When opportunity knocks, answer the door! In my mid-20s, I was among the finalists for a development exec job at one of the major studios. At the same time, I was a contractor working for a cable network. As my gig was winding down, the CEO of the network told me he’d like me to stay in his orbit and that he wanted HR to find a permanent role for me. I thanked him but told him I had other aspirations. Soon thereafter, I ended up not getting the other job, and that CEO left to do some other amazing things in his career that I would love to have been part of.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh C. Kline.
Josh is a multiple startup founder who has led social impact startup have|need since 2017 with the goal of leveling the playing field for people in need around the globe. Josh spent the prior 20 years working in media technology before segueing into the social impact space. Josh started his career in film and TV production before co-founding production tech startup Sample Digital, where he developed Digital Dailies which revolutionized the remote review and approval process in the production industry, and for which he was awarded a 2013 Primetime Emmy Engineering Award. From April 2014 to March 2017, Josh served as Head of Media & Entertainment at Box.com. Josh lives in Los Angeles with his wife and son.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I think most people want to make a positive impact on the world around them, but after 25 years working in media production and tech, I got to a place where I wanted to do more. So I focused on how I could create positive social impact at scale — not as an adjunct to my work but as a direct result of it. It took a few months of hashing through ideas, but it ultimately boiled down to trying to answer the question, “How can I positively impact the lives of the next couple of billion internet users who will have smartphones but little or no access to cash?”
I thought the answer could be some form of barter system, but I also knew that there had been previous barter startups, and none of them had proven particularly successful. Understanding what they all had in common led me to the “aha!” moment of understanding that multi-party transactions could be the way to crack the problem of why consumer-level barter doesn’t scale. From that point on, I had a north star, yet it still took another couple of years of research and exploration before I was confident enough in the solution to commit 100% to working on have|need.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I was doing a pilot project with the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, where we were going to bring out about 100 local underprivileged kids to a big tennis tournament and connect them with tennis gear and training. Also, I was going to be on center court with Andre Agassi co-MC’ing the event, which — as a tennis player and fan — I was quite excited about.
I got to Vegas the day before to help set up and went straight to the Agassi offices from the airport. As I walked into their CEO’s office, he hung up the phone and told me that, unfortunately, Andre was flying to Paris the next morning to coach Grigor Dimitrov at a tournament. It felt like I’d walked right into a gut punch. I’m a pragmatist and said we had to proceed regardless and that the net result for the kids was the same, albeit minus the star power. I sat down and we discussed event logistics; during the conversation, he picked up the phone, made a call, and asked the person on the other line if they could help out and fill in for Andre the next day. I could tell that the response was non-committal, but the following morning he pulled up to the tournament with Steffi Graf, and she helped save the day, going so far as joining the kids on-court for tennis drills. Seeing all the children running around with new tennis gear and having such a great time was an incredibly fulfilling moment.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I started raising money for have|need, I was working for a Silicon Valley tech firm. The predominant method for raising early-stage capital at the time was via something called a SAFE doc, which is a form of convertible note standardized by the famed tech accelerator Y Combinator. The problem is that all of my Angel investors were Los Angeles-based, and almost none of them had a tech investing background. I ended up spending an immense amount of time educating a lot of people about what sounded to them like an exotic financial instrument. The lesson? Remember who your audience is and cater to them if you’re the one making the ask.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
There are so many amazing impact organizations improving the quality of life for people around the world, and we can’t be all things to all people. So our “lane” is a focus on empowering people to acquire goods and services using only their own goods and ability to provide services as currency. By making barter efficient, accessible, and scalable, we have a way to level the playing field for those in need. And for those that aren’t underprivileged, we provide a way to push underutilized goods back into the community or to charitable organizations where they can be put to use instead of being dumped into landfills.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Although we’re just in the process of launching have|need, we’ve been very encouraged by the excitement of our early testers. It’s probably influenced by the year we all went through, but people really want to use whatever they have to help others, be it a neighborhood, school, or charitable organization. They know people are hurting and want to help. Also, it gives people an opportunity to use their skills — yoga, language, plumbing, painting, and much more — in a way that is impactful to others and thus rewarding to themselves.
One specific example I can point to is the pilot event we did with the USTA Foundation and Andre Agassi Foundation for Education. I know the kids at the event in Las Vegas had a great time, and I hope that many of them have kept the flywheel turning and continue to play tennis. One of the impact organizations whom we met and worked with at the event — the Inspiring Children Foundation — is actually one of our beta launch partners, and we think we have an opportunity to leverage the have|need platform to better connect the foundation with its donors, all to benefit underprivileged kids. Working with organizations like this is fantastic because I get to see the direct impact they have on many people’s lives.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
One of our primary areas of focus is to address some issues that exist due to massive economic inequality across the globe, and the ways to address the root causes differ from region to region. Accordingly, we aim to deliver a service that can alleviate some of the hardship regardless of the specifics of why it exists in any one area.
And at scale, consumer barter becomes a meaningful component of the economy. We’ll do our best to deliver a useful platform that should, in turn, deliver positive impact to users across communities and society at large. Our hope would be that politicians keep working at the root causes of growing economic inequality and not find ways to thwart consumer barter’s benefits via burdensome regulations and taxes.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I think about it in a couple of ways that are specific to my experience as opposed to a broader or academic view.
The first set of attributes includes a need to be genuine, have a defined point of view, and be convincing in describing whatever journey one is trying to rally others to join them on.
- By genuine, I mean that other people need to believe you are presenting an honest argument, and not some made-up story to coerce people into doing something they wouldn’t normally do with a fair understanding of the facts.
- By point of view, I mean that it’s hard to lead if you don’t know where you’re pointing. I’ve made a career out of trying to figure out where the puck is going and heading there as quickly as possible. Sometimes it works, and sometimes the ice gives way, but I have been able to communicate a vision for why I believe the direction makes sense.
- If one is genuine and has a point of view but can’t convince anyone to join the effort, either the effort isn’t worthwhile, or it needs a more convincing leader. Sometimes it’s difficult to know which is the case until later.
Once a journey is underway, I have made a point of making sure my team knows without a doubt that I would not ask any of them to work harder/longer/earlier/later than me. As a founder, I usually have the most to gain, but also the most to lose. There have been many times over the years that I have personally financially supported members of my teams when I have not been in a great position to do so, because I believed we would persevere and that my teammates had to know that I was willing to personally sacrifice for them. I think the number of high-quality people I have worked with across multiple companies speaks to the value of this type of leadership.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- When opportunity knocks, answer the door! In my mid-20s, I was among the finalists for a development exec job at one of the major studios. At the same time, I was a contractor working for a cable network. As my gig was winding down, the CEO of the network told me he’d like me to stay in his orbit and that he wanted HR to find a permanent role for me. I thanked him but told him I had other aspirations. Soon thereafter, I ended up not getting the other job, and that CEO left to do some other amazing things in his career that I would love to have been part of.
- Early is on time. On time is late. I’ll admit to having been late on more occasions than I’d like, and there’s usually a decent excuse, but all the other party knows is that I prioritized something else over them. And I feel the same way when other people are late for me. It’s something I constantly work on because I believe in showing respect for people’s time.
- Listen more than you speak. I’m a born yapper, so I always want conversations to be rather synchronous. But I also believe I learn a hell of a lot more when I listen than when I speak.
- Nobody cares how many hours you worked on something. At my first startup, I regularly worked 24 hour days, had a few 36 hour days, and capped it off with a 48 hour day. Do you think anyone remembers what I accomplished in those hours? Now, sometimes there’s a bonafide deadline, and the work just has to get done. But I went way beyond anything resembling normal and used to wear my long hours like a badge of honor. I tell anyone who cares to listen that we should all be way more focused on taking better care of ourselves, and I’m pleased to see this is generally the trend. I know I am far more productive after a nap than an all-nighter and a pot of coffee.
- Lead with the ask. If I’m reaching out to someone with a request, I lead with it. I think it feels disingenuous to have a conversation with someone and then at the tail end to get hit with a request. Get the favor out of the way and then get on with the conversation.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That’s exactly what I’m trying to accomplish with have|need: to make consumer barter a meaningful component of the global economy in order to help level the playing field for those in need. I’d love for anyone reading this to sign up at https://haveneed.org, so we can let you know when the service moves out of beta and is available to the public.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two favorite quotes, and I think they are both about as straightforward as they come:
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” — Wayne Gretzky
If you don’t take any chances, you have no chance of succeeding. One can’t be an entrepreneur and not believe this 100%.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” — Mike Tyson
This applies to everyone, but particularly entrepreneurs. One can do as much planning as possible, but inevitably there will be an unexpected change of plans, and it’s how one deals with those events that will determine any venture’s success. It’s basically the harsher version of the old phrase “Man plans, and God laughs.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Tough call. On a macro scale, impact-oriented investors like Richard Branson and Mark Cuban are obviously high on any social entrepreneur’s list. On a different level, I think Blake Mycoskie of Tom’s fame would really get what we’re doing with have|need. He’s had the benefit of starting and growing a very successful social impact marketplace, and also selling it and experiencing the repercussions (good and bad) from that event. I imagine I could learn a lot over a meal with him.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/haveneed
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/weallhaveneed
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/WeAllHaveNeed
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/weallhaveneed
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
I am grateful that you decided to include me among people that are doing important and impactful work — thank you!