1% Of Nothing is Something (How AngelList Can 100x Startup Philanthropy)

Update: On Friday 13th I joined the Board of 1% of Nothing, the nonprofit mentioned below. At the time this post was published, I had no affiliation other than being very fond of the idea and team.

My desire to see LinkedIn add “Biggest Mistakes” to their resume template is about defaults. Default settings (let’s broadly define as what a user encounters native to a system), are really significant because they often remain unchanged and also signal the environmental norms. What does the community you are joining expect of you? And I firmly believe that norms are more important than laws when trying to impact behavior change. In response to my post, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner replied: “Think the sentiment is spot on. Have always thought some of the most valuable career lessons I’ve learned are what not to do.” 

So time to pick on another influential service: AngelList 🙂

AngelList’s impact on early stage investing can’t be underestimated – it has been one of the forces creating tremendous funding velocity in the marketplace. Because of this, their company template has become something which doesn’t just record information, but shapes it. Their tabs and fields instruct founders what data they need to supply in order to “fit” into the community. For example, I might suggest that the prominence of their Advisor section has promoted the concept and value of an Advisory Board beyond it’s previous import.

So this got me thinking. My friends Shervin & Matt created 1% of Nothing which promotes early stage philanthropy – the idea that becoming charitable isn’t something you do after the IPO, but rather at founding by setting aside 1% of your equity for a cause. It’s great and they’ve had some early success.

But the real opportunity is to make this the behavior of entrepreneurs everywhere. Make it the default, so that founders are actually opting out, rather than opting in. One approach might be to get it written into the standard early stage funding docs, so that it actually needs to be removed rather than added. But another powerful and public way would be to add it as a field to the AngelList company profile. Did this startup commit 1% and to what organization?

Boom! Overnight this becomes a piece of data that investors will review. The decision – to fund or not, and to what organization – turns into another part of the conversation, one which sheds some light on the heart and passion of the founders. And if it turns out to be a positive signal, well, one might actually find that companies which commit to philanthropy early on outperform those which don’t – essentially meaning the 1% dilution pays for itself.

And not just for funders but for employees – it becomes visible whether the startup you join is charitable at its core. With the tight competition for talent I can imagine this would be another selling point for potential hires. So Nivi, Naval, whatcha think?