I’m writing this post to explain how 500 Startups thinks about Diversity, why it’s important to our culture, and why we believe it helps deliver better return on investment. But more importantly, I’m writing to explain why we feel Commitment to Diversity is at the core of our fundamental beliefs, not just how it fits into any day-to-day tactics or investing strategy.
I’ve hesitated to write about this in the past because some folks might interpret it as a marketing stunt, or perhaps judge us overly charitable or sympathetic to some cause, or because they think we’re trying to “change the world” (for good, or bad). While we sure as hell do plan to change the world, as a venture capital firm managing other people’s money (OPM) we have a fiduciary duty to invest capital wisely for ROI, not just to feel good about ourselves or to help (or harm) other people. But it’s more than that.
So let’s define what we’re talking about — WTF is “Diversity”?
We would define it as community or culture that includes a wide variety of:
- Languages, Cultures, Color, & Geography.
- Gender, Religion, Age, Personality, Sexual Orientation.
- Ability, Desire, Interest in both Normal & Ab-Normal Things.
- Quirkiness or Weirdness, including people that might not feel comfortable for you/me to hang with (altho that changes over time).
- People or Things that don’t look “normal”, and/or aren’t always in positions of power (ie, white/male/rich or privileged, at least in US).
- Things that may cause discomfort or fear or unease, due to lack of understanding or familiarity, but not things that are unsafe or violent.
- People or Things that we just don’t understand… yet, anyway.
Why is this important? Why do we care about it?
Well, first we should state the obvious — there are clear advantages to working with and investing in people who don’t look normal or familiar.
These people can open up new markets and new geographies, and create potential outsize investment returns from opportunities that others may overlook or not want to risk going after. Over the past 4 years, 500 Startups has been an investor in 200+ companies across 40+ different countries, and we feel pretty confident we will benefit from this strategy. We are optimistic we can find good ROI in geographies such as Brazil, Mexico, India, China, Indonesia, the Middle East, Africa, and others. This is just simple math — there is a ton of emerging market and future growth in places outside the US, and supporting innovation and entrepreneurship in those places is a good business strategy that will very likely pay off over the next decade.
In addition to the numbers game, there is a more subtle benefit in having people who use different approaches to solve problems, who come with new perspectives from different cultures, and can help teach us about better ways to build products and services, and who can share best practices. This may not always be an obvious or immediate advantage, but simply having people who speak another language or know another culture can open doors we didn’t know about, and enable access to places where we’ve never been.
But beyond the basics of new markets, new languages, and new approaches, there is an even more fundamental part of Diversity that we care about.
Diversity is Not Just a Strategy or Tactic. It’s Who We Are.
For me personally, and I hope for 500 Startups even more broadly, our Commitment to Diversity stems from an irresistible desire to explore, from a burning curiosity to learn more about the world, from a moral imperative & intellectual humility to help both others and ourselves become part of a larger, more enlightened global community and global family.
Diversity is not a tactic or strategy, rather it is at the core of what we believe, and what we desire. Diversity is not even a choice, rather it is the most natural expression of who we are as humans, at our best and worst — curious, selfish, giving, greedy, loving, lusting, proud, humble, fearful, angry, happy, hungry, lazy, hateful, despicable… and wonderful human beings.
Diversity is an essential part of our lives and existence, which we do not deny, but rather hope to embrace to its fullest. We hope you will too.
ps — and yes, we do fund accents.
(disclaimer: i’ve said plenty of stupid shit, about many people, and i’ll probably screw that up again in the future… doesn’t mean i’m any less committed, just that i can be a fucking moron every now and then. anyway i’ll keep trying, kthxbai)