Forgive me the delay, Alex and I wanted to make this clear and unequivocal. It still isn’t perfect, but it’s honest.
If you follow us on Twitter you’ve seen firsthand how we’ve been involved over the past few weeks, but of course, not everyone uses Twitter or follows us (especially me!) but we wanted to say something more specific and concrete here, and directly to you.
Here’s what we believe:
- Black Lives Matter.
- Our country is founded on systems of structural inequality, and structural racism.
- Police violence is state-sponsored violence.
- Mass incarceration and the prison-industrial system — aka Jim Crow laws under another name — have wrought incredible harm to Black Americans.
- Systematic under- and de-funding of local schools, social services, health systems, etc., is intentional.
- Voter suppression is intentional.
- People matter more than property.
But we didn’t want to insert ourselves into your inboxes - especially when the focus should be on the protesters and Black voices - without also being about actions and accountability.
So today I want to talk with you about
- how we’ve been trying to fight these systems, and support those harmed by them, and
- what we can and will do going forward
First: putting our money where our mouth is.
Before the protests began, our belief in structural racism is the reason we raised and donated $2,000 to the Navajo Nation Covid-19 Relief Fund.
During the past two weeks, Alex and I have both donated to bail funds, Black mental health charities, and I donated to a program to support Black trans women. Alex ran a matching campaign to Philly’s bail fund.
Historically, we’ve donated heavily to Donors Choose in Philadelphia, to support local (predominantly Black and brown) kids who deserve the same furnishings, paper, pencils and supplies, books, and technology access as white kids in wealthier districts. I’ve personally donated to the fight for felon re-enfranchisement in Florida and similar programs. (The over-policing of Black people, especially Black men, is a post-Jim-Crow system for denying them the vote.)
Giving money is easy, relatively, which is that’s been my main course of action. My health sucks and I’m not an expert, so I try to fund experts.
Another thing we’ve been doing quietly for the past few years is widening our network.
Racism isn’t just blatant mistreatment, it’s also quiet exclusion. Highly skilled, experienced, insightful people who are simply… missing from the conversation, because somewhere along the line, they’ve been shut out, overlooked, ignored, or erased. This is especially true for Black men and women.
I’d like to be clear, here: I reject the idea of “token representation.” The idea communicates that the non-white people in a lineup aren’t there because they’re excellent, but just to fill a spot. The real fact is that there are Black people kicking ass in all areas but, due to structural racism, they aren’t “top of mind” to white people who have predominantly white networks.
Case in point: My covid-19 interview series was 13 entrepreneurs (not counting me). Five of my interviewees are people of color, two are Black. I’m not telling you this to pat myself on the back. I didn’t do my interviewees a favor. I’m lucky to know these creative and hard-working folks, and extremely glad they agreed to be interviewed, which is kind of a pain for them, and a real favor to me and to you. I didn’t pick these entrepreneurs because they were “diverse,” I picked them because they had valuable insights to share.
Coincidentally, all their businesses are currently going much better than my own SaaS right now, ha. And I knew that because I’d had the pleasure of connecting with them, getting to know them, and learn from them over time.
The other fact is that just five or six years ago, my network was extremely white. It wasn’t on purpose — and that’s why it is insidious.
Still, though, the things I’ve talked about above aren’t enough compared to the scale of the problem.
Alex and I know we need to and can do more.
So, in terms of our business going forward…
Alex and I want to use what we’ve already got (our skills, connections, and audience) to its best purpose.
First off, we are going to use our platform to promote more Black entrepreneurs — as the experts they are.
Second, we will re-design the financial side of our business around generous and ongoing donations to programs with a proven track record of empowering Black creatives and entrepreneurs.
Third, we want to help more Black entrepreneurs build businesses that match their goals, and without the gatekeepers or broken incentives of venture capital.
We’re still talking about what form that takes, and we are going to engage a consultant for advice. We are wary of what is apparently a common trap of incorrectly treating Black people as “in need of extra help” or as “mentees” even when they’re already established and experienced; on the other hand, mentoring and training is our business, and we want to ensure that those who want it can get it, and — more importantly — achieve their goals with it.
You see, the whole reason we set out to teach business, and bootstrapping products specifically, is because it’s the path to economic freedom and personal sovereignty. There are no gatekeepers. Or at least, far fewer once you are self sufficient.
Nobody checks your credentials at the door before they buy your product. Nobody can tell you “next year, maybe, if you play your cards right.” Nobody can fire you but you. Customers pay you if you solve their problems.
And when this customer or that customer is a terrible person, well, you’re not relying on any individual asshole to survive — you’ve got the whole internet to find more.
After all, our founding idea is that you need only to find 500 people, across the entire internet, to pay you just $30 a month to gross $180,000 a year. It’s right there in the name: 30x500.
This freedom is also why Alex and I are free to write you an email like this. Will some people hate it? I’m sure. Are we bothered? Only by the fact that those people felt comfortable here to begin with.
Fourth, we will use our position to push back against structural racism — in entrepreneur and tech circles, wherever we see it, explicitly and in public.
Fifth, we will continue to expand our networks. And that includes for hiring, if/when we do any.
Finally, we will listen. Comments, criticism, or general internalized screaming… we are here for you.
That’s our business.
On a personal level, I will increase my donations to, and promotion of, activists and organizations that fight for structural justice in our country in housing, voting, economic access, health and mental health… and legal justice, too. That includes organizations that fight against the carceral state and for police abolition.
Alex doing much of the same, while also working intently with the Indy Hall community and adjacent allies to invest time and resources into anti-racism efforts internally and in their wider community of freelancers and remote workers.
That’s us. What about you?
Wherever you are in your journey towards economic freedom, you can choose to play an active role too.
If you have built a business that gives you the freedom to speak out or speak up, but haven’t chosen to do so yet, take this moment to personally investigate that choice (yep, inaction is a choice too). If you want to to do something, but haven’t yet, hit reply and tell us what’s stopping you.
If you haven’t built a business yet, consider using your drive to make things better to stoke a fire. Remember that your business doesn’t need to directly serve a cause you care about if it gives you the freedom to invest your time and resources into the cause.
You can also educate yourself on anti-racism, anti-Blackness, and white supremecy. This guide is one of Alex’s favorites.
When I was much younger, I used to view structural racism as an issue of fairness. “It’s unfair — it shouldn’t exist.” And that’s certainly true, it is deeply un-fucking-fair, and we should smash it until it’s gone.
What I’ve come to learn is that anti-Black racism also robs the entire world of the genius, creativity, and experience of the people it tramples, ignores, and discards.
Have you heard of Garrett Morgan? He invented the gas mask. When his customers learned that he was Black, many canceled their orders. How did they find out? He used his own invention to rescue people, to great fanfare. And then they canceled.
For too long, our world has chosen to choke on toxic fumes out of spite.
It’s long past time to put the fire out.
Garrett Morgan invented the gas mask. Due to racism, he pretended to be a Native American to get fire departments to buy, but his identity was revealed when he personally rescued people using his invention from a smoke-filled tunnel causing Southerners to cancel their orders. 2/2 pic.twitter.com/1vH9CsXG5c— Ethan Mollick (@emollick) June 3, 2020