Category Archives: Personal

Webby Awards Interview about Talent & Meaningful Work

The Webby Awards run a pretty fantastic series of interviews as part of their Webby Connect Series. I was lucky enough to be selected for an interview, the transcript of which is below. You can see the original article here.

Greatest Good is an online community where experts in various fields volunteer their time and experience to startup-founders, business owners, or anyone who needs consulting. Greatest Good donates 100% of each advisor’s booking fee to the charity of his or her choice.

We connected with Saneel to discuss why you don’t need to work for a non-profit to have a career with meaning.

Tell us about your journey to founding Greatest Good: Your professional background was primarily in marketing and tech. What led you to enter the non-profit sector?

Having collected an eclectic mix of professional experience from creative direction to digital strategy to organizational management, I was frustrated I wasn’t able to use these skills to actively help support causes I cared about. They simply don’t need what it is I do on any typical day. Ironically, although my time was highly valued in the corporate world, that same amount of time was significantly less valuable in the eyes of bootstrapping non-profits.

This inefficiency of exchange in the volunteerism economy is something I realized many other professionals likely felt too. After conversations with many people I respect, I realized I wanted to make a platform to help convert that corporate time into something valuable to non-profits. A few months later, Greatest Good was born. Now, these Advisors donate their time via video chat to people or companies looking for their expert opinion. In exchange, those companies agree to donate money to the charity of the Advisor’s choice.

Greatest Good relies on “Advisors,” or thought leaders who are willing to donate their time and expertise in order to help individuals and businesses that could benefit from it. How do you get these “Advisors” to commit? Has that been difficult?

We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response from potential Advisors. So many professionals today have causes they actively care about and want to support in ways beyond writing checks. Now they can put their time to use by being the experts they already are in a way that supports their favorite charity.

I’ve even reached out to people I don’t know personally, but with whom I would definitely pay to video chat with. For example, Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic is a writer, researcher, and thinker whose work I read and admire. I sent him an unsolicited email and got a reply within a few minutes. He’s now on the platform supporting a very cool non-profit called Youth Radio.

We’re finding that more and more professionals are eschewing corporate-ladder climbing in favor of pivoting into a “career with meaning.” Do you attribute this shift to anything in particular?

Well, there is certainly a shift toward professional empowerment. People across industries are finding ways to live the lifestyle they want by changing their relationships with employers and clients. A key part of these new lifestyles is finding meaning.

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean helping non-profits; meaning can come from anywhere. Technology has enabled that shift by allowing more and more people to be a professional without being an employee. As the rate of technological change continues to increase, I think you’ll see more people making lifestyle choices that fall outside the corporate ladder. Hopefully that will result in a lot more people finding fulfillment in their work.

In what ways is the Web making it easier for non-profit organizations like Greatest Good to exist?

Non-profits need money. It’s very hard working toward a cause while fundraising. The Web opens up fundraising in unprecedented ways: people serving as advocates via the social web (how many buckets of ice water have you seen being dumped on heads this week?); diverse payment tools reducing transaction costs for donations; and in our case, ubiquitous video chat technology opening up a completely new model for people to donate their time.

We’re a not-for-profit that’s not dedicated to a specific cause; instead our cause is maximizing an Advisor’s ability to support their cause. Being an agnostic platform is just one of the seemingly infinite new ways non-profits are benefiting from the Web.

Do you have any advice for professionals like yourself who are interested in launching a non-profit organization?

Ask for help. People are much more likely to say “yes” if they feel they’re contributing to something bigger. I can’t believe the all-star cast that agreed to help me launch Greatest Good.

And hey, if you want a non-profit thought leader’s perspective on it, there’s no better place to find one than greatestgood.org/advisors. 🙂

Forbes Interview about Greatest Good

Forbes-logo1

I recently launched a non-profit called Greatest Good. In a nutshell, it attempts to reinvent the way people raise money for the causes they care about. David Slocum of the Berlin School of Creative Leadership was kind enough to interview me for Forbes, the transcript of which can be found below. The original article is here.

I had a chance to speak recently with Saneel Radia, a 2009 EMBA graduate of The Berlin School of Creative Leadership, who has created “Greatest Good,” a non-profit platform where people donate their time to raise money for charitable causes. Based in New York, Saneel is the Founder of Finch15, a VivaKi-incubated innovation boutique that helps mature brands to concept, prototype and launch revenue-producing digital businesses. Prior to launching Finch15, Saneel ran the North American division of BBH Labs, the innovation unit of BBH, and, during his Berlin School days, was MD and “Alchemist” at Denuo, a Publicis Groupe Company focused on innovating digital services, media and technology.
David Slocum: Let’s start by asking you to explain Greatest Good.

Saneel Radia: Greatest Good is a digital platform for people to donate their time to support the causes they care about. The intention is for thought leaders across industries to make themselves accessible to individuals and companies that could benefit from their perspective in a one-on-one discussion. The money from selling their time goes to the charity of their choice.

Slocum: What was the insight that led you to develop Greatest Good?

Radia: Working in the marketing and tech areas, in particular, I was repeatedly struck by issues that swirled around the value of time and the transfer of knowledge – you might say, around reconciling financial metrics and depth of expertise. When volunteering, there’s always a tension between donating time and money; contributors want to give their time, charities tend to prefer to receive money. This is because a professional’s time is often worth so much less outside of their native industry. This inefficient conversion of the volunteerism economy is what we’re trying to solve.

Greatest Good emerged as a way for experts to donate something more closely approximating the market value of their time. In turn, businesses could benefit from using the platform to find thought leaders, be inspired, get unstuck, and access new and sophisticated ideas.

Slocum: Can you say more about the model?

Radia: We’re starting with an invitation-only launch featuring 30 advisers whose expertise people can access and roughly 25 charitable organizations that will benefit. Each of the advisers has committed to monthly “office hours” to video chat with users at a rate of $250 per half hour. The users request a video chat with a specific adviser and submit their payment information. After a meeting has occurred, Greatest Good releases the money to the adviser’s selected charity. Overall, Greatest Good is not a cause in itself: it’s a tool for others to make connections while supporting charitable causes they care about.

Slocum: It’s such an exciting project. What’s your timeline beyond the April 2014 launch and the major challenges you see for growth?

Radia: Our plan is for each of the inaugural 30 advisers to invite other advisers of comparable stature in their respective industries. The goal is 40-60 more advisers to join the platform within around three months and for us to continue that cycle into the future until the process becomes self-operating. Our target is for the platform to be fully developed, self-propagating, and with a working pricing strategy, in 18 months. We realize such a process has to be monitored to sustain the quality, diversity and even the consistent pricing of the experience. Accordingly, an instructive parallel for us as we grow is the relationship between TED and TEDx; in the future, we need to ensure that what might be called “Greatest Good ‘X’” continues to deliver the high-level of expertise and full access to charitable organizations that we’re launching with.

Slocum: So diversity is important?

Radia: Diversity is at the core of the concept: diversity in terms of the businesses interested in accessing us, the backgrounds and experiences of the thought leaders and advisers who participate, and the charitable organizations that are on board. Initially, there’s an emphasis on marketing and technology because those are the areas of my own experience and the reach of my network, but we’re very mindful of that. We’re curious following our launch to learn more about the demand for different kinds of experience and expertise and plan to use that as the basis for our future diversification rather than any set plan.

Slocum: The team you’ve assembled is impressive. What else can you tell us about them?

Radia: It’s a group of incredibly talented and committed people. What’s most remarkable is that while they’re all super busy, whether as sought-after freelancers or full-timers at top agencies like BBH and TBWA Chiat Day, they all said ‘yes’ immediately when I approached them about participating. Working together now, with no profit motivation and few resources, has been inspiring. Their willingness to experiment and creatively build something together with little precedent to draw from is amazing to experience first-hand.

Slocum : How does Greatest Good fit into your own future plans?

Radia: I’ve never had a master plan for my future and typically don’t make plans for more than one year out from where I am. My ongoing aspiration is always “to put a dent in the universe” and the stones have just varied over time. As a result my career has touched media, games, creativity, and innovation. Now, Greatest Good provides a marvelous opportunity to build a platform, and a brand, for such positive change. It serves as a great balance to my “day job” running and growing Finch15.

Professor David Slocum is the Faculty Director of Executive MBA Program at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership and is on twitter @DavidSlocum.

Transform and Roll Out

[originally posted here at BBH Labs]

And so, it is with major regret that we see our very own Optimus Prime, @saneel, leave the Lab and BBH. Happily he’ll be staying in the extended family, launching a soon-to-be-announced innovation offering being incubated at VivaKi. So I guess he has a new world to call home.

Personally, I’m going to miss the magic mix of insanely high-speed processing, megawatt brain and heart, motor mouth and deeply droll, bone-dry sense of humour that is Mr Saneel Radia. There aren’t many people who give such volume, value and velocity, whilst staying ice cool under pressure. He’ll hate me for saying this, but his final post here shares some useful lessons that demonstrate all of the above.

We wish him all the best. Go well, friend. (Mel, 29.01.13)

Dear BBH,
Well that was a crazy ride, no? From my first day to my last, we’ve had one of the most unique relationships I can imagine. I should have known I was in for something special when someone I respect as much as Ben recruited me, and about 100 days later said “I have bad news and good news”  (‘I’m leaving’ and ‘you’re in charge’, respectively).

You let me be whoever I wanted to be, and for that I’m eternally grateful. You never questioned me as a strategy lead, an account lead, or a creative lead– even when I kinda questioned myself.What’s most awesome is that I was never forced into a particular bucket, but you made me better at all of them because I was surrounded by people (everyone?) who could do it at a whole different level. I mean, pitching creative ideas to people like John and Pelle? Talking brands with Emma and Sarah? Of course I got better at all of it. It’d be impossible not to.

And thanks for being committed to innovation the way you are. In an industry that should be under arrest for assault based on its treatment of that word, this place continues to be a beacon of hope for people with different ideas. Any company that has someone like Melaround is going to have misfits ringing the doorbell daily. I’m just happy someone answered even though I was dressed in bright colors.

Finally, thanks for all of the lessons I’m taking with me as I move on. It’s impossible to document them all in a post, but these ring most loudly in my ears as I head off:

Small ideas are kinda hot.
I originally came to BBH because I couldn’t think of a place with “bigger” ideas. It turns out my favorite things were the small ideas. Working with interns 10 weeks at a time forces small ideas into greatness. Working with a company like Google, that regularly reminds you how bloated all your shit is (they were right more often than I’d like to admit), forced ideas into their purest form. Or sometimes it’s just not having enough time for anything bigger. Regardless, I fell in love with small. Mainly because of how big it can be. (Special thanks to Tim Nolan for aiding me along in this particular journey.)

The volume of noise isn’t indicative of the sentiment.
Homeless Hotspots was a media frenzy. There was a full cycle of negativity, then acceptance, then full-blown defense on our behalf. Yet from the beginning to the end, nothing but a positive impact on homelessness ever mattered; for the vast majority of people who care about such a thing (and have spent time with the homeless), their support always outweighed the negativity, no matter how loud the noise got. In fact, there was some genuinely productive, well meaning criticism we adopted as our work with the homeless has continued to evolve. It’s easy to see the difference now, but when the volume dial is set quite high, it can be a lot tougher. That’s clarity I’ll always take forward with me.

The greatest disservice one can do to their team is accepting their shitty work.
I’ve seen some really good days, and some really bad days in my 3-or-so years here. Almost unilaterally the bad days were the result of people not speaking up (myself included). When they were just too damn polite, or agreeable. Sure, it’s awkward sometimes. It’s uncomfortable every now and again. And yeah, you have to be able to speak “British” on occasion. But everyone worth a salt would rather make better work than have a good meeting. This is a lesson so many people have learned, but it took being at a place with a culture of mutual, fiery respect for me to truly appreciate it. I’m just glad you would tell me when I was shoveling shit.

With the right carrot, even the weary can be motivated.
It was a weird feeling, helping lead a city-wide effort to recruit LeBron James within weeks of moving here. But there I was, living in corporate housing, bonding with New Yorkers of every socio-economic class to create a movement to bring the world’s greatest athlete to the world’s greatest city. In the end, the goal was to get notoriously jaded New Yorkers to talk about their beloved city, and by that measure, holy smokes it was successful… even if LeBron took his talents to South Beach. The lesson stayed up north though: for all the user participation nonsense from brands, it’s ultimately the right carrot that gets people involved. Keep it simple (and timely), stupid.

Alright, BBH. I won’t drag it on any longer. I certainly could. I’m leaving a better, smarter, more creative person than I arrived. That’s a transformation I’m really excited about.

And all it took were a thousand sleepless nights and my liver….

Gratefully,
@saneel