Start Small to Build for Humans and Ecosystems

Earlier this month, I shared an idea about value creation. The idea is that, for many of us, we’ve mainly been focused on creating two types of value:

Utility ValueJust by providing a product or service customers deem worthy to use, you have created utility value. People are willing to spend the time using the product you created because of the benefits it offers. For instance, we use Instagram because it helps us laugh and share memories with others.

Monetary ValueA product with monetary value is a good or service that people pay for. When we have created something with utility— something people find necessary, useful, and helpful, people typically give us something (i.e, money, some other trade of services, etc.)  for our creation. 

Yet, there is an opportunity for all of us who are either creating or supporting startups – and it’s to create two additional types of value: Human and Ecosystem.

Human Value – humans’ individual lives become better as a result of your product. Think about Buffer. If you read anything about their company culture, you realize that their employees seem to grow in their ability to love and ability to connect with others, as a result of the work they do. Or the car company Volvo — which is aiming for zero car fatalities. And Nicolette, a GAN Ventures portfolio company, seeks to empower parents with babies in the NICU, eliminating confusion and fear. 

Ecosystem Value – our collective world becomes better as a result of your product. It’s one where we’ve created products that have changed the world (not only people’s individual lives) in some meaningful way from the direction the world is already going. Look at Miir — they make sustainable drinkware “relying on earth, water, and the relationship people have with both.” Another great example is the family of B Corp companies, which focus on creating a positive impact on people, communities, and the environment. 

Here’s what I know about those of you reading this. You actually deeply care about creating Human and Ecosystem value. For many of you, these aren’t exactly new terms. Yet, the big opportunity is around the “mastery” of these values – around how to actually build these types of value. This idea of mastery comes from Daniel Pink in his book Drive in which he says that, in order to be good at our jobs and help others be good at their jobs, we must have: 

  • Purpose (a north star and vision for where we’re going)
  • Autonomy (where we don’t feel micromanaged) 
  • Mastery (where we feel empowered to and know how to do our jobs).

As CEOs of startups or leaders to startups, I have no doubt that you know your purpose and have autonomy. The biggest issue I see is the lack of mastery, or lack of knowing how to build value, especially when it comes to how we create human and ecosystem value. I don’t know how many of us feel empowered or knowledgeable to go and build human and ecosystem value. So today, I thought we may take a quick look at how we could go about creating these types of value.

Building Human and Ecosystem Value

First, creating human and ecosystem value takes time, patience, and baby steps.
I remember talking to a friend years ago about how I could go about solving some of the systematic issues I saw, especially when it came to race and poverty. We were having conversation after conversation about what we believed were the systems that needed to be changed in the United States, and all of the work that needed to happen for real results to occur. My friend had already made incredible inroads to solve a few of the problems we encountered, and when I asked him how was able to make those inroads, he had such a simple answer — he invited his neighbors who were most affected by systematic issues in his area over for dinner. 

I find myself dreaming big dreams, feeling like we have to change all of the broken systems in order to be successful. Yet, my friend made drastic changes in his city — just by starting with dinner. The point here is that if we’re going to create new types of value, we may need to start small. For instance, we may want to try a new fitness benefit — giving everyone on our teams $50 a month to workout — to help our employees experience more “human value.” Or, we may want to avoid offering plastic bottles at the events we host as a way to decrease our environmental footprint. These are small but meaningful ways for your company to create human and ecosystem value. 

Secondly, we may just need to experiment and see what happens.
On a call this past week Bryan Papé, the CEO and Founder of Miir, shared something that he does with his team. Every time that he has an all-hands meeting, he shares Miir’s four practices of operating. They are “
Start with yes, find a way, enjoy the ride, be open.” I heard this and immediately realized that this is something we can start doing at GAN. We can help the people we work with (i.e., GAN’s clients) experience more human value by creating and sharing some sort of operating practices like Miir. So, we’re going to kick off this experiment and see how it goes. And, it’s just an experiment. If it turns out that it doesn’t help people experience more human value, or it takes too much time or energy, we’ll kill it. 

Finally, pursuing human and ecosystem value requires us to understand the pain that’s being caused by these types of values not being created.
This means that we will need to actually understand, through conversations with people outside of our circle, where we are lacking. If we go back to the example of systemic inequality — beginning to address broken systems will require us to have conversations with people of different backgrounds and experiences to see what value is missing. Just like my friend, who started by having dinner with his neighbors. For instance, if white founders never talk with BIPOC founders, we may never realize how big of a funding disparity exists. Unless we understand the pain others feel, we’ll never know the type of value that needs to be created. We need to step outside of our own worlds and be uncomfortable, something that we’ll discuss much more next month.

Until then, I hope you find much success creating utility, monetary, human, and ecosystem value all around you.