Competitive Frontiers: Part I - Going Earlier

The competitive advantage will be increasingly on finding the up-and-coming talent that hasn’t been believed in and credentialed yet.

Competitive Frontiers: Part I - Going Earlier

In the early-stage social venture ecosystem, I see two competitive frontiers that Uncharted and our peers will need to push into in order to remain relevant by 2025:

  • Going earlier: Sourcing and recruiting even earlier-stage organizations and leaders. The pressure will be increasingly on finding the up-and-coming talent that hasn’t been believed in and credentialed yet.
  • Going wider: Supporting organizations with non-traditional organizational structures: working with social movements, advocacy groups, and others that depart from the traditional social venture playbook. The pressure will be to leave behind this playbook that we have borrowed from venture capital and instead focus on organizations that build and distribute power.

In future Insiders, I’ll cover the topic of going wider. Today, I want to talk about going earlier. I’ve been increasingly fascinated by emerging research and models that are premised on the idea that betting on people is a better predictor of long-term success than betting on their specific models, products, or ideas. Here is a quick sampling:

  • Democratic Lotteries: This is a concept where candidates are elected via a simple lottery system where names of people who opt-in are drawn from a hat. It sounds crazy, but there is some fascinating research about how democratic lotteries increase access to leadership opportunity and build unlikely but more capable leaders. Start with this podcast, and then check out this org and this org.
  • Funding scientific research: There is new thinking on why it’s nearly impossible to pick out the best scientific research proposals from a pool that meets a certain threshold. One argument is that our ego makes us think we can pick winners but that funding more randomly will yield less biased and more successful scientific research. Further reading here and here.
  • Focusing pre-company or pre-campaign: I’ve been closely tracking two organizations with different models but share a common throughline: betting on people before they launch their thing. Entrepreneur First is a cross between an entrepreneurial accelerator and a talent scout. They match co-founders together and fund them pre-idea and pre-company to figure something out. Justice Democrats is an organization that recruits people to challenge out-of-touch congressional Democrats in vulnerable primaries. They were the organization that identified and recruited AOC and then helped her win.

The implications for our work are intriguing:

  • There are so many promising and capable leaders who never make it to the level of working full-time on their social venture. Under-representation starts before the organization launches.
  • The size of our ego about our ability to pick winners is as big as the size of our blind spots. Maybe we don’t need to think as hard and perhaps simply select and fund more.
  • Solutions might be more interesting when you stop funding the usual suspects. Matt Clifford, founder of Entrepreneur First says, “If you give people who might not otherwise start a company time and space to do so, you (should) get companies that otherwise wouldn’t exist at all.”