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America used value community, purpose, and fairness. But now it kind of feels like virtually every decision is based on what will make the most money. My guest today has a dream, a vision that this is changing. He has created a manifesto for a more generous world. Yancey Strickler is the cofounder and former CEO of Kickstarter, the mission-driven, global public-benefit company that helped pioneer crowdsourcing. He is also the author of the recently released book, “This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World.” I’ve been a big fan of Yancey’s work for quite some time and am so excited to have him on the show today. Join me as I learn more about Yancey and his inspiring manifesto!
Yancey grew up on a farm in southwest Virginia. He didn’t have neighbors and farm-life forced him to be a bit more creative. He dreamt of being a writer and reading and writing is how he kept himself busy and entertained on the farm.
He studied writing in college and after graduating, moved to New York City where he worked as a music journalist. While reviewing records and writing about musicians, he became friends with Perry Chin, the creator of crowdfunding.
Together, Yancey, Perry Chin, and Charles Adler created and launched Kickstarter, which has since introduced crowdfunding to the world and generated more than $4 billion to creative projects. Along the way, Kickstarter also became a public benefit corporation.
The three founders put a lot of effort into governing Kickstarter according to the values that felt most true to them. In Yancey’s last four years at the company, he also served as CEO.
Two years ago, Yancey left Kickstarter to write his first book called “This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World.” It explores what our role models for success are and the optimistic direction families, work, and companies can take to evolve toward generosity.
Yancey’s father was a musician who sold waterbeds to make a living for the family. Yancey has an artistic side from his father’s country and bluegrass interests and also grew up in a church that taught him about responsibility and caring for others. He loved listening to Indy Rock and Punk growing up, which also inspired a message about being true to your community.
10:45 – A Community Start at a Restaurant called “Diner”
Yancey and Perry met in Brooklyn at a nice restaurant called “Diner.” They spent a lot of time bonding over a shared love of good eateries and basketball. One day Perry shared his idea for Kickstarter, but Yancey wasn’t a fan of the idea at first.
Perry’s pitch reminded Yancey of a reality show like American Idol, but Perry assured Yancey that the idea was more about highlighting sub-cultures that don’t fit in to the mainstream, allowing those people to share ideas more widely.
Yancey had no dreams of being an entrepreneur and felt very anxious about stepping over the line between business and creativity. It was a stretch far beyond his comfort zone.
Once Yancey was fully on board and Kickstarter was launched into the marketplace, he was surprised to see that not only small passion projects idea were on board, but so were people with million-dollar idea projects. It was a real shift in the level of activity and responsibility of Kickstarter.
The beauty is that it’s a platform for anyone to add their ideas. It is perpetually renewable for this reason.
The hope is that Kickstarter remains a place where anyone can indulge their ideas rather than forgetting them or giving up. It’s for anyone young or old to keep their creative muscle flexing throughout their lifetime.
Yancey’s book This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World explores both how our communities once valued togetherness, purpose, and fairness, and how in business, most decisions are made based on what’s going to make the most money.
Some business owners are going outside of the current societal norm to not only run a business, but also make a positive impact on their communities and cultures. Can society get back to a place where that is more of the norm?
The idea for Yancey’s book started when he was giving a talk for Kickstarter around the time that the company was becoming a public benefit company. They were changing expectations and accountability to not only maximize shareholder value, but also produce a positive benefit to society.
As he started looking around at peer companies, he noticed that everyone seemed to be operating around an ideal that whatever will produce the greatest economic growth is by default the correct choice.
Yancey started to explore debating clear economic decisions that could be predicted and the downsides of what’s less profitable. The ideas that make the most money often win, and the “everything else” that we feel emotionally but don’t actually have a concrete plan for just falls to the wayside.
He tried to imagine a CEO who didn’t have to choose between values and profits. Yancey is exploring a different way about thinking of “self-interests.” There is more involved than just what’s the best for a person or for a company right now. There’s also legacy, what’s best for families, friends, coworkers, and the choices that create a life well-lived when we get to the end of it.
Self-interests should also include the “Future Us”: our children and the communities left after we’re gone. Yancey hopes to reframe our values…the ones we know objectively exist but are difficult to us to rationalize or talk about when we’re too focused on the bottom line.
Yancey calls this new rationale and loving framework “Bentoism.” Think of companies that can perceive both the future “us” and the present “us”. Some examples are Chick-fil-a, who gives employees one day off a week or Patagonia, who is working to take care of the Earth that will be left to our children.
Yancey’s book teaches both businesses and people how to create value in multiple ways, not just financially.
When we have an abundance mentality, our self-interest is confident and secure enough to know there is enough for everyone, and we are called to be greater than just our financial successes.
Success can also be measured in the transparency companies share with the world and the trust that is built with customers and consumers. We can bring our personal values into the work we do, even on a collective or large business scale.
Yancey has made his own “Bento boxes” that help him make decisions. There are values for each box that highlight “Now Me”, “Future Me”, “Now Us”, “Future Us.” Each Bento has a yes or no question. When he is invited to speak at company events, he looks to his Bento and questions whether accepting the gig will align with the values and goals for each box.
Yancey’s “Future Me” box carefully considers not selling out. When he can see the ways doing a talk could fulfill his purpose, it’s from a self-coherent choice. It’s a structured way of understanding for certain whether it’s the right thing for you to do in regard to your values.
The word “bento” comes from a Japanese word meaning convenience. A bento box is a food container with four compartments and a lid that can hold a variety of dishes to create a balanced meal. It also honors a Japanese diet philosophy that says the goal of a meal is to be 80% full so that you’re still hungry for tomorrow. Bentoism is the same idea for our values and our choices. The four boxes are “Now Me”, “Future Me”, “Now Us”, and “Future Us.” It’s a compass to stay true to who you are and what you care about. It focuses your energy each day, week, or month when making decisions. It’s a mix of now and the future, and a mix of you and other people you care about.
You can learn more about Bentoism and build your own boxes at http://bentoism.org/ You can also connect with other people making boxes!
Find out some fun things about Yancey like something we’d never guess about him, what makes him feel most alive, his favorite TV show to watch growing up (you’re gonna laugh), what movie scared him when he was a kid, and of course, what it means to Yancey to run a business with purpose!
6: 51: “I liked Indy Rock and Punk that had a strong ethos of don’t sell out and being true to your community. You don’t get big to then exit out of your community. The right thing to do is lift up your community with you.”
“I just had a lot of role models that were sort of about lifting up others. That’s what success is. Success is having the opportunity to do that and then doing it.”
“There’s been a funny challenge and strength I’ve always had in my life of not quite fitting in anywhere. That is a source of a lot of pain and then there are others ways in which being an entrepreneur, or writer, or thinker that it’s very positive to be on your own because then you you have the opportunity to bring other people with you.”
16:11 – The idea for success with Kickstarter is that the person who has an idea that they’re thinking about, that rather than tossing that idea away and not indulging their creative or entrepreneurial side, then instead, this is the place where they give it a shot and don’t let that part of them die.
16:45 – “Can Kickstarter be the place where it’s easier to try than to not try?”
28:55 “There are other ways of creating value that are not financially oriented and that I think display a lot more creativity and are what make other people stand out in the world.
About Yancey Strickler:
Yancey Strickler is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the cofounder and former CEO of Kickstarter, author of This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World, and the creator of Bentoism. Yancey has been recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People. He cofounded the artist resource The Creative Independent and the record label eMusic Selects. He’s spoken at the Museum of Modern Art, Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals, Web Summit, MIT, and events around the globe. Yancey grew up in Clover Hollow, Virginia, and began his career as a music critic in New York City.