In the time honored tradition of not burying the lede, I’ve decided now is the right time to step down as President of New Media Ventures. Here are some reflections on how I made this decision, the opportunities I see ahead, and what’s next for the extraordinary organization I’ve had the honor of building over the last decade.
10 years ago, I was living in London watching as something incredible happened. After years of disappointment in the political process, a charismatic new leader, Barack Obama, was harnessing the nascent online media space to redefine what it meant to be a politician. From across the Atlantic, I watched a moment of hope and change emerging, and I wanted to be part of it.
Having spent several years working in media and co-founding a startup, I wondered whether there was a place for me in this new political reality. It just so happened that a new organization called New Media Ventures was asking similar questions: how to combine progressive politics with startup culture and digital media to tackle the greatest challenges facing democracy. I couldn’t believe my luck: here was a chance to figure this out together.
Of course, I quickly realized how large of a challenge I had taken on. At the time, most investors didn’t think about the intersection of politics, media, and startups, nor did they understand why you would invest in a company without the prospect of an exponential return. And progressive political donors were used to funding candidates and traditional nonprofit organizations — not companies. Social media had begun to be a significant force, but few people understood its potential for building power and even winning elections. So when I started at NMV, I developed a bold vision of what I wanted to achieve: an investment fund that could change how we think about investing to transform politics, break down silos, and mobilize a diverse community of investors and founders across the country.
We have achieved more than I could have imagined. We’ve built a portfolio of over 80 startups with innovative approaches to progressive change. We’ve developed an engaged group of funders, bringing together venture capitalists and foundations, impact investors and political donors, and east and west coast philanthropy, to create a community that is wholly unique. And beyond our own work, there is now a whole new field of players working in a space that we had a hand in building.
I’ve always planned to make room for new leadership when the organization was ready, and it feels like we are at that point. We’re no longer trying to convince anyone that innovation and politics is something worth doing. That part is done. And for anyone with lingering doubts, the 2016 election showed how intertwined social media and politics have become — to devastating effect! The opportunity now is to scale NMV and the field to meet the challenges ahead. NMV has an incredibly exciting future, and I believe this is the moment to bring in a new leader to shape that future.
Part of the reason I feel so confident stepping down is the fact that I will be leaving this work in such safe hands. When we were first launching this organization, we envisioned my role as something one person could do, perhaps even part-time. Scan the field, identify a bunch of investment opportunities, and give those founders the runway to really try something new. We’ve come a long way since then.
NMV’s dynamic and growing team now vets hundreds of startups through our open calls, convenes donors and investors, and regularly shares our learnings with our field — from business models for social change to demystifying fundraising and promoting more transparent approaches to philanthropy. We’ve supported dozens of progressive companies and organizations like Blavity, Swing Left, Indivisible, CrowdTangle, and so many more that have transformed media and politics alike. And beyond what we’ve achieved with individual organizations, NMV has fundamentally changed the industry. When I first took the job, few political donors were willing to take risks on early-stage political startups; they wanted to fund opportunities that were more proven. Likewise, few traditional tech investors were willing to back more mission-oriented companies. And very few in philanthropy had any structure to support the tech-enabled, fast-growing kinds of startups that were more typical in Silicon Valley.
The idea that investing should sit alongside grantmaking as key and complementary tools to tackle the most difficult challenges in our democracy is now much more accepted. Where once progressive organizations were thought of as perennially scrappy, underfunded, and always battling to scale up in size, we now have groups like ActBlue, which has moved billions of dollars towards Democratic candidates, and Indivisible, which has chapters in every congressional district. By thinking outside of traditional models of fundraising and activism, we’ve been able to bridge often disparate worlds. We’ve helped create a space where digital innovation, smart investing and powerful storytelling are having real, measurable results — and we’re transforming the market for social and political innovation in the process.
So as I approach my ten year anniversary at NMV, I’ve realized how important it was that I brought a unique perspective to this work: we were in uncharted waters, after all, and we needed to travel light, free from traditional models that had come before. We needed to take risks, and think boldly: the kind of organization I wanted to build simply didn’t exist. Now there is an entire ecosystem in this space. There are accelerators, fellowship programs, and many more active investors. We’ve played a part in all of that.
That makes this the right moment for new leadership to help envision and build the next phase of progressive investing. As NMV shifts and expands I want the team to have the freedom that I had to take risks and make big decisions for the future. I want to step back to give them room and space to grow. Every individual on our staff brings with them a skill or perspective that adds value and strengthens our work. They’re incredible investors, communicators, and advisors, with a sense of humor and a sense of justice. Anyone would be lucky to work with them.
As for me, I will continue to lead NMV over the next few months, while also supporting the search for whoever is going to take on the role I’ve been lucky enough to hold for nearly a decade. And once they’re up to speed, I’m looking forward to taking some time to reflect on the amazing experience I’ve had over the last ten years, and what I want to do next.
Which brings me to my last thought — well, more of a request. If you’re here, and you’ve read this far, you probably share my passion for progressive innovation. You’re likely as excited as I am about what NMV can achieve, especially with 2020 around the corner. And I’m betting you know a lot of people who feel the same way. So as we begin the search for my replacement, we need your help. If you or someone you know has the experience, drive and imagination to lead NMV into this next chapter and help us keep transforming politics for the better, please reach out. Doing this job has been one of the most inspiring, transformative and downright wonderful experiences of my life, and I can’t wait to see what a new leader can accomplish with this amazing group of people. So come on — take my job. Our democracy needs you.