Saturday, January 19, 2008

Dear Larry(s) and Sergey (Part 2):

Wanted to write you again, and catch up. Happy to see the news about where you are going with Seem to have lost your email addresses, so figured I'd just use my blog.

I first heard about the new directions in the New York Times this week, and have now had a chance to poke around your updated website and blog. Good stuff and glad to see progress. The mission of the organization looks good: "to use the power of information and technology to address the global challenges of our age: climate change, poverty and emerging disease." Seems like a start at "moving to a new space" as we sort of discussed in my last post.

I am also pleased to see you have picked five initiatives to further this mission:

1) Renewable energy cheaper than coal
2) Plug in vehicles
3)Predict and prevent catastrophes (climate and disease)
4) Inform and empower to improve public services
5) Fuel the Growth of SME's

I also enjoyed looking over the "Initiative Briefs" for each, which provide more insight on your approach.

While I have been critical (but constructively so, I hope) in the past, it is good to see that you considered several of my suggestions. I always wonder who reads my blog, and it is reassuring to know you guys are checking in. I guess I should expect that, since, I mean, you did invent google and all.

It seems that you are taking a "First who, then what" approach. That's fine. And the press seems to be picking up on the idea that this is not philanthropy as usual.

I do have a few suggestions:

1) You have the opportunity to do something big. The philanthropic arena is filled with funders that don't want to fail. You guys have built google. You can do whatever you want to. Failure should be an option. Place real bets on real ventures that will have a significant impact. To me, the biggest failure would be if you took an incremental, long term approach. As the X-1 test pilot, Chuck Yeager said, if you are going to crash, "make a big hole."

2) You have posted what you have funded. Larry B said in the NY Times that has received a lot of requests. How about using some of that cool software and sorting out the reasons for refusals. Don't need names, but what are you guys turning down? Why?

3) Consider some type of grant pool that is decided by the internet voting. Doesn't have to be a big dollar amount, but a hybrid of Ashoka's Changemaker challenges and Global Giving. It doesn't seem like you have enough fundable ideas in your initiative areas... so see what this produces for each of your initiatives.

4) I am still hung up on the networking thing. You guys know more about network effects than anyone. I can't imagine the kind of info you guys have on this at the G-plex. How can you use this to "match-make"? Many entrepreneurs don't need your money (though they may still ask for it), but could use some special resource (usually a person). How about an eHarmony for social entrepreneurs, or some type of online speed dating to provide advice to those who want to help and those who need it? Pandora is doing the musical genome... what is the entrepreneurial genome?

Keep working on raising the bar on "do no evil." Do good and be great at it.

Yours truly,

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