At the end of this month I am stepping back from my role of CEO at Triggerise Foundation to take a (voluntary) seat on the Foundation’s Supervisory Board.
I had the honor and privilege of leading Triggerise alongside one of the most incredible teams in the business. It has been the world’s best job and I had a blast.
In three short years (ok, actually six years if I was to be honest, as there was a lot of work done before we incorporated), we are a full-fledged group of organizations with field operations across 12 different countries and teams on the ground on three continents. We built something from nothing and ended up creating a damn fine non-profit.
Hundreds of thousands of people on under-served markets have interacted with our platforms during this time. Hundreds of thousands of transactions were successfully completed, by people who earned rewards for making positive choices and got to spend these rewards locally, just like cash. In India, pregnant women have come to rely on Tiko Saathi — our membership program that rewards them for completing pregnancy milestones. In Kenya, adolescent girls join Tiko Explore to define their own milestones and get rewarded for completing them, thus making more out of available opportunities and living better, healthier lives. Elsewhere, tens of thousands of people rely on our networks to access quality services and products and earn rewards while they do so. And this is only the beginning.
In addition to luck — of which we had plenty — we, too, can trace our success to a few critical moments when someone who could have just as easily ignored us choose instead to take a bet on us. None of this would have been possible without the incredible support we found along the way: people who got energized by our ideas and actively advocated for us; donors who took the risk and funded us; folks who dropped what they were doing and joined the team in spite of low pay and uncertainty. All the way, at every turn, people believed in us and then went the extra mile to support our work.
Yet, crazy as it sounds, our story is not unique. Turns out small, fast growing organizations are everywhere. Alimented by big ideas and the energy of people who, against all odds, believe they can change things in this industry and beyond. Turns out Triggerise is actually part of a movement. Props to these organizations and the people behind them and, boy, did I love to rub shoulders.
But you know what? Triggerise is not a company. It has no shareholders. As a public benefit foundation it is owned by no-one and it exists as a powerful public vehicle to deliver impact built around a few simple ideas.
Awesome as they are, public benefit structures have a fundamental flaw — devoid of the single-mindedness of chasing profits, and facilitated by the “softer” nature of their definition of success, if allowed, they will become complacent.
If you’ve spent enough time in this industry you’ve seen it happening. You’ve probably also run into that guy (yep, it’s usually a guy): he’s been too long in a leadership role. He clings to the known and the certain. Former trailblazer turned fearful. As his teams take over more of the day-to-day responsibilities, he slides into micro-management.
As a founder-CEO I am particularly art risk of becoming that guy. And it is my job (and the job of every organization’s governance culture) to ensure that this doesn’t happen. That the organization stays true not only to its founding principles, but also to the public nature of our structures. If we are to continue delivering and multiplying impact, if we are to continue attracting great people and enjoying the support of a driven, intelligent global community, we need to keep fresh at the top. And there’s only one way to make sure that happens:
Out with the old! All the time.
Of course, there is the killer question: What is the best time to step back?
Hard to say, but I for one seem to run more often into founders who have stayed too long than into people who seemed to have stepped back to early. Like:
In any case, over the years I thought a lot about this moment and I have settled on a simple definition of the best timing:
The optimal moment to step back is the moment when the business-as-usual is running without your direct contribution.
This has been the case at Triggerise for a while, therefore it is high time to step back. Simple as that. I am super excited about reaching this milestone.
I am also excited that my departure will help address two other critical points:
- True growth opportunities in the team: as a leader you can speak all you want about internal growth opportunities if the growth path stops at your door. That doesn’t happen in a culture where no-one clutches the helm for too long, where people know that the path goes all the way to the top. And damn, Triggerise has some amazing people coming through the ranks and I can’t wait to watch them deliver the goods.
- Diversity of leadership. Triggerise has a wonderfully diverse team. I stopped counting the different nationalities represented on the team at 20. People from all backgrounds and all walks of life. Yet, the leadership team does not reflect that diversity. I have a problem with that. And I am part of the problem. Stepping back is the only way to fix that.
In short, I am looking forward to witnessing Triggerise’s next chapter from a more detached vantage-point — the Triggerise Foundation’s Supervisory Board. This will allow me to remain connected and continue to define the organization’s future — along the other volunteer board members — while allowing Triggerise to evolve and grow autonomously.
Which brings me to the final question. What will I do for a living?
For a while now I have been fascinated by (obsessed with?) the opportunities unlocked by blockchain & distributed ledger technologies in the areas of impact delivery and funding. The feeling is familiar — a decade ago I was obsessing about the opportunities unlocked by that era’s emerging technology — the mobile phone.
I believe that the blockchain will turn out to be a more fundamentally transformative technology than even the mobile phone. It is already forcing radical change across industries and geographies and it allows us to imagine and execute entirely new ways of funding and delivering impact at a scale that could not even be dreamed of before. Its decentralized nature makes it a terrific platform to empower communities directly, eliminate gatekeepers and middlemen, provide access to wealth and completely change the game in evaluating, pricing and funding impact.
I believe for the first time ever that we can truly start imagining a humanity-centered, post-aid world, where impact has inherent value and wealth is more equally distributed and applied, allowing everyone higher chances at better, more dignified lives.
One way or another I want to do my part in accelerating these opportunities. But more on that later.
For now, here’s to the outstanding team at Triggerise and the incredible people who continue to believe in us (and in me personally) and stood by us during this exhilarating journey!