse of key counterparties to risk

And the resulting effects of the declines…

The Effects of the Economic Decline

Mar 2008 – Forced Sale of Bear Sterns to JP Morgan
Jul 2008 – IndyMac Bank collapses
Sep 2008 – Bailout of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG, Forced Sale of Merrill Lynch and Wachovia, Collapse of Lehman Brothers
Oct 2008 – $700 billion U.S. government TARP
Feb 2009 – Unemployment rises to 7.6%, over 3.6 million jobs lost, DJIA down 50% from Oct 2007 peak, $787 billion U.S. government stimulus package

Finally, I listed the key global challenges we currently have:

Key Global Challenges

  1. Extreme hunger and food distribution
  2. Water sanitation and distribution
  3. An $11 trillion U.S. government debt and unfunded liabilities in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security
  4. Lack of access to childhood education
  5. Infant mortality, Malaria, measles, TB, diarrhea, HIV/AIDS
  6. Human rights violations and sex trafficking
  7. Climate change causing increasing temperatures
  8. Nuclear proliferation
  9. Major conflicts in Congo, Palestine, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq
  10. Lack of transparent leadership in Zimbabwe, N. Korea, Somalia

And finally listed all the great entrepreneurial opportunities there are in the world that entrepreneurs can work to solve–all of which could generate a billion dollar business…

Key Global Entrepreneurial Opportunities

  1. Agricultural production yields
  2. Food distribution and logistics
  3. Water collection, sanitation and distribution
  4. Wireless electricity distribution
  5. Wireless mesh broadband networks
  6. Ending conflict through trust and communication
  7. Leadership transparency consulting
  8. Improved education and reform
  9. Improved preventative health care and reform
  10. Clean tech/alternative fuel (the coming Green Revolution)

A Vision for the World

So, with these great challenges and opportunities in mind, I’d like to work with each and every one of you over the next fifty years to shape a world that addresses the great inequities of opportunity in the world all based on the principle that all human lives have equal value. A world in which…

  1. There is no killing of humans on a mass scale (genocide or warfare)
  2. All humans have access to the basic human needs of clean water, nutritious food, shelter, and primary education
  3. We end preventable diseases like malaria, TB, and measles
  4. We are environmentally sustainable

Is this possible?

Some may laugh.

But there’s no legitimate reason why humans have to kill thousands, tens of thousands of humans on a mass scale. Especially not in an age of increased communication and hopefully increased trust. Is there?

There’s no legitimate reason why if we have the logistical ability to get a package to Shanghai by the morning that we can’t create a system that enables basic, inexpensive food to be produced and distributed to starving children in the developing world, especially not in an age of increased grain yields. Is there?

There is no legitimate reason why preventable diseases can’t be prevented in the next 50 years. By definition. Is there?

And there is no legitimate reason why we cannot find alternative energies to fossil fuels that don’t destroy the world. Is there? We already have them. They’re just a bit more expensive per KWh than fossil fuels. This price doesn’t include the true cost of the externalities caused by the fossil fuels currently being paid by society. As Tom Friedman talks about in Hot, Flat, and Crowded, once we scale the usage of alternative energies, their price per KWh will quickly come down to be sustainable from an economic and environmental standpoint.

We’ve had bigger challenges before. In 1962 in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis. In 1943 in the midst of World War II. In 1930 in the middle of the Great Depression when unemployment was at 25%. These are challenges our generation can overcome if we make the right sacrifices and investments in education, infrastructure, leadership, and sustainability.

People laughed at Edison when he said he had a device that recorded sound.

People laughed at Marconi when he claimed had a device that wirelessly transmitted sound.

People laughed at Yunus when he said he could lend to poor women with no assets.

Your thoughts? Is this world possible?

Inside The White House Friday…

March 15, 2009

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On Sunday March 1 I got a voicemail. The call was from Elliott Bisnow. It said, “Come to The White House on Friday.”

Background on The Summit Series

I’ve written about Elliott before. He’s 23 and somehow, with an excellent team, has put together The Summit Series, designed to bring together the top entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, and innovators under 40 in the world. The group started in April 2008 in Utah wanting to bring together cool people. The purpose has evolved and strengthened as the group as grown.

Today, the purpose of The Summit Series is to bring future global leaders together to figure out how to make the world better. They’ve brought together people like Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva, Scott Harrison, the founder of Charity Water, Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry, co-founders of environmentally-friendly soap maker Method, and Blake Mycoskie, CEO of TOM’s Shoes, who has given away tens of thousands of shoes to children in developing countries.

They’re working to build a community of the most influential young entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, and innovators to make a positive impact. It’s the Clinton Global Initiative, Davos, and TED for Generation Y.

At the next Summit Series in April in Aspen, the focus is on philanthropy. They’ll be bringing in Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen (inventor of the LifeStraw) and Elizabeth Gore from Nothing But Nets, Lauren Bush from Feed Projects which sells bags that enable a contribution to feed a child for a year, Bobby Bailey from Invisible Children which works with child soldiers in Uganda, and Ethan Zohn from Grassroots Soccer, who took his $1 million from winning Survivor:Africa to set up soccer leagues in Africa that enable children there to get tested for HIV/AIDS.

In just one year, The Summit Series has grown through hustle, hard work, and word of month to 120 members, including some of the most well-known and respected ‘under-40′ entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs in the world.

This brings us to three weeks ago.

How The Meeting Transpired

On February 22, Elliott met David Washington and Yosi Sergant (the guy who launched the iconic HOPE poster) from the White House Office of Public Liaison at a DC event. Elliot told David and Yosi about Summit Series. They were interested in getting the message out on the Obama Administration’s efforts on job creation, the economy, energy, health care, transparency, and new media and building relationships over time with the attendees.

So it happened. David and Yosi told Elliot to find 30 people from Summit Series to come to a meeting at The White House on March 6th.

When someone calls to tell you to come to a meeting at The White House, you go. The White House has a “strong gravitational pull” as David Sutphen of Brunswick Group put it on Friday morning. And so I went.

Friday At The White House

So on Friday morning I flew to D.C. After getting a last minute haircut at an ‘old-school barbershop’ on 15th and H and running into my NASA-friend Stephanie Fibbs on the walk back, the Summit group met at 12pm at the Hay Adams Hotel for a reception.

At the reception I had a chance to meet Jake Nickell from Threadless, Evan Williams with Twitter, Mark Ecko from Ecko, Michael Chasen from Blackboard, and investor Chris Sacca from Lowercase Capital and reconnect with Tony Hsieh from Zappos, Aaron Patzer from Mint.com, Ben Kauffman from Kluster, and Josh Abramson from College Humor.

Lunch followed. At the table was Jessica Jackley from Kiva, Aaron from Mint, Ivanka Trump and her fiance Jared Kushner of the New York Observer, Catherine Levene of Daily Candy, and David Sutphen of Brunswick Group.

Setting Expectations

Prior to heading to The White House, David Sutphen and Phillipe Lanier of Eastbanc set expectations. We were not there to add on to the endless to-do list of the Administration. We were there to understand what was currently being done, ask questions, and build a long term relationship.

We heard that the Administration members we were about to meet were “drinking from a firehose” currently. They explained that we not there to give lots of ideas, but rather to learn what was happening so that we could be the entrepreneurial implementers and doers in our own communities working toward addressing critical needs. It wasn’t just about one day, but an ongoing relationship that started that day.

They shared that the Obama Administration saw us as one medium to communicate what they were working on to others via new media and as one filter of constituent thoughts and suggestions. With the CEOs of web firms Twitter, Zappos, iContact, Threadless, Mint, and Blackboard in the room we could certainly do that. They wanted to build a long term relationship with us and authentically wanted our contribution and ideas–just not all at once and in a usable ’summarized, bulletted form.’

So we walked over. We got our security passes at The Eisenhower Building and then went inside. We went up three floors and down a hallway to a room with thirty chairs and a table.

The Agenda from The Meeting

The meetings during the 90 minute session went as follows:

2:00pm – David Washington, Ph.D – Assoc. Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and Michael Strautmanis – Chief of Staff to the Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Liaison

2:15pm – Jason Furman – Deputy Director of the National Economic Council

2:30pm – Martha Coven, Special Assistant to the President for Mobility and Opportunity; Greg Nelson, White House Office of Public Liaison; and Heather Zichal, White House Office of Energy and Climate Change

2:50pm to 3:30pm – Macon Phillips, Director of New Media

Notes from The White House Meeting

Here are my rough notes from each session. All quotes are paraphrased and could be incorrectly attributed in some cases due to my sub-par note taking system

David Washington

  • We want to know your ideas on how we can make government more transparent.
  • We want examples of how the stimulus is helping–anecdotes and stories that you see.
  • Our focus is creating jobs–but we need your help in doing this.

Michael Strautmanis

  • Some of the stimulus may work. Some may not. We’re here for solutions not banter.
  • When I met Michelle Robinson, she treated me as if I had value.
  • President Obama challenged us to make government more transparent.
  • From transparency comes legitimacy.
  • The OMB is more transparent now. Longer explanations. Posting on Recovery.gov.
  • As entrepreneurs, I want you to think creatively about the world of making the world a better place for our children.
  • Only way to fix economy is to get on a sustainable path with fiscal responsibility.
  • We have to create dynamism and energy. It takes heart.
  • Other generations have had other challenges. Together we can meet these challenges.
  • We are partners for creating a sustainable future.
  • In response to question from Chris Sacca on will Obama start Twittering again: That is up to the Secret Service.

Jason Furman

  • We’re working on unfreezing credit, bringing down the cost of health care, energy independence, the climate, education, and fiscal sustainability.
  • In response to question on budget deficit from Aaron Patzer of Mint: Right now a fear is deflation. A deflationary spiral is the biggest nightmare for economists. The amount we’re borrowing today is small in comparison to our GDP and needed. Our economy can afford the deficit. We have a path to cut the [annual] deficit by 50% in 5 years. People are lending to the U.S. cheaply at 2.5%.
  • We have 12.5M unemployed. Some banks may have negative net worth. Housing was overpriced.

Martha Coven

  • We are working on creating green jobs.
  • I want the best ideas from the private and social sector to bubble up to Federal Policy making.

Heather Zichal

  • In response to question on solar power and home owners selling energy back to grid: We will think about homeowners selling electricity back to the grid.
  • We are focused on energy and climate change.
  • Administration making a commitment to CAFE standards and reducing dependency on foreign oil
  • Cap and trade revenues to start in 2012 according to budget

Greg Nelson

  • As business leaders you have a chance to redefine what the role of a business leader is.

Macon Phillips

  • Creator of change.gov, whitehouse.gov, and recovery.gov
  • We want to work with you on creating a PSA 2.0
  • I love free dissemination
  • We’ve made time for this because we want you to be empowered.
  • Wants abilities to get mass response, but with usable outcomes. 8,000 comments can be unusable sometimes.

What They Asked of Us

Overall, I was very glad to participate. Each of the 30 attendees has been asked to do the following:

  1. Act as a filter/community ambassador for the best ideas/suggestions/thoughts on what we can do on the economy, budget, energy, healthcare, education, and new media. Get feedback from your community and send the best to us from time-to-time in summarized, bulleted form.
  2. Send any examples/anecdotes/stories that we hear of due to investments from the Stimulus making a positive impact in your community.
  3. Send any ideas/suggestions/thoughts on how to make government more transparent and open.

Finally, they asked us to go back to our communities and work entrepreneurially to create positive change, address social needs, and create jobs. They said we must create a true partnership between the public, private, and non-profit sector for it to work.

My Thoughts on The Meeting

I very much appreciated the meeting. It was done with good intentions, and not as a media stunt. They shared with us what they were working on and how we could be part of it to increase the chance of success.

It was clear how smart, busy, and focused these people were. They were glad to meet us and we were certainly glad to meet them. They could be us and we could be them.

They gave us their direct email addresses and encouraged us to act as a filter for them for them on the best ideas. Finally, they invited us to build a long term relationship and explained that as we built trust over time, our influence as a group would grow.

After the Meeting

After the meeting, we all went to a local restaurant to discuss what we had experienced. We broke out into four groups to talk about our ideas and begin to refine them. The groups were:

  1. Economy and the stimulus
  2. Education and job creation
  3. New media and transparency
  4. Energy and the environment

I led the group on the economy and the stimulus. I’ll be writing up my notes and posting them soon.

Where It Goes from Here

So we’ve been asked to be one informal filter (of many) for these individuals in the Administration and Office of Public Liaison and help ensure they’re getting the best ideas from the best people filtered to them every few months in summarized form.

I’ll be holding an Entrepreneur & Social Entrepreneur Meetup at my house in Chapel Hill on Friday March 20th at 8pm at which I’ll present what we’ve been asked to do and start the discussion with the group.

We’ll likely hold a separate meetup (date TBA) in early April to discuss and debate ideas and policy proposals on the topics of: economy, budget, energy, healthcare, education, transparency, and new media. We’ll then filter the ideas and present a summarized form to our new contacts in the Obama Administration.

If you have any ideas or thoughts please post them below via the comment section.

The Tweets From The Meeting

Since Evan Williams, the founder of Twitter with 231,000 followers, Tony Hsieh of Zappos with 197,000 followers, and Chris Sacca with 132,000 followers were with us, we may have been in the most tweeted meeting at The White House in the history of the world.

The post-meeting Tweets were positive.

@ev wrote: “Lessons from today: Obama’s team: smart and committed. Learned a lot and was inspired.” and

@saaca wrote: “The folks from the White House are sharp. Obama made it cool once again for awesome people to serve in government.”

@tomsshoes wrote: “Just left the meeting – pretty inspirational. The administration really does want our input, each gave their personal email addresses and encouraged dialogue.

Feedback from Readers and Friends Prior to the Meeting

I was amazed at the response I got by soliciting feedback prior to and during the meeting on Facebook and Twitter. More comments flowed in than I’ve ever gotten before on a status update or Tweet.

I asked on Thursday night via Facebook and Twitter, “meeting at White House Friday to discuss ways to improve economy. Any suggestions?” I got 29 responses. Note that you’ll have to be my Facebook friend or in the UNC or Raleigh-Durham network to read them I believe.

I also asked on Friday, “just challenged by the Obama Administration to provide idea on how to make govt more transparent and open. Ideas?” I got 17 responses.

Comments Sought

What are your thoughts/ideas/policy proposals in the areas of economy, budget, energy, healthcare, education, transparency, and new media? Post and get the discussion going…

The Great Challenge of Our Generation

February 1, 2009

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I write as my roommates watch the sci-fi movie Anti-Body through the amazing new Xbox/Netflix partnership in a cold and icy Chapel Hill…

This weekend I had the opportunity to speak at StartingBloc’s Greater New York Institute for Social Innovation at Yale University in New Haven. I had the chance to speak after Tom Szaky, the 27 year old CEO of TerraCycle, who is good work on upcycling waste into usable products.

In attendance were 150 of the smartest, most ambitious, and most caring individuals I’ve met, all from age 19 to 30. 25% were undergrads, 25% were grad students, and 50% were young professionals from firms like Goldman, JP Morgan, Acumen, Ashoka, McKinsey. They were all social entrepreneurs or future social entrepreneurs. If you’re under 30 and interested in social responsibility you should apply for their future Institutes in New York, Boston, or London.

StartingBloc has now reached 1000 fellows who have gone through their program. I first met their founder, the 27 year-old ebullient Kenyan Jo Opot last May in New York. She and their Director of Programs Taryn Miller-Stevens are examples of committed, driven, caring world changers.

I challenged the group to over the next 50 years, work together to create a world in which…

  1. There is no killing of humans on a mass scale (genocide or warfare);
  2. All humans have access to the basic human needs of clean water, nutritious food, shelter, and primary education;
  3. We end preventable diseases like malaria, TB, and measles; and
  4. We are environmentally sustainable

This challenge was based on the key simple principle from the Gates Foundation that all lives have equal value. I first shared the great challenges we face in the world including the most difficult economic news we’ve seen in our lifetimes, then the great opportunities (subsequent post on these coming soon) to frame the debate.

So, can we actually end genocide, warfare, starvation, and preventable disease in our lifetimes?

And can we actually provide accessible clean water, food, shelter, and primary education to every human in our lifetimes?

Your thoughts?

Video: Speaking at Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization 2008

October 23, 2008

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Speaking in front of 1,500 people can be a little scary. Especially when you’re about to pull your pants off and dance in front of them.

When I was 16, I ran for President of the Manatee High School Key Club, a community service organization. I got up to give my speech. My knees knocked. My hands shook. My voice faltered. I lost to Mark Pinto.

Going into college, I was still a nervous public speaker. I tried to imagine the audience in their underwear but that was just awkward and didn’t help at all.

I didn’t get over the fear until my 2nd year when I had to speak to 60 attendees at the UNC Entrepreneurship Club every Tuesday at 6:30pm.

Finally, I could speak to a group of college students without nerves.

But them came speaking to ‘old people.’ You know, those scary adult-people. I didn’t really get over that fear until early 2006. I spoke to 500 economic developers at the Southern Growth Policies Board Conference in New Orleans and then 400 professors and administrators in Orlando at the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship Educators.

In 2007, I ended up speaking in front of about 3,000 people over the course of many different events. In 2008, I spoke in front of 8,000.

But none larger than the speech on November 8, 2008.

I had already introduced Robert Kiyosaki to the group the day before–one of the great honors of my entrepreneurial life. His book Rich Dad’s Guide to Investing planted the seed in my mind and provided the path at 17 to “build a company and take it public.”

I had been the emcee of the conference along with Gerry Hills for the past two days. It was my 7th time at the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization conference. I knew my audience. I was them–just four years removed.

But it was still scary. 1500 people.

What if I messed up? What if I fell while running onto the stage? What if too many clothes came off while ripping my dress pants off to reveal track pants for the Soulja Boy dance? What if, what if?

After practicing “Finding The Purpose of Your Life in 6 Lessons” all the way through in front of Jenna and some amused caterers, I was fired up and ready to go.

Here’s the video… (The dance to Soulja Boy’s Bird Walk is in part 3 at 1:20)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Sustainable Capitalism and The Role of Aid vs. Trade in Prosperity Creation

October 23, 2008


I picked up a glossy investment prospectus from a firm called Legatum Group at up at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference today. A statement inside caught my eye. It stated:

“While aid can play an important role in alleviating immediate needs, its impact is naturally limited since it is neither sustainable nor scalable.” Separately, it states, “Quite distinct from the limited scope of charitable initiatives, businesses are both self-sustaining and scalable. Legatum directs its attention towards promoting entrepreneurship and business for all its social benefits within developing communities.”

I wanted to to take a chance to think more about the nuance of the right type of aid vs. the right type of trade and investment.

I feel presently that the answer to reducing poverty and increasing access to opportunity and prosperity in developing nations is three fold. The answer is A) for-profit private capital investment into sustainable companies that are socially responsible (or at least not socially irresponsible) AND B) direct “aid with standards” to community-based non-profit organizations run by local social entrepreneurs that are efficiently serving the needs of their communities AND C) efficiently run transparent government that creates and protects a system of law and property rights.

The question that should be asked cannot be as black and white of aid vs. trade. It’s not aid OR trade. It’s accountable aid AND sustainable trade AND efficient goverment. It’s a public/private/community partnership that does not succeed without participation from each sector. The questions that we as a society should be asking is how to make direct aid measurable and accountable AND how to make trade and investment sustainable AND how to make government efficient and transparent.

These methods of human and capital investment are on the spectrum of socially responsible venture philanthropy that builds human capital, infrastructure, and standards of living through education, medicine, nutrition, and technology that enables us to do more with less resources. At the end of the day–all private sector and public sector investment should come back to efficiently serving the needs and desires of the local population in a sustainable manner.

What the answer to prosperity creation seems not to be is the traditional bi-lateral government to government aid (read: loans that local populations will have to pay back to buy our stuff from our companies) nor traditional private capital investment in companies that are not socially responsible and end up hurting local environments. This of course is the very common and very key “aid vs. trade” question that so many like Sachs, Easterly, Collier, Stiglitz, Pralahad, and Gates have debated.

So what is the import of this debate and why is a tech CEO talking about it? The great war of ideas of the 19th and 20th Century between pure communism (total state control of the economic sector) and pure capitalism (total market control of of the economic sector) is giving way to an “end of history” state that could be simply called “Sustainable Capitalism.”

Sustainable Capitalism could be defined as a state in which competitive market economies that are based on environmental sustainability, democracy, transparency, communication technology, an educated populace, and a government with a limited but very important role in setting the rule of law, thrive while efficient social entrepreneurs with services that produce a public good are invested in with capital with measured returns and public servants integrate the same communication and ERP systems of the best-run companies in the world.

In this new Zakarian model of economic system, companies that destroy the environment, provide a negative net benefit through off-balance sheet externalities, or exploit their populations are video blogged and written about and pressured through market forces to reform or wither. This is perhaps somewhat idealist today–but it is the path I believe we are on. The fact that all companies must be sustainable soon enough for the system to scale and prosperity to be possible for all humans is clear. This trend will accelerate as we enter into the coming age of ubiquitous broadband and improved technology of the citizen blogger and as resources become less available. Governments, non-profits, and businesses will have a much higher level of accountability. This assumes of course people have incentives to work toward shared prosperity that can continue beyond the short-term, and I think that is a fair assumption and a vision shared by the global connected youth of today that I know.

What’s the common denominator for human invesment in either the public or private sector? Return on invested capital, as long as the definition of return is broadened to include social returns and the definition of cost is broadened to include environmental degradation. This is the Net Domestic Product (NDP) approach versus the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) approach.

So am I criticizing the Legatum brochure statement? No, not really–I just hope they share the belief–and I am sure they do–that prosperity in the developing world and continued sustainable improvement can only be possible if we find methods to enable entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, and public service entrepreneurs to transparently, efficiently, and sustainably make investments that maximize individual utility, return on investment, and the public good.

The effort toward sustainable capitalism and efficient government requires an improved ability to communicate, collaborate, and measure results. There’s a digital generation of entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs that gets this who will be the global leaders sooner than you might imagine.

Financial Markets: 3 Predictions | Dare Mighty Things

September 15, 2008

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I may be wrong, BUT…

(Update 4/1/2009 – Wow, was I wrong or what! I’ve learned a lot.)

1. This is the End of the Financial Crisis–

This is the end, not the beginning, not the middle. AIG will likely get a $85B-$90B bridge loan from the Fed backed by company assets in exchange for a majority stake in the company. The Dow will continue its rise in the morning with the news of AIGs stabilization. Based on March market capitalization, AIG It is five times bigger than Lehman. AIG is the 13th largest company in the world according to the Fortune 500 versus 37 for Lehman. It is an insurance and annuities company mainly and not a broker. It affects Main St. Americans much more than Lehman did. It can’t, and won’t be liquidated.

2. Oil Is At a Bottom–

Oil is at its bottom. Remember $88.90 per barrel, the bottom today before it started rising at 2:30pm. It is the lowest we will see a barrel of oil sell for in the next fifteen years until sustainable energy technology (“ET” as Friedman calls it, “ST” as Sachs calls it) creates green power at a price/KWH that is lower than fossil fuels can and transportation fully converts to electric ( reducing global demand for oil significantly and possibly reducing the price under today’s price). Oil will trend upwards, more slowly, toward $150/barrel by the end of the decade.

3. The Dow and S&P Have Reached Their Bottom–

The DJIA has reached it’s bottom. Remember 10,742.70, the bottom today at market open. It’s the lowest you’ll see the DJIA go in your lifetime. The underlying profits and productivity of American businesses are simply too strong to justify the S&P 500 the same level it was at in December 1998, nearly ten years ago when the U.S. GDP was 58% lower than it is today (8.7T vs. 13.8T).

This graph shows the S&P 500 at the same place it was in December 1998. Today’s bottom was 1174.


I may be wrong here, BUT… I sure hope I’m not.

The Influence of Hank Greenberg on the Fed

As an aside, Hank Greenberg, a WWII hero and the former CEO of AIG for 37 years, has had quite a bit of influence on the Fed policy vis-a-vis AIG it seems. I heard him on Bloomberg radio today sounding like Mikheil Saakashvili on CNN five weeks ago when Russia was “invading” Tskhinvali. Greenberg wrote earlier today in the Financial Times:

“AIG is not an ordinary company. It has opened markets all over the world and, for more than three decades, stood at the vanguard of the liberalisation of the global trade in services. Its stock is owned directly or indirectly by millions of Americans. And it has contributed significantly to US gross domestic product directly and indirectly over the four decades of its existence. But all that is not why it should be saved. AIG has a trillion dollars in assets. It can (and always has) serviced its debt. With the right leadership, it will continue to do so. Action is needed now: AIG needs immediate help, because the threat to our financial system is real. For that reason, if private capital cannot rescue AIG, a temporary federal bridge loan – not a federal bail-out – is in order.”

Speaking at ACG Research Triangle | Dare Mighty Things

July 23, 2008

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I spoke at the ACG Research Triangle breakfast meeting this morning on How to Build a Company to $1 Million in Sales. If you wish to download the slides from the event they are available at http://www.ryanallis.com/ppt/acgpresentation.ppt.

Thoughts on Uganda

July 10, 2008

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I was in Uganda from June 29-July 6. I was there to visit two non-profit organizations I have been involved with and contributed funds to in the past. It was my first visit to Africa, and definitely will not be my last.

Uganda really is a beautiful country. It has lots of challenges, yet lots of real opportunities. Seeing the extreme poverty that exists there first hand was difficult, yet instructive and very helpful to my understanding of the issue. 89% of Ugandans are currently subsistence farmers, so a great majority of the population lives in rural villages. It was very common to see families of 6 to 8 living in mud and stick one-room shacks with tin or grass roofs with dried dung floors with no running water, toilet, or electricity. The primary school we visited in Mityana in the West had neither windows nor doors and had dirt floors.

Even more difficult is the realization that the difficulty of the living conditions I saw in the rural areas pale in comparison to those in the refugee camps 300 miles to the north in Northern Uganda, centered around Gulu which was the center for the LRA activity, which has significantly calmed since the 90s. I was amazed at the extent to which the children and most adults living in these most difficult conditions maintain such a level of happiness and non-complaint.

It was a bit unnerving to see out front of every bank and gas station an armed security guard with a rifle or shotgun. The traffic is absolutely insane, enhanced by the pavement ending at times. At one point we were passing a car that was passing another truck, and got driven into the shoulder on the other side of the road. That type of experience was common. There are no medians and the highways are all two lanes. There are just three stop lights in Kampala and none elsewhere in the country.

The thousands of Boda Bodas (motorcycles) and Matatus (bus taxis) all over and the pedestrians crossing allover add to the confusion. And not to mention the cows, which are often in the road calmly walking across. Cows and goats tend to be tied up to the side of the roads so they can be used for mowing. Babies run around naked or just wearing shirts, often with no parents in sight, and kids from 3 to 12 wearing bright purple, yellow, green, or blue school uniforms can be seen walking along the side of the roads for miles around 8am and 5pm each day. The kids would often smile and yell out “Muzungu” which means white person when we drove by.

The current Museveni administration has been in power since 1986 and while it seems to be succeeding in providing some basic services, the roads are still very spotty and the electrical grids shut off a few hours per day outside Kampala. Many are calling for him to leave, not because he’s doing a horrible job but because he’s been in power 22 years. They seem to have a good freedom of speech there and an opposition newspaper. People we spoke to were not shy to offer their criticisms. Many people were speaking about Mugabe and his visit to the African Union last week and hoping for his ouster.

The economy is growing. The competition between CelTel, Warid, Uganda Telecom, and MTN for cell phone was intense. All the services sell Airtime Credits rather than monthly subscriptions since most Ugandans do not have a fixed postal address nor a credit card. These four companies advertise literally everywhere, including painting in exchange for compensation thousands and thousands of buildings and homes along the side of all the roads.

Uganda now has GPRS service which allowed me to access my Blackberry email without a problem most of the time even in very rural areas.

They also are deploying 3G service in the major cities. I saw a number of iPhones there among lawyers and professionals. The biggest employer in Uganda is interestingly Coca Cola. There are tremendous opportunities to invest in alternative energy production, especially in regards to biomass. Roey and I had a chance to visit Torero Cement, the largest cement factory in Uganda on Friday as he’s working with them to supply biomass so they can reduce their coal usage. The economy remains a cash economy. I did not find a single store or company that accepted credit cards outside of the airport.

We stayed with an investment banker who runs Daro Capital on Friday night in Kampala. He help a get together of a group of technology execs and professionals on Tuesday night, including a gentleman who is starting an SMS marketing service. I spoke to a number of people to get a sense of the ripeness for email marketing. Rough statistics, but it seems right now about 25pc of Ugandans have email addresses, though most check them via Internet Cafes. Broadband access is only available via Satellite at a cost of USD$1000 per month, so even the professional class and wealthy have only dial up or GPRS access. A T1 is being installed in Uganda in 2009 after which access will go substantially up.

We visited Entebbe and Kampala on Day 1, Mityana on Day 2, Mbale on Day 3 and 4, and Torrero on Day 5, and Mukono on Day 6. We also drove though Jinja and saw the source of the Nile river.

In Mityana, we visited Nourish International Students working at Naama Millennium School, a school funded by Dr. Christopher Kigongo, who now lives in Durham most of the year and was the former Director of Health Education for Uganda. In Mbale, we visited the Foundation for the Development of Needy Communities (FDNC) which has a vocational school and special needs school founded by Samuel Watulatsu, who presented at a Entrepreneur & Social Entrepreneur Meetup at our house in Chapel Hill last October.

On the way there I spent a day layover in Dubai. Dubai is one of the 7 emirates in the United Arab Emirates, so it’s the size of a county and has 6-7 cities in it, that have names like “Internet City, Media City, and Sports City.” The amount of construction and cranes there was immense. The Emirate boasts an indoor skiing area, and man-made islands in the shape of a palm tree and one in the share of the world. They have built the largest building in the world, the Burj Dubai, shown in picture 4. It is still being finished. When it is done next year it will be 166 floors and 2100 feet tall.

Bottom line, the experience has caused me to be even more dedicated toward spending the rest of my life working to increase access to education, healthcare, food, and technology and working toward ending warfare and ensuring sustainability. I look forward to going back again soon.


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