[Name]: Lindsey Franklin
[Areas of Expertise]: Climate Change, Political Organizing, Sustainability Initiatives for Small Businesses, Community Building
“There are a couple things I have been really proud of in my life. One was working on the Obama campaign, since it was the first real entrepreneurial thing I’d done. I was placed in a rural Republican county in Michigan, and for the first three weeks my office was a local McDonald’s. I was told to create a network of people who would vote for this presidential candidate: basically, I was tasked to build an organization all by myself, with no budget. By the end, we had a network of 200 active volunteers who were excited about what we were doing. The experience of building a functioning network in very little time, with no budget except my small stipend, was very valuable. I was actually on the phone with my head volunteer yesterday, and he was telling me how their last Democratic meeting was packed with over one hundred people in this small room. It made me feel that I really did something positive.”
Whiskey is the official drink of innovation. Or so Lindsey, co-founder of the Hub’s Whiskey Club, believes. But before you close this story and head to the bar for an afternoon libation to take the edge off your last frustrating investor meeting, consider this: entrepreneurs may benefit from failure.
As a child, Lindsey wanted to become a veterinarian or a marine biologist. In high school, she immersed herself in humanitarian work, visited nursing homes, and decided to dedicate her life to helping people. Lindsey fits right in at the Hub, where we hold a very simple requirement that members “seek to build a better world.” Why then, do we constantly have our faces buried in our laptops and go to bed way later than Mother Teresa ever did? Because changing the world is easier said than done.
“I feel like since high school, I have realized how complex ‘doing good’ actually is,” Lindsey reflects, “Intentions are great, but there’s a journey of figuring out how to not only want to do good, but also be effective in turning intentions into actual results.”
Take it from someone who knows. Having spent the past two years launching ecoVC,an online platform designed to help any company begin to implement sustainability measures, Lindsey recently made the heart-breaking decision to leave it behind. After making it through two rounds of Hub Ventures, Lindsey realized that there were some faulty assumptions riddling the groundwork of her nascent nonprofit.
In particular, Lindsey feels that she overestimated the power of the persuasive relationship between investors and small companies. EcoVC is built on a model that leverages that specific relationship to get companies to act on measures for sustainability. “We realized,” she reveals, “that investor influence was not as powerful as we thought: when we tried to do our beta, a lot of the companies in the portfolio of the venture firm that we were working with didn’t want to do anything because they didn’t have the time to deal with it.”
“That made me realize we were operating from a theory-of-change point of view, where we asked ‘How do we get people to act?’ instead of starting with the company and asking ‘How do we add value?’” she explains.“That was a really big ‘Aha!’ moment for me because I realized that we were going about things the wrong way.”
In the blurry area between business and mission, ecoVC needed to think about how the organization was adding value to customers in response to demand, as opposed to trying to drive demand and get people to act.
Lindsey’s “theory of change” thinking may stem from past endeavors that were more persuasive in nature. In college, Lindsey was involved in Middlebury’s notable student environmental organization, The Sunday Night Group. Over one hundred people attended weekly meetings, and several nodes of the cohort went on to run political campaigns in New Hampshire and start 350.org.
But campaigning wasn’t sticking with Lindsey.“I found that when I was talking to people about climate change, I got most excited when we were talking about the economic opportunities in environmental solutions. I realized that I wanted to do something that equated environmental solutions with economic opportunity.” That spurred her to move to California and start ecoVC, which would address the need for innovative and profitable environmental solutions.
EcoVC piloted as a network of venture capitalists who would encourage their portfolio companies to implement sustainability initiatives. Through research, Lindsey and her business partner realized there were not enough resources for small companies, so they wanted to build a platform that would shift the focus from the investor to the company.
“We thought if we could get people excited and build a network of support around the company at an early stage then we could get sustainability ideas into the DNA of the company and get at a more mainstream audience instead of only targeting people who were already into it,” Lindsey remembers. “We realized however, that you need to focus on creating value in the company rather than just persuading people to do something. So that was definitely a big learning experience.”
Not making it into the third round of the Hub Ventures program turned out to be a great thing for Lindsey, because it led her to look very carefully at her business model. “I recognized that there were a lot of glaring challenges we needed to face,” she says. “We wouldn’t be able to raise money or be revenue-positive until we addressed those problems.”
Lindsey got important feedback from Hub Ventures, and was forced to think about financial sustainability on both a personal and organizational level. “That led to the decision to put ecoVC aside for now, and try to find something that can sustain me right now,” she admits, “And who knows, maybe I’ll go back to it! We still have to figure out what to do with what we’ve built. But right now it’s on hiatus.” The Hub has been a big part of that process for Lindsey, giving her “a community of support to take my idea to the point where it could be tested, and giving me the feedback necessary to make the critical decision to leave it off.”
Now, she’s switching directions to make a visible impact and broaden her work skills. Lindsey will be in Boulder this summer, working at the Unreasonable Institute: a 6-week residential accelerator program for entrepreneurs. “I’m going into the unknown a little bit,” she ventures, “I’m excited to work on a team for the first time in two years, but I’ll also be using a different skill set. Everything I’ve done in the past three years has been about persuading and speaking. Now I’ll be working on the operations side of things.”
Lindsey seems up for the challenge. “There’s a great quote I heard once,” she recalls, “that says ‘if you want to be a CEO, you should start in operations. If you want to run a business, you need to know how a business runs.’” While coming up with ideas and pitching them is fun, operations provide a crucial foundation for any bridge you are trying to build.
“I’ve been constantly told to ‘know your strengths, leverage your strengths.’ I love people, and I love being in a more outward-facing role, but I think you need to be careful to not let self-awareness limit you. I don’t want to have this idea of myself that I am just that people-person. I want to challenge myself to be surprised and think, ‘you know, maybe I could do operations!’ Yes, leverage your strengths, but also let yourself surprise yourself.”
Had Lindsey not faced failure with ecoVC, she may have never had a chance to develop a skill set that will complement her natural talent for the outward-facing communications role she so has so often played. Failure, at its best, brings our awareness to the gaps in our foundations.
And now for a little success…
Being a whiskey fan and “unreasonable” does not necessary entail bad decisions. Just because there are tough decisions and mistakes along the journey doesn’t mean there aren’t sweet moments of victory.
“There are a couple things I have been really proud of,” Lindsey notes. “One was the Obama campaign since it was the first entrepreneurial thing I’ve really done. I was placed by myself in a rural Republican county in Michigan, and for the first three weeks my office was a local McDonald’s. I was told to create a network of people who will vote for this presidential candidate. By the end, we had a network of 200 active volunteers who were excited about what we were doing.”
The experience of building a functioning network in very little time with no budget except a small stipend was valuable for Lindsey. “I even keep in touch with my volunteers who helped me to transform this Republican county,” she notes, “I was actually on the phone with my head volunteer yesterday, and he was telling me how their last Democratic meeting was packed with over one hundred people in this small room. That is something I’m probably the most proud of, and has made me feel that I really did something positive.”
The blooming of Hub Clubs is another victory under her belt. At this point in time, Hubbers are gathering around their passion for soccer, poker, Spanish, food, art, reading, writing, international development, urban agriculture, beer, and of course… whiskey. “When I came in, I was really excited about clubs because the whole theme of the Hub is connecting people to one another,” Lindsey reminisces, “But I also felt there was potential for people to get excited about common interests beyond just social change. Sometimes, great ideas happen outside the standard work environment.”
Building community may be one way in which we accidentally make progress while we’re trying to… make progress. “I think the common thread in my life is recognizing the power of what happens when a lot of people get together,” Lindsey says, “From college activism and working for the Obama campaign, I’ve learned that it’s possible to get a very different group of people together, facilitate interactions between them, and get ideas to happen while also fostering a sense of friendship. That makes you unstoppable, and that is what keeps bringing me back to the Hub.”
Here’s hoping that after her summer in Colorado, Lindsey will return to us with new wisdom under her belt to share, and a renewed vision for milking that nexus between environmental and economic good! Check out Lindsey’s platform at http://www.ecovc.org/, or follow her work on LinkedIn. And if you’re feeling extra unreasonable, join Hub Whiskey tomorrow at 5pm for Summer Solstice at John Colins. Everyone’s welcome, whether you’re coming off a failure or a success. After all, it’s what all the cool entrepreneurs are doing 😉
Thanks for reading!
Samantha, Your Hub Stories Correspondent
Samantha is a staff blogger for the Hub Bay Area. She designed and launched the Hub Stories Project in January of 2011 in an attempt to capture the unique narratives of Bay Area change-makers as they help to build a better world from within the Hub community. She also writes a travel blog and is currently based in Tel Aviv, Israel.