We have gone through an identity crisis recently as we have tried to figure out who we really are as a company. Since the beginning of this whole venture, we have felt like we have been straddling the fence between a profit and non-profit organization in our desires to promote research and grow in the way we envision yet have the community support that is so critical for the future of research. We wanted a business structure that took the best parts from both!
We have a mission that is the most important reason that we are doing all this to begin with—and we believe in it. We are so excited about it. But at the same time we have some great business ideas to promote this new paradigm of research. We don’t want to have to deal with the funding limitations and red tape of the 501(c)(3). We just want to focus on our mission.
On the other hand, we don’t want the fact that we are a for-profit company to deter people from supporting what we are doing. As a for-profit company, how do we rally researchers, scholars, academics, and others behind us? Isn’t this the domain of the not-for-profits?
Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology at The Open University, stated:
Past indiscretions of commercial companies have tainted the provenient pool of scholarly publishing. How can we avoid these pitfalls?
Within the current publishing paradigm we agree with Weller—there is no space for profit to exist without imposing tariffs on either the inputs or the outputs of knowledge dissemination. Those with narrow, profit-centric views have embezzled the scholarly community, in the process setting themselves up as the gatekeepers of knowledge dissemination.
Our vision of the future of research is so different from the modus operandi of scholarly publishing, that I think we have a fighting chance of making a difference without falling into the traps of the current commercial publishers. Our business model does not restrict the dissemination of knowledge, but is based on providing tools and services that help with the actual process of research.
Originally, we felt strongly about doing this as a for-profit company so we could have the flexibility to do whatever it took to promote our mission and generate sufficient profits to extend our reach for good as far as possible. We also wanted to be self-sufficient and not have to worry about the success of the next fundraising campaign. We don’t think that a taxpayer-funded company is the best way to go either. Relying on grants has its own perils in these days of uncertain politics. I don’t like the idea staking our company’s revenue or future completely upon them.
After thinking about it some more, I remembered some companies that I have come to admire. All of them are run by people who have a higher vision of what business can be. They are good companies started by good people that think businesses can be more than heartless profit machines. They have what is sometimes referred to as a double or triple bottom line (people, planet, and profit). One such business, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc. (you know, the yummy ice cream), gives 7.5 percent of their before-tax profits to charity and purchases brownies from a bakery that hires people from prison. Newman’s Own Inc. contributes all profits to charity. How can we be more like them?
In a way, it’s funny to think about this right now. We are still pre-revenue. Yet, I think now is the time to make these decisions. Funding choices made early in a company’s existence can limit options later on. In general, tech startups are not known for their philanthropy and humanitarian generosities. In too many instances, they are characterized more by a high-velocity scramble to reach the next round of funding, at the same time giving little thought to what it actually takes to build a self-sufficient, lasting enterprise. Burnout hits too soon for too many. Much of this problem stems from the dog-eat-dog world of venture capital investing.1 Does it have to be this way?