I’m a serial entrepreneur. I love incubating and starting new companies. I love the entrepreneurial spirit and its creative, risk-taking, scrappy energy. I love the teamwork and the motivation and the unity you feel working together to accomplish a shared vision. I love that first taste of success when an idea works and a company begins to thrive.
But most of all, more than financial rewards or acclaim or the excitement of the new, I love that special sense of accomplishment when your business, a business that did not exist a short while ago, can either directly or indirectly play a role in making a difference in the world.
When my brother and I started our first tech company, Autoweb, we did it primarily out of frustration. The automotive business and the Internet hadn’t yet come together, the car buying experience was compared to getting a root canal, and information was not readily available to the consumer. Frustrated with our own car-buying nightmares, we wanted to find ways to help people buy cars without going through the universally-disliked customer experience at traditional dealerships. We wanted to serve as a source of trusted information that would help regular people have a little bit of an edge when they spoke to a salesman.
It worked, and it started a whole new industry that even today continues to chart new territories. In the process I learned something about myself. I found that the most rewarding part of creating that new company was playing a small role in the lives of many. It may sound like a cliché, but I now realize, twenty years and several start-ups later, that attempting to be of service to people makes most of us, happier and more fulfilled than any of the other regular entrepreneurial rewards. That’s what stays with us.
So today I’m announcing a new kind of company that combines an Angel fund, a business incubator and a collection of operating businesses called One Planet Ops (OPO). Hence, the “Ops” is short for operations.
OPO exists to create and invest in Internet based businesses that have a significant promise for success—while attempting to run these businesses in a humble spirit of sustainable service to humanity.
Our Innovation+Intention philosophy represents the core OPO value that work performed in the spirit of service creates the highest and best expression of our professional and personal lives. By marrying those two forces—innovation and intention—we want to unify capital and social capital. By a “spirit of service” I’m referring to service to customers, to employees, to partners, to our community and anyone that crosses our path. And we will choose to not attempt to win at any cost.
While the startups we support and incubate may not focus on curing disease or ending world hunger, we believe that the resources, the energy and the people of every OPO company can commit to the intentional betterment of the world. We also believe that commitment will create better businesses.
So far, our portfolio of operating companies ranges from businesses in the online home improvement, real estate and automotive industries, while our investments cover a much broader spectrum across the tech world. Our largest operating business—BuyerLink.com, formerly Reply.com—operates the leading online marketplace for the acquisition of locally-targeted consumer demand in the automotive, real estate, and home improvement industries. MerchantCircle.com, our second-largest operating company, comprises the largest online network of local business owners in the United States.
Because we’re also a unique, socially responsible angel fund created by entrepreneurs and not traditional venture capitalists, this new fund focuses primarily on entrepreneurial excellence and gives us the satisfaction that comes from helping other entrepreneurs from a new generation.
One Planet Ops, with its Innovation+Intention model, dedicates its efforts to the entrepreneurial model of “Universal Philanthropy,” which means that our extended network, whether operating businesses or companies we’ve invested in, actively supports social programs for the betterment of the world. That conscious intent functions as an integral part of OPO’s DNA, its core mission, its business model and its daily work. Going forward, we plan to apply that model to all of our investments.
OPO’s concept of Universal Philanthropy calls on every company to give back to the people of the world, whether through the company’s immediate activities or through the long-term, systemic adoption and sponsorship of a public benefit partner. OPO’s entrepreneurs design that heartfelt, sustainable intention into all of their businesses. OPO incubator program participants commit to building their companies using the universal philanthropy model from the beginning, making it an integral part of the company’s mission and vision.
OPO’s own commitment to universal philanthropy has forged a long-term commitment to the Tahirih Justice Center, the Washington D.C.-based non-profit organization that protects courageous immigrant women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence. By elevating their voices in communities, courts, and Congress, Tahirih Justice helps create a world where all women and girls enjoy equality, live in safety and with dignity. (http://www.tahirih.org)
OPO’s commitment to Tahirih Justice goes far beyond the traditional occasional corporate gift or fundraiser—instead, we give on an intentional, ongoing basis by donating a fixed percent of the company’s profits every quarter. This unique commitment and profit-sharing model rewards the nonprofit with more funds as the company improves its performance. That Innovation+Intention model also gives an extra altruistic incentive to everyone in the company to deliver the most profitable growth possible.
Clearly we are at the beginning of a long road. We will learn, test and apply and will keep going at it indefinitely.
If you’re an entrepreneur with a social conscience, or if you have a new business or tech idea you think could contribute something to the world, give us a call. We’d love to talk.