As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Luis J. Salazar. Luis is a technology executive and serial entrepreneur. He is the co-founder and CEO of Giving Tech Labs, where they create Sustainable Public Interest Technology Ventures and where since 2017, they incubated Vidanyx.com, GivingCompass.org,GivingPlanner.org, and E-immigrate. Previously, Luis co-founded Optio3, Jobaline and GSharp Ventures. He held international executive positions for Yahoo, Microsoft (co-founder of Office 365), GMI (acquired by WPP), Xerox and ABB. He has led the launch of more than 25 global products in the consumer and business spaces and has led businesses from zero to +$3M in annual revenues and up to $4B global P&L operations. Luis serves on the Board of Giving Compass and is a board advisor to the School of Business at the University of Washington Bothell.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
This path started in 1988, during my senior year in college, when I got my first personal computer and created my first software venture. At the moment, I did not realize that beginning would lead me here, because life only makes sense when you stop, look back, and connect the dots.
That first step took me through a fantastic journey in technology, both as an entrepreneur, launching four companies in the past and most recently running Giving Tech Labs, which is incubating four public interest technology ventures. I also had the privilege to be a team member in companies like Microsoft that changed the world.
I have had the opportunity to live in several countries and meet amazing people. I have learned a lot from each step. One pivotal step was a meeting with Jeff Raikesback in 2015 when we talked about catalytic philanthropy and impact investment to unleash tech innovation that addresses social issues. This led to creating Giving Tech Labs with my co-founder Shelly Cano Kurtz and in partnership with Jeff and Tricia Raikes. Today, we focus on creating Sustainable Public Interest Technology Ventures.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I have many good stories, from deploying distributed control systems in the middle of the Jungle in South America in territories controlled by the Guerrilla and the Cartels in the late 80’s, having a humble contribution to changing the world at Microsoft, leading product marketing at Yahoo on a global basis or launching a tech venture that helps low-wage workers to apply and get hired for a job via text messaging.
But my most meaningful story is becoming immersed in Public Interest Technology and creating ventures to address issues related to sexual abuse in children, human trafficking, Early Childhood Education, Depression and Anxiety, and immigration among other things.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
We live in a fantastic time where technology can create exponential social good. I keep track of my vitals and the performance of each one of our ventures in the same mobile device I used to coordinate this interview. After reading this, you will perhaps use a smartphone to check your finances or connect with a loved one who is far away.
We take these technologies for granted. However, there are over one million organizations, just in the US, trying to address some of our society’s most complex problems and they lack proper tech, even when at a macro level they have the purchasing power. The non-profit sector is a 1.7 trillion dollar annual economy, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.
How can we use the same technologies and business models to help social causes have a more significant impact? Our Big Idea is Giving Tech Labs as a model to create sustainable public interest technology ventures; we are making an open call to focus on financial return on investment (ROI) as much as return on Social Impact (ROSOCI) to show it is possible to do well while doing good and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.
How do you think this will change the world?
Our first lab located in Seattle, WA, tackles social challenges with high market risk and potentially disruptive impact with a systemic approach to serving millions. In addition to ROI, this pilot lab achieved strong Returns on Social Impact (ROSOCI).
Since 2017 we incubated four ventures including Vidanyx which is positioned to become a disruptive force in the area of protecting victims of Child Abuse, Human Trafficking, and Domestic Violence.
Under our proposed model each incubated venture goes from idea to Most Viable Product (MVP) addressing a social issue from a systemic point of view and generating revenue in 12 months.
Our vision is deploying tens of labs by 2025 in a replicable and scalable model to enable partnerships with leaders such a Microsoft, AWS, Google, and Consulting Firms on a path for 1,000 labs worldwide delivering on Public Interest Technology innovation to address society’s urgent issues.
We envision these labs as local centers of excellence where local business leaders, government, experts in social problems, academia, and tech entrepreneurs incubate every year 2–3 sustainable public interest technology ventures.
Fast forward ten years and each lab created a legacy of twenty sustainable local tech companies that do well and do good. Ventures that become a place to work and thrive for the next generation of professionals graduated from schools that pledge to the Public Interest Technology movement started in 2018 by a consortium of leading voices organized by the Ford Foundation.
I am optimistic in nature creating ventures such as Vidanyx protecting vulnerable children and individuals victims of sexual assault and neglect, TeamIris helping individuals facing anxiety or addiction, NurtureUs, delivering AI-powered technologies to improve Early Childhood education. So we rather stay focused on the things we can do as a society to be of help to the many wonderful individuals that devote their lives to be agents of change. If there are unintended consequences we address those as they come and to mitigate unforeseen issues we always approach each venture in collaboration with a diverse team of experts from NGOs, academia, government agencies, and the private sector.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
Jeff Raikes and I worked together at Microsoft and built a strong professional relationship that with the years became a treasured friendship. In 2015, after finishing his tenure as the CEO at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we discussed how catalytic philanthropy and impact investing address complex problems. In essence, one institution act as the catalyst and innovates a solution that a larger entity might be wary of attempting, and proves that it is both helpful and viable, and then relies on devising a recurring cash flow to continue investing and maintaining the original venture.
That concept inspired the creation of Giving Tech Lab to create Sustainable Public Interest Technology Ventures.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
The opportunity is to align government, NGOs, Academia and the private sector to become ‘social risk takers’ and to have interventions in the form of sustainable social enterprises and prove the efficacy of their impact. This shows the way to a market opportunity or highlighting the fact that there is a public social good that needs to be invested in.
We can learn from the Ford Foundation when in the ’50s they invested into the revamping of law school curricula, much of it aimed at re-orienting law toward the cause of “social change” and rendered so much progress through Public Interest Law.
It is our opportunity and moment to drive a similar change in the area of Public Interest Technology, combining it with sustainability models to motivate the next generation of entrepreneurs and creative minds that can work with the subject matter experts that genuinely understand the causes and potential solutions for these challenges in society.
A significant challenge is to achieve a behavioral change in society where all of us measure success not only in terms of ROI but also in terms of ROSOCI (Return of Social Impact).
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I can summarize it in only one phrase: Find your Ikigai.
Life goes by fast, do something that matters, find your Ikigai, your reason for waking up every morning. When you are pursuing your Ikigai, work and life are balanced as there is a continuous harmony and even if you get exhausted, you will sleep, and wake up with a smile in your face.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
In addition to my HP-41CV calculator, a mechanical typewriter was my core piece of technology until 1988 when in my senior year at college I got my first PC. A year later, after teaching myself how to code and the fundamentals of DBase, I launched my first software company which paid for college and some.
Today I make a living creating mobile technologies that are based in the cloud and are powered by Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence algorithms.
The point is that the technology and tools our youth will use 30 years from now when they are at their peak of productivity, does not exist yet. So rather than focusing on one skill, learn how to learn.
Also, I believe that understanding Humanity is more important than tech skills; we apply those important skills to help humans to thrive; hence, expand your mind by reading about Philosophy, Math, Arts, or Behavioral Economics.
Staying hungry and being curious is the number one way to future proof your career.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
We faced that question a year ago and decided to invest a million dollars and a substantial portion of our retirement nest to create our first lab in Seattle and also to launch Vidanyx.com. If I had another million, I would sponsor the adoption of Vidanyx by Child Advocacy Centers, while they get their budget requests from the DOJ. This would provide support for 100,000 kids victims of sexual abuse and neglect. We would also support the National Children’s Alliance. As a society, we must evolve to think about social impact, in addition to ROI.
With another million, we would start another lab in another city and start creating an amazing local team to build sustainable public interest technology ventures in those places. We have requests from Fargo, ND, Lincoln, NE, Spokane and Vancouver, WA and Boston, MA. Additionally, last fall, the China Global Philanthropy Institute invited us to a speaking tour in Shenzhen, Wuhan, and Shunde to explore the creation of 100 labs in China, but we need to go one step at a time.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
- Dream Big
- Stay hungry & be curious
- Focus on having a lasting, systemic & positive impact
- Dare to challenge the status quo
- Doing nothing never works
- Life is a team sport
- Do something that matters
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
Keep on learning. I devote 20 percent of my time to learning; this takes some discipline and one makes some small sacrifices to find the time (for example, I seldom watch TV so I needed to google your Black Mirror reference). I have a personal challenge to read 55 books this year and you can read why and which books I am reading on this LinkedIn post: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/55-books-read-dec-2019-luis-salazar/
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
We work with Impact Investors and Catalytic Philanthropists; either foundations or individuals.
An Impact Investment Opportunity is to sponsor the creation of more Innovation labs that realize the full potential of the Public Interest Technology movement, becoming a model for doing well while also doing good.
Between 2000 and 2016, the Venture Capital Industry offered Median returns of -1% to 15% annualized over fund life. While Returns on Investment are not guaranteed, Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions monetized via subscription models is a proven monetization mechanism for the technologies that the social sector needs and we expect 3% to 5% annual distributions from those ventures.
In addition to the ROI goal, each lab also has measurable Social Impact (ROSOCI) goals as each lab acts as a local catalyst of wealth and social good by incubating two sustainable tech social ventures per year. These labs and their social tech ventures are the core element of Social Return of the Investment, while distributions from the generated revenues or liquidity events represent the ROI.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.