I’m an alumnus of Matter., which aims to help figure out a new model for media and journalism. It’s got a lot of DNA in common both with public media (its founding partners were KQED, PRX and the Knight Foundation) and Code For America: some CfA ventures have gone on to become Matter companies.

  1. They drive home, again and again, how important it is to build with not for. Talk to people. Test your assumptions. Don’t let your worldview get in the way of actually solving a real problem. Having spent a lifetime in development being told to “scratch your own itch”, it’s a hell of a mind-shift. But a correct one.
  2. One of the best questions I’ve ever heard in startups came from a Matter meeting: “is it okay if we hit a double instead of a home run?” In other words, if a venture is doing good, is it okay if it shoots for sustainability rather than all-out bazillions-of-dollars growth? The answer was yes, and the company is legitimately changing its industry (and making money). It’s probably not a coincidence that at least half the companies in the last few classes were led by women, with very few startup bros (yours truly excepted).

It’s tempting to want to feel like you’re changing the world; to leave it in a better place than you found it. It’s a nice thought. Without an ethical framework for working, and a focus on solving concrete problems, it’s also bullshit ego taking someone else’s money for a drive.

I think the good news is that “changing the world,” obnoxious as it is, is a synonym for “making someone’s life better” — at least, if it’s meant sincerely. In Matter’s case, you can’t think about the future of journalism without thinking about the ethics of data, audience, and voice. It’s hell-bent on creating new models for creating a more informed and connected society that will stand the test of time. And neither it nor CfA are unique.

Meanwhile, people like Kaliya-IdentityWoman are thinking hard about what it means to create ventures in a different way, whether it’s as a co-operative or another bottom-up kind of venture — as well as the identities we use as we interact with these services. Good work is being done.

The excessive money that has led to big-startup hedonism is going away. San Francisco is a town rightly famous for its social movements, and underneath the $6 toast and Uber for Drones, if you sweep away the leaves of cargo cult copycat glorification, the framework of that culture is still in place. I’m hopeful.

Writer: of code, fiction, and strategy. Trying to work for social good.

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