Can a little startup really change the world?

On Friday night we won a Crunchie award – Silicon Valley’s version of the Oscars. We were voted the Startup “Most Likely to Make the World a Better Place.”

This was an amazing and humbling honor for us. We were nominated for this award alongside some absolutely amazing organizations – Kiva, Akoha, the Causes App for Facebook, Better Place, and CO2Stats.

Standing next to these fantastic organizations made me wonder: Is it really possible for a startup like us to change the world?

There is of course a dominant meme in Silicon Valley that little startups – a couple of founders, a good idea, lots of hard work, and even more chutzpah – can change the world.

The first thing you realize when you look into organizations like ours, however, is that it is never just a couple of smart entrepreneurs (or famous founders) that make these organizations what they are. I personally think founders are over-hyped in startups. There are always 4 or 5 or 10 or 20 people on these teams that work their hearts out, add a critical diversity of ideas, and make an organization like GoodGuide what it is.

As an example, another person recognized at the Crunchies was Paul Buchheit, one of the founders of FriendFeed. Paul formerly worked at Google. When most people think of Google, they think of Sergey and Larry. But Paul (and other early employees like him) were key to ideas like AdSense (how Google makes their money), their motto (“Do no evil”), and products like Gmail. GoodGuide would have almost no chance of improving the world without our entire team.

And then there are our advisors. GoodGuide benefits immensely from an advisory board that has helped us avoid big mistakes (that they themselves have lived through in past startups), and helped us learn from the mistakes we do make. We benefit from their science advice, their engineering advice, their business advice, and their commitment to doing good in the world.

Then, if a company is lucky, there are great investors. For us those are investors who believe that trying to solve big problems in the world can actually create huge opportunities. The best venture investors – especially in these unstable times – are those actually willing to act like venture investors and take risks and invest in something audacious. Paul Graham wrote an essay this year which makes the case for how the best companies often focus on ”doing good.” GoodGuide has been very fortunate to be supported by two firms, NEA and DFJ, that see the value in doing good.

And of course, behind every single one of these people are supportive family members – wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, children, parents – who support them through the late nights, weekends away, alpha launches, beta launches, re-launches, and just-one-more-time-and-it-should-work-launches, helping us believe in our mission and vision even on the days it seems out of reach.

And finally, there are the people who use what we have built – who try out our website, download our iPhone app, give us feedback and ideas for improvements, and inspire us to make GoodGuide better. If you are really lucky, these users become a community, taking what you have built, making it MUCH better, doing things with it you never even thought of, and then sharing it with their friends, and their friends, and their friends. And if you are truly blessed, this can become a movement of sorts.

And a movement… that can actually change the world.

So when you stop and think about this mythology of startups, and the almost-arrogance of believing a tiny team like ours can change the world, you realize very quickly that this is only possible if we are able to connect to a much bigger community and movement for change.

As Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

THANKS for helping us play a small role in making the world a better place.

About Dara O'Rourke

Associate Professor at UC Berkeley and Co-Founder of GoodGuide.
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5 Responses to Can a little startup really change the world?

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  2. Goodmars says:

    I have written a post about GoodGuide in my blog:
    http://tr.im/gk8j

    I love what you guys are doing! Please keep it uo.

  3. Congratulations to you & your team! I use goodguide to help me with alot of my buying decisions and to help coach my less-environmentally conscious friends into making better buying. We’ve been lacking a solid source to get to the core of what these companies stand for, what ingredients they use, what those ingredients mean to us as consumers and to the world at large. Thanks for all you do – I recently wrote a post on my blog touting goodguide which you can check out here:
    http://mychickaboom.blogspot.com/2009/02/its-all-good.html. I’d love to add a button on my site if you have advertising opportunities available. Thanks and keep up the ‘good’ work 😉

  4. Joni F says:

    No doubt they made the biggest mistake of their lives honoring you. You sure lived up to that honor, didnt you?

    LOSERS

  5. Varun Tandon says:

    Dara,

    Hi! I read about Good Guide in Daniel Coleman’s book – Ecological Intelligence – was really impressed by the depth of research and work that you and your team are doing in this space. I coudn’t agree with you more that this is the right way to slow down / reduce the impact of our consuming behaviour.

    I live in Mumbai, India and the impact of high and reckless consumption is only too visible. Fast growing nations like India are adopting all purchasing patterns – with large malls springing up – of the US and Europe. This had already prompted me to think about areas where I can personally contribute.

    This brings me to my central question – I’d like to work with you to explore if its possible to bring up a similar concept or GoodGuide itself for developing nations like India?

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