ChangeMaker Interview: Luni Libes and Investorflow.org

Continuing our conversations with folks from the newsletter community, our next “Changemaker Interviews” is with Luni Libes. Luni is a 25+ year serial entrepreneur, most recently founder of Fledge, the conscious company accelerator, along with the Entrepreneur in Residence at Presidio Graduate School.  Luni is the author of The Next Step series of guidebooks on entrepreneurship, and The Pinchot Impact Index, outlining a technique for measuring impact across a portfolio of companies. Luni is an active impact investor through Fledge, Toniic, and Investors’ Circle and shares his stories annually at SOCAP and periodically on his blog.

 

FIRST: A BRIEF OVERVIEW
 

I recently spoke with Luni about investorflow.org, a platform he launched last year to help tackle the challenge he is hearing about from impact investors.  As Luni states “… in reality, most impact investments come from investors talking to other investors, not from companies pitching investors. The problem isn’t a lack of deal flow… The problem is efficiently matching the right deal to the right investor, one investor to another. Or more simply… the problem isn’t deal flow but investorflow,"

The goal of Investorflow.org is to put trusted investors together to fund companies and to fund funds. It is an online network where impact investors can hear about deals that fit their particular interests, vetted by fellow investors. All the deals are posted by investors seeking co-investors, not by entrepreneurs or fund managers.

 

Q&A WITH LUNI

Although you describe this a bit on your website, tell me a little more about the genesis of launching Investor Flow?

In 2016, after attending five impact investing meetings in less than three weeks (SOCAP, Investors’ Circle, Toniic, Gratitude Railroad and Big Path Capital), some common themes emerged:

·      Impact investors are spread around the world and not bunched up into any one or two or three cities. This makes it difficult for those seeking funding to find these investors – and - it also means that investors tend not to know each other.

·      Impact investors’ interests are specific and split across a large variety of topics (e.g. seventeen areas under the UN Sustainable Development Goals). Even when there are two dozen investors in a single room, the chance of them liking any one investment is rare. Instead, what often happens is that opportunities are being pitched to investor groups, but you can’t find enough interest in the room for people to join as co-investors to get an investment fully funded.

For example, someone with an investment opportunity in a clean water venture in Nigeria. Most times, it is pretty challenging for the interested investor to the find who else shared interests in:

·      Clean water (WASH)

·      Region/area (West Africa)

·      The type of capital (equity, debt, or revenue-based)

·      The risk level, timing etc…

Investorflow.org helps like-minded investors find each other. Our goal is to get as many interested impact investors as we can “in” the network to help facilitate investments to solve the “investorflow” challenge for investees.

 

How does Investorflow work?

 

It is actually incredibly simple. My partner and I both have a background in the tech world, and know from experience how no one wants yet-another login to yet-another website. We thus designed the system so that everything is conducted over email.

It is free to sign up. Registrants include details on themselves, their specific investment interests (using the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a guide), some information on their investment history, etc. Investors can be individuals, families, funds, foundations, or whatnot. Some are even unaccredited.

All deals come from fellow investors within the network, not from entrepreneurs or fund managers. Once posted, investment opportunities get forwarded to investors with a matching sector, geography, stage, and ticket size. If interested, members can simply click a button (“I Like This”) to get in contact with the leads to learn more.

There is currently no fee to post.  We plan on adding that when the network is much bigger.

 

Progress to date

 

Since launching the platform on January 2nd, we have had someone sign up just about every day. Our network has grown to a total of 259 individuals, family offices, foundations, funds, investing groups, and ecosystem organizations. We have developed two reports on the investor subscribers, including one we published back in August analyzing our first “205” investors (http://investorflow.org/reports/)

 

Were there any “surprises” for you from the report? Or what interesting take-aways?

I have blogged that impact investing is global, and the data proved this. Outside of the USA, Africa is the #1 investment area. The research also really showed the difference in popularity across the SDGs. And – importantly – the data also confirmed that Impact Investing is quite new.  Most of the investors have 0-5 years of experience doing impact investing.

 

What are your goals forward?

Step 1 – facilitating deal flow

Today we’re focued on building a base of interested impact investors who can learn about and submit investment opportunities in the areas – and of the types of capital – that suit them best. In terms of ‘type’ of capital, the definition in our network is “any money in any form”.

** While it hasn’t happened yet, we would love to see/facilitate a ‘blended deal’ – where, say, a foundation would come in with the first loss capital, and other investors would ‘stack’ other layers (with different risks/returns) on top to that

Step 2 – making connections

In 2018, we plan to proactively make connections between people with similar interests (through data analysis): “Here are people you should know”

We had a chance to try this out in 2017, collecting the profiles of the investors at Gratitude Railroad’s annual event, providing the organizers with cohorts of attendees who shared similar interests.  For 2018 we hope to go beyond this at SOCAP and other events, so that a week before an event you receive a list of “here is who you should meet” based on your similar investment interests, etc.

 

One of the goals of Investorflow.org is to really tackle a ‘systemic’ challenge with (current) Impact Investing – that is – how hard it is currently for investors to find other like-minded investors to support specific opportunities. Solving this challenge really strengthens the broader ecosystem.  What else do you see happening in the broader impact investing field around building/strengthening the ‘ecosystem’

I came to Seattle in the early 90’s, when the tech field was just starting to take off. One thing that (clearly) made the tech space move so fast was huge amounts of capital. The other – importantly – was Tech Crunch. It was media that became the ‘go to’ source and really played a critical role in how the field evolved

[Impact investing] doesn’t have good media coverage right now. We don’t have a ‘go to’ source yet, although ImpactAlpha.com is becoming a regular read for many.

Given how spread out impact investors are, we need a new structure where all the individuals and local groups have someplace to turn to find out what is happening, what is coming next – what to do next. This is the only way we’re going to get impact investing to work more broadly

With entrepreneurs, we need to move beyond the pitching in accelerators and business plan competitions and get to the learning. We need similar groups to find each other (like similar investors finding each other on Investor Flow)

We need to build an entire ecosystem globally. There are definitely folks working on these efforts, folks like SOCAP, the US Impact Investing Alliance.

 

Where can folks learn more the topics we’ve been discussing, your work with Investor Flow, and your ideas more broadly

First, I will be at SOCAP this week, and will be running a workshop at 5pm on WED titled:

“You’re doing it wrong: Investing without Exit”

Second: Anyone interested can sign up on Investorflow.org.  The URL is the name.

Third: I did a conversation with Devin Thorpe of Forbes discussing Investor Flow and why “It Shouldn't Be Easier To Find Your Mate Than To Find A Co-Investor Online” – you can see here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/devinthorpe/2017/06/28/it-shouldnt-be-easier-to-find-your-mate-than-to-find-a-co-investor-online/#2e27fcec12ec

Finally,  there are other issues holding back Impact Investing, and I’m doing what I can to help there too. One of these is structuring investments. See “The Next Step for Investors: Revenue-based Financing” (https://amazon.com/author/luni) for details on how to overcome that issue.

Thanks Luni!

http://investorflow.org

 

 

Inaugural Changemaker Interview: Brian Reich (the Imagination Gap)

This week we are launching the first of our “Impactful Interviews” with Brian Reich. I met Brian here in Boston about 8+ years ago (he is now based in NYC), and he is honestly one of my favorite people to talk about creative, disruptive, what should be next kind of ideas. I cannot keep up with all he does, but to provide a little overview, Brian is a strategist and speechwriter for executive leaders at global brands, media companies, startups, nonprofits, political, and advocacy organizations as a partner in Little M Media. He is also the author of three books: The Imagination Gap, Shift & Reset, and Media Rules! – and his work and views have been published in leading media publications, including the New York Times, Wired, AdAge, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy.


We’re talking to Brian today about his new book – the Imagination Gap.

 

First, a brief overview

Everyone has an imagination but most do not use our imaginations to their fullest potential or apply our imaginations to the challenges that we face. Our most important ideas and biggest ambitions never turn in to reality. In this timely new book, Brian shows us that imagination is one of the most powerful forces in shaping and motivating behavior to make real change. He explains how the most creative thinkers, forward-looking entrepreneurs, and influential change agents in every sector of our society harness the power of their imaginations to achieve their goals. The Imagination Gap helps leaders in every sector apply their imaginations to explore new, creative approaches to help them survive and thrive.

Q&A with Brian

 

What was the genesis of writing this book?

 

Through my work, I’ve been fortunate to work on projects trying to force massive changes in systems, that ask questions around “how do we try something completely different”. But I started to see a similar trajectory in these efforts, which looked something like this: projects kick off with great enthusiasm and support, and then after 18-24 months, I found that people tended to fall back into what (ideas, solutions, methods) that they’ve done before.

 

I kept hearing people say” “I can’t imagine that would work” – and I didn’t understand how you can’t ‘imagine’ something, as the idea of imagination is that everything is possible. I would even say in some of my presentations that there is this ‘gap’ between what we should be imagining and what we are, which led him to start researching ‘imagination’.

 

Imagination is extraordinarily powerful tool. It’s instinctive - we all have it – but it is also very misunderstood and it has not been not studied well (not like creativity or innovation). In doing my research, I found that there was hardly any on imagination

 

Concluding that imagination is the only way we’re going to get anywhere, I decided that we need to figure out this imagination “gap” and how to close it

 

After spending 18 -24 months researching, I actually wrote the book in about 3-4 weeks. The hardest part was trying to find what we did know about imagination. I kept thinking: “there must be someone who has thought about a, b, and c, but then I would find nobody. Any rigorous research seemed to be non-existent

 

I determined that I really had an opportunity to weigh in on this conversation. I think ‘imagination’ is a new front which will be important going forward.

 

Why is imagination important?

 

While there is nothing wrong with innovation – constantly improving, and advancing in what we’re experiencing – the only way to get to things we haven’t done yet is through imagination. It is the only unique force we have as human beings that allows us to create an ENTIRELY different world.

 

Everything throughout history has been born from our imagination – culture, government, language, art, etc. We know the power of imagination. Unfortunately, the problem is not just that people just don’t recognize it – it’s that we have this extraordinary power and we’re not using it. We are not thinking expansively enough

 

Take for example driverless cars: We have had cars for a long time – driverless cars are just a pivot (or incremental improvement) on something we know. Of course, it is important, but it’s not an entirely different way of travel. Where’s teleportation? Where’s the ability to be in 2 places at once? We have curbed our use of imagination so that we are NOT shooting for the stars - we’re simply shooting for the 22nd floor

 

Why is this exploration (topic) important now?

 

Two reasons:

 

1)    Being more efficient is not enough. We’ve clearly demonstrated the limitations of certain ways of doing things – we cannot seem to get out of our own way on things like climate change, poverty, etc..The only way to develop the world in a new way has to start with our imagination. What if the US is under water in 150 years – where do we go?

 

2)    Imagination is uniquely HUMAN. We are reaching a point where robots will soon take over the basic responsibilities of living – cooking cleaning, driving. If you think about it, that then opens up to things that only humans can do (uniquely). If we give this up because we’ve created such efficiencies through automation – then we’re not unique anymore. I believe that robots will eliminate the mundane that we currently concentrate on and open us up

 

If you look at the arc of history, human beings will be changing. Human beings as we are now are not the end stop. Our future will be humans + robots + other.

 

Why is imagination important for changemakers?

 

First, you have to believe we don’t have (now) what it takes to get to the next place. We’re not equipped to tackle the challenges that we have.

 

If you’re a leader, you go and take people to the place where they haven’t been before

Imagination is entirely ‘safe’. It is the ability to envision a world in which we have not yet lived. Imagination is beyond the trial and error. By design, it is the “what if”, “why couldn’t we”?

 

If we keep imagination as part of the process – the paths open to us are going to be very different. This is just very different than “we’ve done it before and it worked OK”. Nothing works so well that we couldn’t consider a radical idea

 

The only reason not to use imagination is because you’re afraid or because you genuinely prefer to maintain the power/control that you have

 

How is imagination relevant for job seekers/career changers?

 

There is an idea that you only qualify for a job if you have specific skills, experiences etc. But who is to say that my individual imagination won’t have a transformative impact on the organization that I go to work for?

 

If you’re looking for a new job, you should be thinking about what life is like in 50 years, what will the sector look like in 20 years. For example, you don’t need a social media manager to nominally raise your profile. You have a unique perspective on how to solve a challenge, so think about saying “what if we looked at this entirely differently”?

 

Imagination is how we should be thinking about what is needed next. Each next job that you take is one of these steps towards what is happening 50 years

 

For the sector as a whole, arguably the social sector is still an ‘infant’: the most compelling organizations are maybe 10 or 20 years old. I don’t think we have yet conceived of where the sector should go. I don’t even think we should have a ‘social sector’ at all – we don’t need the distinctions between sectors any more – the goal is to optimize life and build a better world

 

We impose limitations. What if we want to transform some aspect of human behavior – that takes the imagination of ‘all’ the sectors working together, not just one

 

The social sector should be on the bleeding edge of rethinking sectors and roles. For example - what is the future of education? Things like online credits, etc. are only incremental changes – what about 25 years from now?

 

The power of our community is mashing up all of our collective imaginations and experiences in ways that lead to solutions

 

What is one important take away from this book for this community?

 

1)    Everyone has an imagination and there is no one right way to do it. You have to use it, use it as often as you can – and just do it! If you don’t do it – no one will benefit.

 

2)    Not in a dark way, but I think we’re doomed without big new ideas and ambitious ways for society to advance. I don’t want people to think “I can’t do this”. You may have the spark, someone else may have the skills, the capital etc. We have to get out of the limiting ideas of “this is what success looks like” or “this is what you can achieve”

 

Capture your ideas and share them!

 

If someone has a question - share it. If someone has an idea – share it. Stop thinking that the path to success is keeping these to yourself

 

1)    Think! Imagine!

2)    Don’t dismiss your own ideas! capture and share

 

The Imagination Gap

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Imagination-Gap-Brian-Reich/dp/1787142078

More information on book at www.TheImaginationGap.com

Brian's conversation with Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackiehuba/2017/03/28/creating-breakthrough-ideas-a-qa-with-the-imagination-gap-author-brian-reich/#31b59c772742