Saturday, February 3, 2007

From infancy to two years old -alonovo learns to walk





Like many Americans I felt politically frustrated. Regardless of my vote I felt that because politicians require huge amount's of money to be elected or re-elected the possibility of Congress or the Executive branch of government representing us continues to undermined by vast wealth and power. As a young adult I observed the Reagan administration, and had read enough to understand that the Reagan team was about the transfer of wealth and power to those that already were wealthy and powerful. As GW was about to begin his second term and many were feeling more politically disenfranchised than ever, I felt that the serious flaw in creating a participatory and representative government was economic. I wrote at the time that "politics was a shadow manifesting from the economic landscape".



I spent most of my 25 year career in technology, essentially growing up with the UNIX operating system, well before it had gained popular commercial acceptance. I was at Oracle Corp. since 1993 and was generating a nearly embarrassing amount of money (more so considering that I left high school behind shortly after my father passed away when I was 16). While many talk about Larry Ellison and Oracle in a negative manner, I have many terrific memories and lifelong friendships with incredible people at Oracle and while I may not agree with many business decisions I remain grateful for the opportunity and the relationships I formed while there. Nevertheless, in 2004 my desire to use the knowledge and experience I'd gained throughout my life and apply it to something beyond database performance, Oracle business strategy and customer advocacy was growing. Over the course of my Oracle career I saw many of my friends, very talented people move on such as my first manager there -Cary Millsap. In 2004 I began work in the Oracle On Demand business unit, which at the time was led by an Oracle Executive Vice President, Michael Rocha. I was energized by his management style, he wasn't leading the business unit by Excel spreadsheets as had become more common in different areas, not just at Oracle. Rocha was a visionary and a leader and I was able to spend a good deal of time evolving strategy with regard to customer satisfaction and global infrastructure. I had the privilege of becoming one of a small team that was shaping the business unit. As the Peoplesoft acquisition occurred, Mike decided to retire. He had been at Oracle pretty much since the big bang and formation of the universe and decided that golf looked better than toiling away. Shortly after Mike left, I decided it was time to take the concept of alonovo.com and make it happen.



Throughout my life I have enjoyed reading and learning about human behavior, sociology and economics. In 1984 I began working with Dr. Ralph Williams, an Organizational Behaviorist. It provided a perspective that most technologists are not exposed to and much of the work we did many years ago not only helped define a career that was marked with innovation, it established some of the perspective that helped form the alonovo concept. In 1997 I was in the process of a bitter separation and divorce and early in 1998 I met an amazing woman on my way back to Oracle HQ. I had been in Phoenix to visit with my younger children, and she had been in town enjoying SF Giants spring training (her entire family are committed Giants fans). Linda had been an activist most of her life and I continue to learn from her although she would be the first to say we don't agree on everything. Linda inspired me become involved in San Mateo County Peace Action, and I worked with people who, like Linda, had been committed to activism and peace their entire lives. In 2003 Linda and I sponsored and produced the Symposium for Peace, Justice and Human Rights in San Mateo, California. We wanted to create an educational event for the community, and also try to provide a framework for progressive unity -it was readily apparent to me that many were doing tremendous, courageous work, but in silos -without coordinating with others. Scott Ritter was our keynote speaker, Charlie Liteky (Voices in the Wilderness), Blase Bonpane (Office of the Americas), Paul George (Peninsula Peace and Justice), Torill Eide (Human Rights March), Alpesh Patel (Peace Action), Brian Rawson (Oxfam America/Make Trade Fair), Marie Davis (NAACP) all spoke and shared their experiences with the audience. An event that size doesn't just happen (I learned!) and in the planning stages, I met a wonderful longtime activist, Dorinda Moreno. She helped plan, organize and connect with speakers for the event. On the event day, she introduced me to a godsend -Irma Garcia-Sinclair who helped manage the event. That evening we all enjoyed dinner together. The next day I was deeply fatigued, but Dorinda would not let me rest -"okay, we've got momentum, what are we going to do next?" she chided. So with copious amounts of coffee we authored a very rough paper outlining the need for progressive unity, and a framework for how to get there. While not nearly as eloquent or formal as Lewis Powell's equivalent memo which established the infrastructure for the Reagan and Bush rise to power, it seemed a nice starting point.

Upon trying to shop the paper around (not for publication, but just to get anyone to pay attention) because I was a virtual unknown, there wasn't much of an audience for what we had to say. So, while remaining locally active, I continued to throw myself into my work at Oracle and hoped that our thoughts were not unique, and that an effort toward some form of unity was occurring behind the scenes. My thoughts about socio-economics and politics took a backseat, however I continued to consider how to provide a framework for unity that would also address some of the fundamental issues I saw within the American political and economic landscape.

After the 2004 election, my consideration of the issues took centerstage once again, and essentially the concept of alonovo.com was born. And without the early inspiration, guidance and support of a handful of people I might still be at Oracle (granted, I'd be taking nicer vacations and have a paycheck). People like Brent Emerson and Adam Bernstein at Electric Embers, Max Bollock, Alpesh Patel, Ron Zucker and Dr. Ed Feldman from my Peace Action days, Dr. Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange, Jim Fournier and Anna Coronna of Planetwork.net, Sean Sheehan of New American Dream, Joe Magid of Grassroots for America, Andrew Hoppin, Zack Rosen and the Civicspace Labs team and last and never least, the amazing Suzanne Stenson-O'Brien of the Center for Civic Participation. Those amazing folks helped refine the vision and inspired me to leap into the abyss. As I stood looking over the precipice, my Oracle compensation and comfortable life on one hand, and the unknown on the other side, the person that pushed me out of the proverbial airplane on my freefall (hopefully, with a parachute) was my son in law, Mikko Hal. At family gatherings we'd have many great discussions about social issues, economics and politics (so much so, he'd pretty much run for cover when he'd see me headed his way). At one point he mentioned (and I'm paraphrasing), "you have a lot of good ideas, but so do many other well-intentioned white liberals that quietly take their paychecks and go home". So, words into action.



I formed an advisory board for alonovo, which struck a balance between the business viability world, non-profit activist world, technologists and economists that helped shape the concept and initial direction. I began to recruit our core team and the effort became real as people like Joey Shepp (founder of Earthsite.net), Ethan McCutchen and Lewis Hoffman of Grasscommons, Hooman Rabieh from Intel, Nadeen Sakowski -who like me spent many years in the technology industry and wanted to direct her knowledge, experience and talent toward the public good. Later Matt Cowley, musician and developer extraordinaire joined the effort, along with my animal rights activist daughter, Martina Polisner. Together we went from concept to our first production release in less than five months! And we wouldn't have gotten into production had it not been for the courage and vision of KLD Research & Analytics, Inc. for their early belief in our concept. Shari Aaron (freshmarketing.com) helped with marketing strategy and Amy Weiher (Weiher Creative) and Ellis Neder (Sway Design) provided an excellent visual feel for our site. More fuel came from reading Professor Joel Bakan's remarkable book "The Corporation" as well as books I'd read over the course of my self-education from John Kenneth Galbraith, Steve Lydenberg, John Harrington, Barbara Ehrenreich, Noam Chomsky, Charlie Derber and Economic Apartheid in America by my friends at United for a Fair Economy.

I knew that the meager resources I had accumulated over my technology career, and mostly at Oracle would not take us to widespread use unless we were incredibly lucky. After our formation but prior to our launch I started discussions with Omidyar, the Social Venture Network and private individuals that either funded progressive political candidates and also approached the socially responsible investment community. In February of 2006 we were out of money and the core team (including myself) became a hungry group of volunteers (selling our home in November of 2005 gave us a bit more leeway, but not much. I had one private investor who had agreed to come in with 1/3 of what we needed (600K) but could not get anyone else to step up to the plate.



Finally in May of 2006, I was invited to New York to present to a small group of private investors. I was cautioned to make sure my presentation was constrained to 500K, and did so. I had a late dinner with the individual that coordinated the meeting and the next day met the three other individuals and presented and conducted an question and answer session which, in all took close to five hours. I was well prepared and all of the questions were excellent, and I was able to respond to each. The following day, I met for lunch with the the husband and wife that put the opportunity together, and they had a chance to meet Bob Hornsby, a Wharton MBA and all around great guy who put countless volunteer time in putting our forecasts together, and Dr. John Tepper Marlin, former Chief Economist for the City of New York and Adjunct Professor at the Stern School at NYU (he and Alice Tepper Marlin authored "Shopping for a Better World" and are widely viewed as pioneers in connecting corporate behavior to profit motive.

Upon my return to Phoenix (I was in Phoenix, trying to spend time with my younger children, while shuttling to the SF and LA area) the investors requested more documentation which I was able to provide, and after a few iterations they decided not to invest. They felt that we needed more than our request (500K) to get them to an exit where they could recoup their investment with a sizable return. The experience sent me reeling. I was soon going to be not only without resources for alonovo, but essentials such as rent, groceries and occasional gas money for the Prius. I tried several different alternatives such as an incubator model (where an aligned business would cover our operational expenses and development costs) while we would continue to seek the capital we needed. Most options were still open to us, just not moving to closure. Finally, I had no choice but to take work helping drive business strategy for a Fortune 50 company in order to have enough revenue to continue to fund alonovo, while ensuring I would not have to run the business out of my Prius. While I am still actively pursing ways in which I can acquire funding or resources for alonovo (while also guarding the integrity of the mission), I have had two more than full time jobs since September of 2006, one which thankfully pays for the other.


There are a handful of people and organizations that joined with us at the beginning and are thus notable. They recognize that alonovo.com is not simply a cause-based shopping site (where a percentage of revenue or profit goes to charity). They have understood from the beginning that there is an important mission (connection of corporate behavior to the profit motive) while also providing an innovative method so they can establish a new form of funding for themselves. The folks at United for a Fair Economy, Grassroots for America, Global Exchange, The Center for Civic Participation, Global Justice, WalMart Watch, Conservation Value, World 5.0, the Breast Cancer Fund and Listen for Life were there with us at our beginning. Nevertheless, we have been unable to drive significant (and necessary growth) by sharing a significant part of our ecommerce revenue, and upon reflection late last year, we decided that scale is vital to both acquiring resources and driving toward our objective. Therefore beginning the 1st of 2007, when the constituent of an organization that is actively participating with us (letting their community know about our relationship through their website and newsletters) we pass through all ecommerce revenue on behalf of their registered alonovo users. And when a user registers with an alonovo passive organization (such as Habitat for Humanity, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam America, Stand for Children, UNICEF, the National Education Association and many others that have not yet activated a formal relationship with us) we share 50% of the revenue on their shopping transactions. The shift has led to several new groups that we are honored to support such as CODEPINK, Youth Movement Records, The Toxics Information Project and OneVoice -LA.

All this leads to today, where we are continuing to develop relationships with social networks and organizations that can benefit by leveraging the alonovo model while also trying to get the effort properly capitalized and resourced. We also have the requirements and design for the next generation of alonovo, which will help provide support for the local community economy. We continue to work with the amazing team at Electric Embers --Brent, Adam and Ben. John Cesario, musician, former music executive and most importantly a friend, has joined the effort to help with business development for us. Amy Weiher continues to provide great visuals for the site. A recent trip to Boston connected me to the unsung heroes at KLD Research & Analytics, Inc. who continue to gather and provide research about corporations for investors and for our work at alonovo.com. I had a chance to visit more friends and spend time with Professor Charlie Derber at Boston College, who has contributed many excellent books such as "People Before Profit" and "Corporation Nation". And we are continuing to work with the leading academic, business and political minds to help catalyze a new era of participatory democracy and a sustainable, fair economy. Since the beginning of this year we've been joined by the Idealswork.com community and we are exploring relationships with CoopAmerica.org, Worldchanging.com, Zaadz.com and Care2.com. And of course our growing alonovo.com community who are in every since the new American pioneers.

1 comment:

Bronwyn said...

Thanks for sharing your story. It's quite inspiring to read about the leap you took.