11 Buckets Startup Founders Can Ask Themselves Order to Build a more World Positive Company

Many of today’s founders want to build ethics and social responsibility into their companies from the get-go, but don’t know where to begin.

We’ve been using the 11 blocks of questions below as prompts for our interviews with founders and operators to surface stories and examples of how they are going the extra mile to build more ethical, socially responsible, and world positive companies. We’re sharing them here for other founders to use as a tool for considering some of the different areas that they can — or may already be — building their companies’ responsibility.

In our first set of interviews, we’ve heard about purpose-driven founders using project-based hiring to build diverse talent pipelines, setting social impact expectations when building their captables, creating pricing structures that consider accessibility, developing philanthropy strategies even in early stages, and using REDI (Race Equity Diversity Inclusion) Decision Framework, among many others.

We know this is only the beginning. These questions are fluid, and we invite you to suggest other ideas or questions at: startupsandsociety@gmail.com. Or consider answering some of these questions yourself in our confidential survey version here. We look forward to learning together!

“At any stage of your company this is the kind of checklist that would be useful…”- Startup investor

  1. General — Connecting Founder’s Vision to Mission
  • What does responsibility/integrity/ethics mean to you generally?
  • Tell us about a time where you were especially proud of the impact that your company was having on society? What company infrastructure do you think led to this outcome? Subsequently, did you try to build new or change existing infrastructure so that it would be more likely to happen again?
  • What steps have you taken that you are most proud of to try to make sure your company has a positive impact on the world? What would make it easier to do this more consistently?
  • Was there ever something you morally wanted to do, but worried wouldn’t be best for the company and/or you’d be judged for doing it?
  • What do you wish you had to help run your company in a socially-beneficial way? Can you talk generally about how you think about balancing commercial goals with purpose-driven ones? When have they unexpectedly conflicted with each other? Reinforced each other?

2. Incorporation

  • Had you considered a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) or alternative incorporation structure? Why did you make this decision? What were your reservations?
  • If you have an alternate structure, has it brought the benefits you were hoping for? Can you talk about that?
  • If you have a more traditional structure, have you ever thought a PBC might help you meet your goals more easily?

3. Funding

  • Do you consider yourselves a purpose-driven company? Were you able to bake purpose-related expectations into your funding term sheets? How did you do this?
  • If you are raising another round, is this something you’d want to consider? What is your plan for this?
  • How have ethics or values influenced your fundraising process?
  • Have you refused any funding because you had clear moral disagreements with a potential investor?

4. Ownership

  • Do you have a process for identifying “stakeholders” or defining “stakeholder value?”
  • Are there mechanisms for other stakeholders to participate in the financial upside of your company?
  • What is your approach to employee ownership?

5. Governance

  • Are there any members of your board that focus on ethics/societal impact/social responsibility? Do you have any external boards or advisors to guide you on these issues? What kind of authority/autonomy do they have? Can you speak about their expertise/representation?
  • Do you have a process for identifying stakeholders? Do they have any formal (eg. board) or non-fiduciary oversight responsibilities (eg advisory?)
  • Do you have a process for thinking about stakeholder value?

6. Org Chart

  • Do you have any roles committed to thinking about the social consequences or ethics of your product? How do they interact with headcount responsible for making business or product decisions?
  • If you do not have dedicated headcount to these positions, do your business or product leaders receive training in these areas?

7. Hiring

  • What is your general hiring process?
  • How do you think about DEI in your hiring?
  • What does the diversity of your pipeline for an average role on your team look like?
  • Can you talk about a time that you invested extra time or resources in ensuring you could source diverse candidates for a position?
  • Have you ever done project-based hiring?

8. Culture

  • What do you think about overall company success? What are the key success metrics for the company?
  • Are there purpose-driven metrics in this first-tier? If not, why not?
  • How do you think about the relationship between purpose-driven metrics and overall business success?

9. Tech infrastructure

  • What do you think about bias in your products? About transparency? Accessibility? Equity? About abuse of your product or ill-intentioned users?
  • Who do you consider your primary users or customers? Secondary/tertiary? Are there groups you do not consider your customers who are affected by your product or business? Who are they?
  • Do you consider your product dangerous? For who? When?
  • Have you ever felt there was a risk that your product could have potentially negative unintended consequences? For who? What did you do?
  • Have you ever used an risk-surfacing or ethical tech frameworks (eg. Ethical explorer, Consequence scanning, Ethical Data Canvas, etc.)?

10. Sales

  • Does your business model allow for you to make your product more easily available for non-profits or marginalized communities? Can you talk about this?
  • Are there any types of groups you will not sell to? Why? Is this a written policy?
  • Have you ever had moral reservations about selling your product to a certain group? Why? Have you made plans or a policy if that situation happens again?
  • Do you have user guidelines that dictate how your product can or cannot be used? Can you talk about that? How did you develop those guidelines?
  • Can you talk about a time you refused a sale/partnership/inbound request because of moral reservations or inconsistency with this policy? How did you communicate this action to your employees? Your board?

11. Business Development

  • What is your overall strategy for partnering? Do you vet partners for consistency with your value and purpose?
  • Can you talk about a time you refused a sale/partnership/inbound request because of moral reservations or inconsistency with this policy? How did you communicate this action to your employees? Your board?

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Accelerating the adoption of responsible company-building practices in tech

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