In October 2017, my family foundation created a new philanthropic investment fund and committed $100 million of our own capital to it. The fund, in a style similar to venture capital but with crucial differences, will invest in companies dedicated to reducing suffering in this world by using technology to further develop humanity’s consciousness.
Let me unpack this mouthful of a mission statement.
Suffering: suffering that is caused by external circumstances such as hunger or disease is easier to understand. However, despite rising material comfort, many people today still feel lonely, purposeless, fearful or angry.
The situation may be getting worse. Mental health statistics are alarming. Nearly seven percent of adults in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Suicide rates doubled among teen girls from 2007 to 2015. These statistics are just the tip of the iceberg. For every person with a diagnosed mental disorder, there are scores of others who are not leading joyful and fulfilling lives.
Lastly, external circumstances of suffering often have deeper roots. $30 billion is needed to feed the world’s hungry, but Americans spend over $60 billion a year on weight loss programs and products. There is enough capital to go around, but our system is not allocating it to minimize human suffering. Perhaps new solutions will emerge when we start with issues internal to the human soul and re-examine how we have constructed our economic system and built businesses in relation to them.
Developing Consciousness: suffering can be reduced by inner work. While there are many paths and modalities of inner work, we have observed in our personal experience that individual consciousness has a remarkable capacity to develop, from ignorance and prejudice to truth, and from fear and emotional pain (conscious or unconscious) to joy, inner peace and freedom.
It is possible to end our suffering if we work on our inner self. And when we end our own suffering, we can use our newfound freedom and wisdom to help others end theirs.
Technology: there are a variety of tools that can help us do inner work. Some of them, such as meditation, yoga and breathwork, have ancient roots. Others, such as psychological or neurological based healing, are modern. Still others, such as mobile apps for meditation, use modern technology to augment ancient ones.
Technology is a powerful multiplier. It can be used to amplify our craving for more things, more stimulation, and for comparing with our neighbors, leading to more suffering, or to make us more present, more aware, and to make tools that reduce suffering more accessible. The former may be more profitable. We will focus on the latter.
Venture Capital: I co-founded Matrix Partners China ten years ago. Today it manages $3 billion and is one of the most successful venture funds in China. I myself have made a dozen early stage investments, five of which have grown to employ thousands of employees and joined the club of billion dollar unicorns. I have seen first hand how a team of passionate and capable individuals, with vision, persistence, and a rigorous process of constant learning and improvement, can create something astonishing. These companies’ products and services have touched the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
I believe there are thousands of entrepreneurs who have the will and the capability to build products and service that reduce, rather than increase, human suffering, and who have the wisdom to know the difference. We hope to partner with them.
Venture capital is also a powerful magnifier. It enables and aids entrepreneurs to invest in their products, people and processes, building a powerful foundation for sustaining faster growth and attracting more capital and better people, thereby enabling a virtuous cycle.
Crucial Differences: this fund will be different from a venture capital fund in many important ways.
- The primary goal of this fund is to maximize social good, not investment return. Although it is certainly possible to both do good and do well, entrepreneurs often do have to make trade-offs, both strategic and tactical, between maximizing profit and doing good. We care greatly about operational rigor and discipline, but will always have our eyes on maximizing the long term good and will encourage our entrepreneurs to do the same. “Maximizing shareholder value” should not be sine qua non for business.
- We aim to “do good well.” We hope to help entrepreneurs build self-sustaining and scalable companies with the same operational rigor and discipline as we have done in our venture capital career.
- By investing our own capital, we owe no fiduciary duty to external investors and thus are free to making choices between doing good and doing well. We are also not under pressure to return capital to investors by fixed dates. Our fund is “evergreen” and does not have to “exit” an investment by forcing a sale or a liquidity event.
- We are particularly enthusiastic about investing in companies where we can add unique value and perspective or if they can put capital to good use but cannot raise money from other sources. In that sense, we are anti-herd. If a company is “hot” and chased by many other investors, we would typically choose not to be involved unless we feel that we can add value that other investors can’t. We don’t want to be involved unless the company needs us, not because of our pride, but because we want to maximize the good that our capital can do.
- For each investment, we would typically require a board seat so that we can contribute our experience and network, but we anticipate our involvement to decline as the company matures. If our founder wants to buy us out prematurely in the future, we are much more amenable than a traditional VC. If we can no longer add value, we are happy to recycle our capital to be deployed in other companies where it can do more good, even if staying in could have led to higher returns.
- We believe that the amount of good we can do is limited by our wisdom. We hope that we and our entrepreneurs can grow through our respective inner journeys and together as a community.
The fund is currently a major supporter of the following organizations:
- Insight Timer, one of the world’s largest meditation apps, with over a million active users monthly and over 1,500 teachers. Its CEO Christopher Plowman is a dedicated meditator and previously founded the largest ticket discount platform in Australia.
- Parent Lab is creating an app for parents. The app curates the latest research in developmental psychology, neuroscience and mindfulness, to help parents connect and grow with their children. Evolve Ventures co-founded the company with Jill Li, a mother of two and a seasoned product executive from Alibaba.
- Oji Life Lab is creating a new kind of mobile based corporate training for enterprises, focusing on universal human skills and inner work. It was founded by Matt Kursh, a serial entrepreneur who became the first general manager of MSN, and Marc Brackett, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Professor in the Child Study Center at Yale University.
- Edovo is creating a tablet-based communication and education platform for incarcerated individuals, helping them improve their lives and unlock their potential. Its founder Brian Hill holds a JD/MBA from Northwestern and helping people caught in the dysfunctional criminal justice system has been his life-long passion.
- MeetMindful aims to empower mindful people to make meaningful connections every day, starting with dating. Amy Baglan founded the company because it combines her passion in mindfulness and in relationships.
We believe that issues internal to our soul, or our consciousness, hold the key to ending suffering and to prosperity. We believe that these issues are taking center stage as humanity approaches the age of abundance. Brave and visionary entrepreneurs are seeing ahead and getting ready. We’d be honored to partner with them to accelerate their success, and through them, the maturation of the consciousness of humanity.