photo: Yarrow Kraner

photo: Yarrow Kraner

Today, someone asked me what kind of entrepreneur I am. I asked some friends if they could help me “label” what I do.

I’m a social entrepreneur (and a political philosopher). My focus is on designing a functional global regulatory system.

That ends up looking less like “politicians, laws, police, courts and prisons” and more like individuals making informed decisions using internet tools that help them leverage the custom remixed insights of others they trust.

In essence, I work on redesigning the Internet in ways that can enable communities to self-regulate.

For me, the goal is transformation in ways that are both actually beneficial and sustainable.

When I was younger, I realized that I was, at heart, a revolutionary.

However, most of the revolutionary political movements that I studied seemed to be filled with the promise of transformation, but were ineffective in actually achieving better outcomes for the individuals within their communities — all while being horribly effective at causing massive amounts of bloodshed.

When I shared these thoughts in social media, my friend Jean Russell wrote:

“There is a contingent of people who only call people social entrepreneurs if they serve the poor or BoP. You can imagine how limiting I found that. Is it understanding, change, or business that is the prime goal? Or all three together?

I currently enjoy the taste of systems entrepreneurs and network entrepreneurs.”


For me, the prime goal is “change” that is effective. I had grown up living within an army household all over the US, as well as in West Germany during the Cold War, and South Korea in the mid-90’s (still technically at war.). In Germany, we drilled on what to do in case of nuclear attack. In Korea we practiced evacuating in case the North Koreans invaded. As a result, I was keenly aware of war, and it’s human consequences. At the same time, because my dad usually came home and told us stories about what happened during his day, I also became keenly aware of how bureaucracies work, failed to work, and the minor human tragedies that resulted.

As somebody who is naturally pretty far toward the empathic end of the spectrum, the pain that I witnessed both directly and indirectly with in these communities, as well as the histories I was learning about (we toured sites and studied the Nazis and the Holocaust during my time in Germany, for instance), left me feeling trauma at a personal level.

By the time I was 18 or so, I was thoroughly convinced that our world was broken, and needed to be fixed. It wasn’t just an intellectual conviction. It was an emotional one. Close family members had also been scarred by the trauma of abuse and my experience of the fallout of that personal trauma had probably contributed a bit as well.

College, for me, was filled with nights spent studying the atrocities of World War II and the Cold War and writing papers analyzing the causes and consequences of particular instances of dysfunction and human suffering while listening to “rage against the machine” — completely jacked up on the emotions of all of the trauma and a “righteous” desire to fix it all. At the end of the day, that trauma has fueled my deep desire for change and has led to the efforts, and the minor sacrifices, that I’ve made.

For me, “Understanding” is primarily about being able to design healthy human systems and the steps to bring them about in ways that will actually work. I believe that without a deep understanding of the patterns at play in any adaptive ecosystem, we are doomed to continue shooting ourselves in the foot.

Any such system has seemingly contradictory patterns that sit in tension with one another. Designing anything without understanding those tensions is bound to fail.

That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I get “high” with every epiphany that I stumble upon. That leads me to focus more heavily on the discovery and understanding part of this “change/understanding/business” trio then I otherwise might.

“Business” is really just about being effective in taking actual steps to turn ideas into reality.

Though I tend to have a fairly academic bent (see above) that curiosity is driven by my deep desire to see actual change happen. And that, of course, requires pragmatic action — at scale. That scale requires the growth beyond the effort of an individual into the efforts of an organized group of individuals — whether they be members of a community or a corporation.

If I were to be critical of myself, I think that this has been my weakest area of the three — the place where I have the most room for improvement.

Regarding labels:

I also like those terms:
Systems entrepreneurs
Network entrepreneurs

Other folks in my group of friends that I identify in that domain include Jean Russell, as well as Evo Heyning, Lina Constantinovici, Arthur Brock, Christopher Allen, Noah Thorp, Eugene Kim and others.

However, I am guessing that labels like “systems entrepreneur” or “network entrepreneur” are still too far off the mainstream map to actually communicate anything to most people.

Regardless, being “accurately labeled” isn’t much of a concern to me at the moment. I’m enjoying the work itself.