Monday, April 30, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 26: Doris Betts

In 1980, I took a writing course with Doris Betts at UNC-Chapel Hill.  The first day of class she told us "The most important thing for a writer is to open your eyes."

She paused for a second and looked around the room.  She stopped and looked straight at me. "And keep them open," she said.

Doris Betts was a great lady, a great professor, a great writer.  I never turned out to be much of a writer myself, but I have tried to keep in mind what she told me to do.  And I wish I had told her thank you before she died on April 21.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 25: Pierre Omidyar

Pierre Omidyar
"This could be just like eBay.  You should do it."

Well, it didn't turn out exactly like eBay, but it has turned out pretty well.

About a dozen years ago, Esther Dyson invited me to one of her famous PC Forum Conferences, and she introduced me to Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay.

At that time, I was considering leaving the World Bank to start what is now GlobalGiving with Mari.  Although I was excited, I was also scared to death - I couldn't decide whether the whole idea was brilliant or incredibly naive.  Pierre listened to what I was considering and immediately told me to do it.

"People also told me that eBay would never work," he said.  "They were certain that total strangers would never trust each other enough to buy and sell things over the internet. But they were wrong. You have to do this, Dennis."

As I look back over a decade later, I realize how important that early conversation was to me.  Pierre and Pam Omidyar provided an initial small grant to help us with start-up costs, and then they provided significantly more resources for scaling up through his Omidyar Network.  Thanks to that support, GlobalGiving has now reached scale and financial sustainability.  We have helped mobilize about $100 million, with hundreds of thousands of individual donors and innovative companies supporting 6,000 projects in over 130 countries.

For all of that, Pierre, and especially for that initial conversation, I am grateful.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 24: Lesly Higgins

Lesly Higgins
A while ago, when I was coming up on ten years as CEO of GlobalGiving, I called Debra Dunn to tell her I thought I should begin the process of handing over the baton.  I did not want GlobalGiving to suffer the same fate as so many other successful start-ups - founderitis - which I thought would undermine our long-term impact.

"So what will you do after GlobalGiving?" Debra asked me.

"I have no idea," I replied.  "I have thought about nothing else except GlobalGiving for the past ten years.  It's been my life and my identity.  Maybe I will just get on a sailboat and sail around the world."

"Well, you could do that.  Or you could call Lesly Higgins."


"Lesly Higgins.  She specializes in situations like yours.  Oftentimes when founders think about stepping down, they find themselves with all sorts of contradictory emotions.  Sometimes they become bulls in china shops in their own organizations.  Sometimes they can't leave.   Sometimes they leave but can't figure out what to do next and get really depressed..."

"Okay, okay, I get the picture," I told Debra.  "Maybe I will contact her some day."

Debra did not respond.  But fortunately she knows me - and my type.  So behind the scenes she contacted Lesly and had her be in touch with me.  Over the following year, Lesly and spoke in person or by video chat a couple of times a month.  Debra was right: as I moved toward transitioning out of my CEO role, I had all sorts of emotions.  Lesly listened, prodded, nodded, argued, and sometimes was just silent as I blew off steam (I hate that silence).  It was not an easy time, but working with Lesly made it immeasurably more productive.

And lo and behold, the transition went well.  I took some time off (though not a year, and not on a sailboat), and then I took up some very enjoyable and challenging posts teaching at Princeton, being Global Entrepreneur in Residence at UNC-Chapel Hill, and consulting to organizations who are trying to make big changes.  And maybe most importantly, GlobalGiving (where I still sit on the board) has been thriving.

For all of that, I am extremely grateful.  Thank you, Lesly.