As entrepreneurs, we tend to publicly celebrate our successes in financial terms – when we raise a big round of funding, when we hit record sales, when we exit in spectacular fashion.
But as entrepreneurs we also privately know, away from the press (and investors!), that financial reward is not our only, or even our most important, motivator. As Daniel Pink puts it in his framework for what gives us “drive,” entrepreneurship, for me at least, has always been about three things: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
I recently sold my first company, civic technology start-up Versa, to Change.org, the world’s largest empowerment platform with 90 million users in 196 countries. Wanting the final chapter in my story as a first-time founder to be as successful as the ones that preceded it, in these (and other) negotiations I decided to prioritise my core values over ultimate deal terms.
1. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives
One of the most attractive aspects of entrepreneurship is ownership – of your company, of course; but more importantly, of your time, what you work on, and with whom you work.
At Change.org, my team is leading a new strategic initiative: scaling the tool set that enables governments and corporations receiving petitions to effectively engage their constituents and customers, start a dialogue, and work towards a solution.
There is neither a pre-written internal blueprint, nor an external example to follow, since no other platform in the world has made Decision Makers partners, rather than adversaries, in the process of change-making.
So, with autonomy, we’re defining a vision, setting our own milestones, and developing our own processes that will take a small-scale prototype and bring it to bear on the experience of 90 million global users.
2. Mastery – the urge to make progress and get better at something that matters
Entrepreneurship is nothing if not constant learning. When I left business school to found Versa, I would joke that every day was another MBA – there were that many new challenges to conquer.
At Change.org, as a first-time head of a first-time product, I knew I would be similarly tested. The difference now, however, is the unbelievable wealth of knowledge from which to draw when I need something.
From the best-in-class executive team with years of domain expertise and leadership experience, to newly minted engineers fresh out of a developers bootcamp – no matter what question I have I know there is someone who is able and willing to help.
If mastery comes from seeking out stretch experiences armed with the resources to guide you through it, then this is the ideal environment within which to pursue it.
3. Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves
I have always been driven to improve our systems of politics and governance, a mission I have pursued at international NGOs, on national political campaigns, in academia, when I started Versa, and now at Change.org.
Change.org is also unwavering in its pursuit of a social purpose: to empower people everywhere to make change in the world around them. And it is a purpose that runs deep – through every person who works here, in the top-line metrics we look to hit each quarter, and as far as the company structure itself. The decision to do business as a certified B-corp – a new class of companies dedicated to positive impact – reflects the extent to which Change.org considers social returns as important as financial ones.
And it works. Over 90 million users are now winning almost one victory every hour across a wide range of issues including raising global awareness around FGM, legislation to address veteran suicide in the United States, adding the concept of “consent” to sex-ed curriculums in schools, and bringing Afghan interpreters and their families to safety in the USA, among others.
What’s more, companies and elected officials are increasingly using the platform to listen and respond to their customers and constituents. Since we launched our “Verified Decision Makers” initiative in late 2013, the world’s biggest brands, and most powerful government officials have interacted directly with stakeholders through more than 3,000 petitions – including examples from Facebook, Uber, LinkedIn, Gap, Ikea, Senator Mitch McConnell, UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, The Mayor of Paris, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
By staying true to my values, and finding a business where those values aligned, while the world may have seen me walk through the door marked “exit”, I might just have found myself at home.
Keya J. Dannenbaum is a Principal Product Manager at Change.org.