Saturday, November 04, 2006

Google.org- where are you?

Dear Larry and Sergey:

Google.org made a big splash when it launched a year ago. Three million Google shares, worth almost a billion dollars, and 1% of profits. A new, for-profit model for foundations. It was going to be big, different, pattern changing.

At the time, you said: "We hope that someday this institution will eclipse Google itself in overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world's problems."

When I first read about it, I was excited. OK, I thought, here they come. The team that says "Don't be evil" is spinning it around to "Do be good" and putting their money behind it. Once again taking a new approach, different than the Gates Gang. Perhaps, I thought, they will figure out a way to launch lots of mini- assaults on poverty, disease and climate change, much as they have done in their core business. Not big program launches, but instead beta-tests, focused incursions, probing for opportunity. Bringing much needed innovation to the social sector. Your first investment, in Acumen Fund, looked promissing. Very cool.

Well, a year later, you have distributed $7 million and given away $33 million in advertising. It's a start, but you aren't even spending the interest, are you? You've hired a very talented person to run it, Dr. Larry Brilliant. You've travelled to see some troubled spots. You have a single web page with a few links. It comes up on the Google blog every once in a while. There have been a few articles in the press about it, but it isn't entering, much less changing, the debate on many important issues. So far, guys, I would say that it is performing well below expectations on the pattern changing front. What is going on behind the veil at Google.org?

The following is unsolicited advice based on rank speculation. I remain optimistic that there is much good afoot behind the curtain, and that you will soon respond to this posting with a flurry of worthy activity.

Suggestion #1- Don't forget the entrepreneurs. You have funded an investment firm and a consulting firm. Please don't fund a law firm next. Fund some entrepreneurs. Want some suggestions? OneWorld Health, some Ashoka fellows, some of the microfinance institutions.

Suggestion #2- Buy a disguise and go to the TechAwards in San Jose later this month. I know you talked to some of the TechAwards folks last year, but you passed on investing in any of them, didn't you. Well, try again. It's a short drive. I know, they are giving Bill an award. But you gotta get over that. Spending time with the 25 laureates is inspiring. I know, why don't you give every one of them $25 k. Steal a little of Bill's thunder. How do you lose? The PR alone would pay for it!

Suggestion #3- Announce your business model. Build some transparency. Until you have a track record, people are guessing about what you want to do. At a venture fund, I can see how they walk their talk. Your sample size is too small so far, so provide some more guidance. Announce some problems you would like to see solved... make sure that your focus is on areas of greatest impact. For instance, with climate change, figure out the interventions that will really matter. You have started with the 100 mpg hybrid.. now how about smart alternative fuels, or off grid power solutions for the BOP. As an entrepreneur in this area, I want to know where you are going to invest. You don't need to even invest yet, just leverage the power of announcing your intentions. Keep pushing the "clean and green" angle.

Suggestion #4- Go to a new space. The war on poverty, pollution and disease is not the "space race." The dominant logic of "big aid projects" is so Globalization 1.0 (as Tom Friedman would say). We know they don't work, and yet we continue to do them. It is fashionable to talk about "scaling," but then revert to these tired old models. Who better to think of scaling than you guys. So...time for some blue ocean thinking ... redefine the boundaries, change the value proposition, as you started to in the beginning. While I won't criticize any specific "big programs" (I will leave that to Easterly) we need other approaches. Figure out how to fund at the frontiers... lots of small, lower risk shots will go a long way. Call it the "Starfish Venture Fund" or something, after Loren Eiseley's well worn fable. Not the venture model, like Accumen, but something with smaller investments and some other type of diligence/risk mitigating strategy. And, remember, the key to many BOP is to go to your customer. This isn't VC... don't emulate the Sand Hill Road model where entrepreneurs troop dutifully to your offices. Emulate Yunus, and go to where the entrepreneurs are. Physically or at least virtually.

Suggestion #5- Use your expertise to then connect these entrepreneurs, plugging them into the network and creating more value. Several of the most popular examples of social enterpreneurship(microfinance, solar electricity, tredle pumps) emerged separately, and the founders didn't have a chance to compare notes. Have a conference, and pay for the entrepreneurs to attend. Don't invite a bunch of bigwigs from the UN and World Bank. Just the entrepreneurs. Let them listen to each other. And you listen to them. But be careful, as soon as it gets big and fancy, you will lose the true entrepreneurs. There is already a WEF, afterall.

Suggestion #6- continue to leverage close connections between Google.org and your core business. Pick initiatives that tie back to information and knowledge. Literacy looks like a winner to me in this regard, so build on your PlanetRead investment. Figure out how to replicate it to other countries. Fund some others in this area. Take a look at the Design that Matters projector and Joshua Silvers' adjustable eyeglasses. The more people that read, the more information they will want, and the more they will turn to Google to get it. Just more clicks, more revenue for Google, and more money flowing to Google.org. A virtuous cycle, for sure. Other areas that might yeild similar results would be more transparent governments aroundthe world... freer citizenry will use Google more, won't they?

OK, that's a start. I am sure you guys have done a lot of brainstorming and planning, but it is time to start doing. There is much to do, and you guys can help.

Do be good, and be great at it.

Best of luck,
Paul

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