I’ve always been quite a puritan when it comes to the investors and partners I choose. They need to hold high ethical standards. On that account, I’ve said no to large sums of money and significant opportunities in the past. However, I’ve gladly accepted investments from Joi Ito. I found Joi to be the humanistic, ethical, and holistic thinker that I try to build my world around. He invested in my first startup over ten years ago and have been a friend and advisor since. Today he is an investor and board member in my current project Duckling.
Like most people, I was shocked to learn that Joi had accepted investments and donations from Jeffrey Epstein. I was worried and disappointed at his subsequent lack of communication. Joi apologized but didn’t disclose many details, and I felt it didn’t resonate with a guy that’s usually a practitioner of openness. It made me think there was more dirty laundry, and sadly I was right. As we discovered through email leaks, Joi had actively sought to cover up his relationship with Epstein. At this point, we are still missing the full story from Joi.
I’ve searched my brain and my soul, and I believe there is room for reconciliation, but it requires Joi to document the whole story. This is why I’ll continue working with Joi. I think it makes sense that Joi had to leave MIT and various boards, and it also makes sense for Ethan Zuckerman to leave the medialab. But my case is different. I happen to run a startup which is about telling stories and learning from them. I have a long history of working to create understanding and reconciliation among people. So I think it makes sense for me to keep Joi involved. It would be the right track for him.
It’s a personal judgment call, and it’s been difficult. But despite recent weeks, I still believe Joi to be one of the good guys (no of us are purely good or bad). He sold out on his ideals and general ethics, and he didn’t dare to tell the whole story. This saddens my soul, and I have no excuses for Joi, but I still understand the mechanics of why it can happen.
I fundamentally believe in the good in people. That’s the cornerstone of everything I do. I believe in second chances for the right people. I think that people can learn from their mistakes and become better characters, even if the errors are significant. It requires us to search ourselves deeply to understand what we did wrong, not just apologize to those we hurt. And we have to speak openly and honestly about our mistakes, and what we learned, to inspire each other.
I continue working with Joi because I expect him to do just that. And I’ll do what I can to support him in this. From that point, we can reconcile and evolve a new paradigm and mindset around the way money is accepted and used in academics, businesses, and non-profits. And we can grow a new mindset around networks and openness.