World Reimagined

Ethical Leadership: How Disruption Can Help Us Build a Better World

Published
Mar 8, 2021

This week’s World Reimagined podcast explores the influences, impacts and motivators behind entrepreneurship that is ethically minded. Tune in as host Gautam Mukunda speaks to two company founders who are uniquely positioned to tackle these topics.

Ethical leadership is both personally rewarding - and incredibly hard. How do ethical entrepreneurs and leaders maintain faith in their vision, pivot when necessary, reconcile unintentional consequences, implement innovation guardrails, and persevere in the face of powerful obstacles? It helps to have a North Star – an unwavering vision for the future and a real sense of who they want to be in the future.

In this episode, Gautam Mukunda speaks with two industry creators, Bodhala CEO Raj Goyle and Twitch Co-founder Justin Kan about what it takes to disrupt the world to build a better one.

As I became more successful and more recently, I realized that wasn't as fulfilling as I thought. And so now what's really activating for me is to think about things that are maybe a little bit more in service to other people. And that manifests in a bunch of different ways.
Justin Kan

Follow @GMukunda on Twitter  or email us at WorldReimagined@nasdaq.com

Books Referenced in World Reimagined Episode 9:

The Fracturing of the American Corporate Elite, by Mark Mizruchi

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, by Michael Alan Singer

The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor

The Power Broker, by Robert Caro

World Reimagined Guest Information – Ethical Leadership:

Justin Kan is an American Internet entrepreneur and investor. He is best known as the co-founder of Twitch, the internet live video streaming platform. In 2006, Justin launched the live video service Justin.tv, a company that started when he strapped a camera to his head and streamed his life to the internet 24/7. Over the next eight years, through twists and turns, he and his cofounders turned the business into Twitch, ultimately selling to Amazon in 2014 for $970 million. Over the years, he has founded half a dozen companies that have raised over $500 million in venture capital and invested in some of the fastest-growing startups around, including Reddit, Cruise Automation, Bird, Rippling, and many more. He is the host of The Quest, a podcast telling the stories of trailblazers in business, music, sports, and entertainment.

Raj Goyle is CEO of Bodhala, a leading legal technology company based in New York City and Ann Arbor focused on legal spend management and analytics. Co-founded with a fellow Harvard Law graduate, Bodhala helps large and small in-house legal departments, saving companies significant time and money through the creation of a competitive, transparent legal marketplace. Goyle, who received his undergraduate degree from Duke University, served two terms in the Kansas House of Representatives after working as a policy analyst and civil rights attorney. He serves on the boards of Hunger Free America, the American India Foundation, Everyartist.me, Issue One and chairs the State Innovation Exchange. Goyle lives in New York with his wife Monica Arora, a partner at Proskauer. They have two daughters.

Transcript

Gautam Mukunda:

Building a new world can mean bulldozing the old one. We talk to two industry creators about what it takes, and how to make sure that the new world is a better one.

Speaker 2:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world. An original podcast from NASDAQ.

Gautam Mukunda:

Hi, I'm Gautam Mukunda. In World Reimagined, I often talk with people who have launched companies, but both of my guests today have invented entirely new industries.

Gautam Mukunda:

Raj Goyle is CEO of Bodhala, an AI company that helps companies optimize their spending on legal services. After working as a policy analyst and civil rights attorney, he served two terms in the Kansas House of Representatives, become the first Indian American to hold elected office in Kansas. Bodhala was born from a problem Raj noticed in the legal system, no one knows what anyone else pays their lawyers. It isn't possible to have price competition without price transparency, a conundrum that he saw only worsened social inequality. What motivated him to try a completely new approach?

Raj Goyle:

The legal system is fundamentally broken, and it really hurts our country. We know that the healthcare system is very broken, but we have a conversation around it, and we have big political battles around it. And everybody's a patient, so there's all this third party feedback that the providers get. But in the law, we just pretend that, even though there's this big fail, poor people get no legal services whatsoever and they're just, frankly, marketing Band-aids from big law firms on their pro bono. The middle class are afraid of lawyers. The rich get obnoxiously priced legal services.

Raj Goyle:

This country was founded by lawyers, the founders were lawyers. The law plays a central role in American history and society, unlike any other developed nation. And so, to answer your question directly, my co-founder and I had this notion that the by side of this half a trillion dollar global market has no understanding of the value they're getting for their services, and what those market prices are. And as a result, not only do these companies lose but the economy loses. And the legal system, if it was better managed, would be better for everybody.

Gautam Mukunda:

My second guest's motivation was a little different. You probably know Justin Kan as the co-founder of Twitch, but back in 2006 he and his partner were struggling to get an internet calendar startup off the ground, and it wasn't working. But, he liked making content.

Justin Kan:

I had this crazy idea for a startup that I called Justin TV. It wasn't even really a startup idea, it was more of an internet stunt idea, of trying to create our own Truman Show, or Ed TV, and just broadcast my life to the internet 24/7. Which, for some reason at the time, I thought was a good idea. In retrospect, it was not that good of an idea, but it luckily led to something good.

Gautam Mukunda:

User generated video content is everywhere now. TikTok, YouTube, Insta Stories, but in 2006 it barely existed. So Justin and his partner pitched an idea to an investor, about creating a live video streaming platform.

Justin Kan:

This is before there was really social media. I think the core insight that was important was that people were interested in other people. He was intrigued, and we ended up walking out of there with a check for $50,000 and that's how we launched our very first stream, Justin TV.

Justin Kan:

When we were doing Justin TV, which was a very counterintuitive idea, and probably not a very good implementation of the core insight, or execution of the core insight, people laughed us out of the room. They were more polite than that, but they definitely were not investing. A lot of people did not invest, and we had to go through a ton of pitches to raise the initial capital. I eventually, then, when we were working on Twitch which actually looked a lot more like a real business. By the time that it sold to Amazon, we were doing $10s of millions in revenue. There was a lot of users, almost 50 million people were watching at the time.

Justin Kan:

And then, to make a long story short, when we went live with this, I guess it was website, in 2007 and people came, and they saw what we were doing. But, what me and my co-founders were doing was mostly being on our computer, building this website. They were like, "You guys are really boring, go entertain us." They ended up, also, thankfully asking another question which is, "How can I stream this content that I want to create on the internet?" There was no way to do that at the time. We created our own platform for live video. And eventually, through twists and turns, that turned into a platform for live gaming video, and became Twitch. Which we sold to Amazon in 2014, for $970 million.

Gautam Mukunda:

There's a temptation to focus on the $970 million end of the story. But, think how it would seem if you didn't know how it turned out. I told my parents about the sale of Twitch, reminding them that I used to make them watch me play video games, if only we'd known it was a $1 billion idea.

Gautam Mukunda:

Having faith in their visions is one key to their success, but in developing their businesses, Justin and Raj both faces resistance. I wondered how they held their resolve in the face of criticism.

Justin Kan:

A lot of people who were investors were not interested, just because they had a preconceived bias of how people spend their time, or should spend their time. So it was inconceivable to people that this was a real industry, or a nascent industry. Of course, after we sold everybody became an esports investor, but at the time people were not interested.

Raj Goyle:

My theory, for what it's worth, is that no incumbent gives up power in any sector, in any part of life. So I think to your point, of course incumbents don't like disruption. Incumbents that are rich and powerful like the status quo, because they're rich and powerful.

Raj Goyle:

That being said, for the challenges we faced, same thing. Justin mentioned how many times he got laughed out of the room. Absolutely, people still are skeptical. And they say, "Well, will the legal industry really ever change? It's an old boys club, and you hire on relationships." That's true to an extent, but we believe the data, and the data and the insights that Bodhala, our company, is able to show, and the macro forces are absolutely in our direction. It's not just Bodhala, there's a huge amount of venture capital moving into this space. And there's a growing realization that this spend category can't stay the way it is, there is no such thing as a permanent business model.

Gautam Mukunda:

There's a tension inherent in innovation, a tension between throwing out convention and asking what if, but then also following through. Innovators need the flexibility to adapt to new circumstances and new information. But, they also require a rock solid belief in their own ideas. I wondered how my guests dealt with that. How do you stay the course, but also stay open to productive feedback?

Raj Goyle:

We use a lot of phrases like, "What's your North Star?" My founders and I, actually, we were just on a call an hour ago. And we have this odd phrase of, "What's the Golden Chalice?" Which is the true North Star and the vision of our business, and what the market will look like.

Raj Goyle:

There's the famous Eisenhower line that, "Battle plans are useless, but planning for battle is indispensable." I think that's exactly right. Which is, you have to stick to some core principles, but then you have to know that you have to iterate and be flexible as you go.

Justin Kan:

It's a delicate balance of driving towards that vision, but then also taking feedback from your plans meeting reality.

Justin Kan:

I think it helps a lot if you're building something for yourself. In the case of Twitch, what was really good was my co-founder, Emmett, who is the CEO today, is a big video game fan. When we identified that as an opportunity for us, he was really the user. He was the watcher, anyways, the viewer. He did have an internal North Star of what kind of content was interesting, and that this would be a thing because there was at least a market of one that wanted it. I think that's really important, is to have that conviction of how the world's going to look, and it can be a lot easier to build that if you are the user of your own product.

Gautam Mukunda:

This idea of a North Star is so powerful, because it drives the trajectory of your mission, whether or not you're disrupting an entire industry. We put energy into the things that we value. If you're going to take on the US legal system, or create a whole new landscape for internet streaming, you're going to have to persevere in the face of powerful obstacles.

Gautam Mukunda:

Raj's North Star is solving profound social problems, as a civil rights lawyer and elected official, and now as a startup CEO.

Raj Goyle:

I'll give you one example that's really appropriate for the moment we're in, which is diversity. The legal profession is the least diverse white collar profession. The record of law firms is, I'll just be very blunt here, is pathetic. That's not a controversial statement. We built a product, and we thought it would fly off the shelves. And, it turns out that there's the appetite for what you actually do to solve the issue of diversity in the law is really difficult. We continue to innovate and iterate.

Raj Goyle:

To the North Star point, we know we're right. We know there's a huge problem. We have deep emotional passion to solve this problem. We know that Bodhala can be a huge part of solving it. We haven't yet gotten there, on what that product looks like, what that delivery looks like, where the market is, but we're not going to let it go.

Gautam Mukunda:

Most innovations begin with a problem. People like Raj and Justin are building bridges between what's possible and what will be, by using technology to change industries that are bloated, broken, or failing people. It's not just their vision for the future, but their sense of who they want to be in that future that drives their work, and that sense evolves.

Justin Kan:

You know, I spent the first part of my career really looking at trying to be a successful entrepreneur, and was really oriented towards myself, really putting myself at the center of the universe. I think a lot of entrepreneurs are like that, maybe they don't want to admit it. But for me, there was some hole from my past I was trying fill when I was starting off. And then, as I became more successful and more recently, I realized that that wasn't as fulfilling as I thought.

Justin Kan:

Now, what's really activating for me is to think about things that are maybe a little bit more in service to other people. That manifests in a bunch of different ways. More recently, I've been working on a habit tracker app, to help people adopt healthy habits using a lot of techniques that really worked for me, called KIN. It's things like that, where what is the change that I want to see in the world, not just what is the economic change that I think is going to happen and that I can harness. And, either investing or spending my time on those kind of projects.

Justin Kan:

As a fund, I have a new venture capital fund called Goat, and we invest a lot in climate change because that's something that we think is not just an economic opportunity, but something that's the biggest problem that's facing humanity today.

Gautam Mukunda:

When I speak to my students, I tell them that all of our research on happiness tells us that lasting happiness doesn't come from money. Although it certainly helps, as Everett Spain told us a couple of episodes ago. We have to be able to meet our basic needs. But, once that's taken care of, being of service in some way and leaving a legacy is a much greater contributor to lasting happiness.

Gautam Mukunda:

But, doing that often means leaving money on the table, making sure that rewards go to everyone involved. That they're not monopolized by one, or of few people. It's why ethical leadership is both personally rewarding, and incredibly hard. How do we leave a lasting positive impact, while still answering to the Gods of the marketplace?

Justin Kan:

A year and a half ago, before the pandemic, I remember going to a technology conference, and a founder came up to me. He was like, "I started seeing a therapist because you talk about it on Twitter," and gave me a hug. I was like, "Wow, that's incredible." I just have spent a lot of time distilling, and thinking about okay, what are the things that really activate me, and bring me joy, and that I also feel like are of service in the world. And, I really appreciate and enjoy the mentorship and advising side, which is why I think I'm well suited to be a venture capitalist and investor.

Justin Kan:

Now, I'm creating a lot of content about entrepreneurship, and wellness, and journey through self acceptance. So that looks like a podcast I'm doing called The Quest, where I bring on guests and we talk about their vulnerabilities and their journey to success, which is even for the most successful people, is never linear. That's really what I find is both activating for me, it activates my creative side, but then also is something that I think is of service.

Gautam Mukunda:

And, just to pause here, Justin's journey into wellness really resonated with me. I make a point to bring up therapy and mental health with my students in every class. I want them to see an authority figure telling them that going to therapy is healthy and positive. As we talk about value systems and challenging norms, not only in the business world but in life and in our society, destigmatizing beneficial mental health habits should be top of the list.

Raj Goyle:

I'll say, the mental health stigma, having been in government and in public policy for a lot of my career, is one of the most puzzling things because everybody needs good advice and someone to talk to. It is one of the worst features of our very bad healthcare system. It's not subsidized, it's not paid for, and we continue to have a social stigma around it. I applaud you both for creating that space.

Gautam Mukunda:

So Justin, this morning I saw a video of you talking quite movingly about the need for external approval, and how it was a driver you. How it used to be a driver for you, I should say.

Gautam Mukunda:

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a dear friend. What he said to me is that after he's done with his current job, he's like, "I never want to have to worry about what other people think, ever again. My current job is very high profile, and when it's done I don't want to do that." My response to him was, "You know you're Indian, right?"

Gautam Mukunda:

I do think this need for approval from others is a fundamental part of the immigrant experience, for a lot of us. Is that something that speaks to you? And, do you think that could be part of that driver?

Justin Kan:

Yeah. For me, I know where it comes from. When I was younger, I didn't feel like I got the acceptance and the attention that I wanted from maybe parts of my family, or my peers. And, the funny thing is I don't think necessarily people were doing anything to me, it was just the way that I was interpreting the world. So for me, that manifested in a lot of subconscious patterns that I was playing out, throughout my life, mental models of the world. And then, I realized at a certain point, everything I've done in my professional career has been to get the approval of other people. Which was an unattractive realization to admit to myself, at first. But then, I was going through the process, I was able to realize that's okay. The need to get approval from other people, that's a basic human need, and my desire to do it has led to a lot of good things in my life. Like becoming an entrepreneur and the drive to be successful, and then eventually finding success.

Justin Kan:

At the same time, I was able to realize oh, maybe that's not how I want to live the rest of my life. Worrying about people think about me on Twitter, or if I have a company that's X valuation, or achieves Y level of success. So, that was a very eyeopening process for me, which was probably one of the most transformational learnings that I've made in my life.

Gautam Mukunda:

Raj, does that resonate with you?

Raj Goyle:

First, very interesting Justin, and great to hear your self analysis there. I think, absolutely getting approval, getting validation, market validation of yourself, I think Justin said it well, is a basic human need. Certainly, I plead guilty to that. I guess, even say that, that's in a negative frame. I'm not necessarily sure it is, the question is the balance.

Raj Goyle:

I was in public life, and I was an elected officer. I ran for office three times, won a big one, won two ones, and then I lost a really big one. That was tough. That was a really tough thing, to be 35 and in the political life I was a rising star, I had gotten elected as a brown guy, as a brown liberal in the reddest part of the reddest state in the country. And then, I got blown out in the worst year in the Democratic party history, in 2010. I had to pick up the pieces of that, and I also made a geographic move from Kansas to New York.

Raj Goyle:

What I would say is that I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still seeking validation, and that affirmation. I think, Gautam you mentioned it, it is probably part of the immigrant ethos. But, I just have a fairly strong sense of impact that I want to make, so that was what animated my political life. Sure, I like to be successful, I like my name in the paper. I got to go to a State dinner, that was cool, I don't deny I love to host and attend good parties. But, I really do have, I think I do at least, a good sense of the impact I want to have, and when I'm most at sea is when I don't have a definition of an application of that impact.

Gautam Mukunda:

I wanted to consider the flip side to innovation. We want to have an impact, we want everyone to win. When a change makes everyone better off, economists refer to that as Pareto optimality. But, most changes aren't Pareto optimal.

Gautam Mukunda:

Think about indoor lighting. First kerosene, and then electric. That seems like a huge leap forward, right? And it is, we're all hugely better off. But, each destroyed an industry. Nantucket whalers hunted down whales across the globe for their oil, which was burned for light. Rockefeller's kerosene, and then Edison's light bulb destroyed that industry. Now, I think that's great. I love whales, I'm obsessed with them, and the idea of killing one is abhorrent to me. But, if you lived in Nantucket and your job depended on whaling, you probably feel differently.

Gautam Mukunda:

Even the best innovations usually produce at least a few losers. So how do we, as ethical entrepreneurs, reconcile that?

Raj Goyle:

The one thing, and I don't know if Justin would accept this observation, but it's something that I admire in what he built and I think it's also consistent with what we're building at Bodhala. Which is, if you look at these big wins in this tech sector and the era we're in, it truly is a race to the bottom. This actually gets to your ethical leadership point, Gautam, which is the gig economy, and obviously this is getting political, I think we're going to look back on it with a lot regret. For those of us who care a lot, and I think most people do, about growing our economy and frankly, just doing as much as we can to have people live better lives.

Raj Goyle:

But back to Justin, which is I think your platform ultimately was empowering. Which is to say, "Hey look, I can be in esports. I can be some Yale graduate who slaps a camera on my head, and I can get access to a platform." And ultimately, that's an opening and that is actually expansive and aspirational. Similarly, Bodhala, our belief is that this crusty model of incumbency protection, where there's no transparency and no visibility actually really hurts the economy and hurts people, because you can't access new folks. You can't actually get younger people, people of color, they're shut out of this great economic engine of the law, because it's all closed up.

Raj Goyle:

I think that one thing that we're going to look back on, on this era, is that I would hope that we have more businesses and more innovation, that actually does something that is creating more pie because that's what at least was the premise of technology, and of the internet revolution. I don't think we're probably meeting that standard very well right now.

Gautam Mukunda:

Every day, we see examples of the political impact of business. American business has played an incredibly powerful role in shaping our response, or lack of response to climate change. But, impacts can be unintentional, too. Tesla's electric cars don't burn gas, which is great for the environment. But, roads are paid for by taxes on gasoline. How should we handle that? There's no such thing as an apolitical high impact innovation.

Gautam Mukunda:

Raj has decades of experience in both business and politics. And, Justin has succeeded in several different fields, despite being a novice in each one. I wondered how, given their different backgrounds, they might approach these questions.

Justin Kan:

Almost everything I've done in my career has been as a novice. Often times, the innovation in industry comes from outsiders because you don't have the preconceived notions of what will work and what won't work. What happens and entrepreneurship is things work until they don't work, so the beginner's mind I would say is one thing. And the second thing is that I have the experience and good fortune of having seen a lot of different business models, and different business problems. All problems in business are basically the same things.

Justin Kan:

But, with regards to climate change, we invest in climate change companies. It's a lot of research, there's a lot of diligence, trying to understand the market, really trying to dive in, and form our own hypothesis around any company. Sometimes, that's just rolling up our sleeves and doing work on it.

Gautam Mukunda:

This is the entrepreneurial spirit. It's a space where Justin feels right at home. So much so that his latest company, Goat Capital, put out a call for "hungry people who want to be founders who want to work hard. Experience not required." It's a good thing, we need to get resources to people trying to solve problems like climate change and COVID-19. But, solving big problems gets complicated quickly.

Gautam Mukunda:

At what point does it become necessary to regulate private businesses? And, what responsibility does the private sector have to manage the impacts of its innovation?

Raj Goyle:

If I could Justin, I'd love to give you my two cents on what I've seen on that, if that's all right?

Raj Goyle:

I think that one of the things is that when you get into the climate change rubric, certainly there's just a lot of money to be made in the private sector, but it inherently involves public policy if you're really trying to move that needle. I've always been struck, having come out of public policy and political life, and now firmly in the tech private sector, about that wide chasm between the two worlds. How do you view, when you're thinking about these climate change investments, the role of public policy? In my experience, venture capitalists, they look at the business of course, and then they just think, "Ah, you've got to go hire a lobbyist," or something like that. Have you given much thought to that?

Justin Kan:

I like to think about companies that will work without any sort of future government intervention or change. So we invest in a company called Living Carbon, that genetically engineers trees, pine and poplar trees, to take more carbon out of the atmosphere, and their goal is to sell to private land owners.

Raj Goyle:

Are you avoiding the government? Because I'm interested in why you want to have businesses that are just free of that policy, public policy element.

Justin Kan:

My goal is to not rely on any sort of public policy changes in the future, but rather invest things that are possible under the current regimes today. Just because I don't really understand what goes into making public policy change, and it seems like something that is outside of our control. Whereas, something that relies on consumer behavior, or an existing set of subsidies today, that seems like it's much more understandable to really do a deep dive into the business as it stands right now, and not rely on other potential possible factors, or lucky breaks that might happen in the future.

Gautam Mukunda:

Raj, because you've been an elected official, my observation is that large fractions of the business world don't really appreciate the centrality of government to much of what they do. And, some of those that do tend to think of their role largely as getting government to help them, as opposed to larger social goals, and are willing to use their power that way.

Gautam Mukunda:

Now having played on both sides of this, both as an elected official and now someone trying to disrupt an industry that is literally the creation of the government, how do you think about this interaction between government and private sector, and how you might want to try to influence it? Secondly, if you were to give advice to Justin about how he was trying to manage climate change policy going forward, since I think we can be certain there will be some, what would you say?

Raj Goyle:

I think what the private sector often misses is the sheer scale of government, and the sheer scale of society.

Raj Goyle:

There's a story that runs in New York circles where some rich guy came up to Mike Bloomberg and said, "You know, I'm at the later stage of my career, I'm a multi-billionaire. I'm going to give you $1 billion, Mike, and I'm going to solve public education in New York City." He just looked at him and he says, "Do you know what the annual budget of the DoE of New York City is?" Anyway, the guy had no clue. It's well over $25 billion a year, there's literally a million kids in the New York City public school system.

Raj Goyle:

That's an education example, but I just spent a lot of time on hunger issues and I was very, very involved in an organization called Hunger Free America. There, that executive director used to talk about the fact that if you [inaudible 00:26:14] up all the food pantries and liberally construed them, that market size would be a few billion dollars. But, the safety net that's run by the Federal government is about $100 billion.

Raj Goyle:

So to really solve problems at scale, and of course Justin you're talking about spot solutions, they're fundamentally having an understanding of the public policy architecture. I find curious that more people in the private sector don't engage it, I think there's disdain for it that makes good sense. This political system is rotten in many, many ways, on both sides of the aisle. But, I do think understanding public policy, for people who want to have impact, I think it would be time well spent.

Gautam Mukunda:

Business can be a powerful tool for social change, both directly and through its interactions with the government.

Gautam Mukunda:

In his excellent The Fracturing of the American Corporate Elite, Ross School of Business professor Mark Mizruchi describes how, after the second World War, American business leaders worked together to get the government to fund vital public goods, ranging from the highway system to investing in science and technology. This system wasn't perfect. For example, it tended to be blind to the needs of women and minorities. But, it was absolutely crucial to the decades of prosperity that followed the war.

Gautam Mukunda:

As the memories of war faded, however, and shareholder pressures increased, Mizruchi found that business leaders switched how they used their political power. Instead of pushing for public goods, they worked to weaken unions, deregulate industries, and cut both corporate taxes and their own individual ones. Now, the United States and the world face challenges that cannot be addressed without the government. From inequality to climate change, only governments, in particular the American government, have the power and resources to take them on. But, the government will only do that if interest groups and society want it to. American business is, by far, the most powerful interest group in the country. More than any other single group of people, and probably more than any combination of groups of people, the leaders of American business will decide if the American government will use its vast resources to address the greatest problems we fast, or ignore them until it's too late.

Gautam Mukunda:

The more I study the effects of climate change, the more I realized that it will transform the world far more than most of us know, Something we'll address in a later episode. I can't imagine taking on that sort of challenge without putting the full innovative genius of capitalism to work on it. We want to live in an innovative world. We need to live in an innovative world, or too many of us might not be able to live at all. Many feel the same way, but also hope to find a way to balance our need for innovation and the ways in which unrestrained corporate power can have downsides, too.

Raj Goyle:

I will say, there's a saying in government which is, "If you don't have laws against child labor, there will be child labor." And of course, there still is in our world. But that's why labor unions used to say, "Hey, you should thank us, we brought you the weekend." Because before there was organizing, you just worked all the time. We have to have boundaries, and we have to have guardrails, and that's the whole point of society. There's no right answer, everyone will have different opinions, but that's what political fights are about. When they're done well, they end up at good guardrails.

Gautam Mukunda:

Good guardrails, that's a striking metaphor from someone who has been both a legislator and an entrepreneur. Business not government runs in the race, while government not business sets its course to make sure that everyone plays by the rules and that innocent bystanders don't get hurt.

Gautam Mukunda:

But, striking that balance is always hard and technological progress seems to be making it even harder. I don't have a good answer for how to solve this, but I'm heartened by the way that both Raj and Justin are thinking about the problem. So I had to know, after hearing both of their perspectives, what are they reading that shapes their ideas?

Justin Kan:

My favorite book is The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, which is just an amazing survey for the Western reader on Eastern ideas around attachment, and aversion, and surrender. Really, reading that book was fundamental for me, advancing to this new attitude of maybe getting beyond my ego and being able to accept myself and the world as it is.

Raj Goyle:

My first reaction when you sent me that question in advance is I'm a big Sherlock Holmes guy, so I was going to just say I want everyone to read the complete Sherlock Holmes, the Conan Doyle canon. But, I'll just say what's on my nightstand now, is I've got Breath which I mentioned, and The Power Broker by Robert Caro.

Raj Goyle:

It's actually a very funny line. I think Bill de Blasio was asked what was on his nightstand when he was elected in 2013 and he said, "Like everyone in New York City, I'm somewhere in the middle of The Power Broker." But I do think, consistent with the theme of this conversation, understanding power, mapping power, it helps in technology, it helps in investing, it helps in life.

Gautam Mukunda:

And my last question, which I love, because I always learn as much about my guests as I do about the person they tell me about. I wanted to know, who in their lives have they found most impressive and why?

Justin Kan:

I guess, I really appreciate my meditation teacher, Janusz Welin from Deep Mindfulness Collective. But, I feel like he has a deep peace and equanimity, and a very calming presence. In the past, 10 years ago, I probably would have answered something completely different. I would have been like, "Oh, it's this entrepreneur, or it's this investor," or something, "because they've been successful, or they can work really hard. They're always learning." Which are qualities I admire, but I think if I think about qualities I want to emulate now, it really is that inner equanimity and peace. Yeah, my mediation teacher.

Raj Goyle:

The person who I hold in my highest regard is former Senator Harris Wofford, and it's not because he was a US Senator, which is fine. But, it was actually more that it ties all the things we talked about, which is about power, about disruption, about accountability, about impact. Harris helped bring Gandhi and non-violence to the Civil Rights movement in America. He and Bayard Rustin, really, was absolutely critical. Harris Wofford went to India just a few years after independence, he was one of the few white Westerners there. It was always about impact. I got to know Harris, he was a supporter of mine, he helped millions of people.

Gautam Mukunda:

Justin and Raj both reminded us that the greatest satisfactions in life come from trying to help people. Many of us want that, to help people. It drives designers, artists, engineers, writers, founders, and app creators to tear down the walls of the house and rebuild it from a whole new blueprint. Justin's story is particularly striking, because he didn't start off that way but found that he was vastly happier once he made that his focus.

Gautam Mukunda:

Entrepreneurs like Justin and Raj lay out the path for whole new industries. That's hard, and it gets harder when powerful incumbents push back, using their own advantages or via their influence over regulators. Shaking up those sorts of incumbents is what entrepreneurs live for, but that's rarely a comfortable process for anyone. It's really hard to fix an airplane while it's in the air, so changing things often means that they stop working for a while until they, hopefully, get better. When people depend on those systems to function, the transition can be really tough. Government can help cushion that blow, and help make sure that the new form serves us all better than the old one did.

Gautam Mukunda:

But, so can entrepreneurs and business leaders who care deeply about doing the right thing, about making sure that their businesses are solving real problems that make a difference, not just looking for ways to make a quick buck. That's what leaving a legacy requires, and it's striking that Justin and Raj have both concluded that real happiness comes from that, from making the world a better place for everyone not just for yourself. From sowing seeds in a garden, you may not even get to see. But, if you're going to take on all the challenges of creating an industry, challenging powerful incumbents, and pushing through every barrier and obstacle to try to create something genuinely new, it probably helps if you have something more to motivate you than money. It probably helps to have a North Star.

Gautam Mukunda:

What's your North Star? Tell me at worldreimagined@nasdaq.com, or hit me up at @GMukunda on Twitter.

Speaker 2:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world, an original podcast from NASDAQ. Visit the World Reimagined website at nasdaq.com/worldreimaginedpodcast.

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