Responsible Innovation for Early Stage Founders: What can we really do?

Being an early stage founder is hard. You're worried about product market fit, runway, and making payroll. With such limited time and resources, responsible innovation can become an afterthought. Ultimately, you can’t retrofit equity, purpose, or ethics. What are the concrete tools and tactics available to founders for building good into the DNA of your company?

Chapman Snowden of GoBuild (YC W21), Claire Shorall of Topknot, and Raina Kumra of Spicewell joined SSI Co-Facilitator Lyel Resner for a practical discussion on what founders of early stage companies can reasonably do. They dialed in on how they’ve built societal responsibility into the DNA of their businesses at the earliest stages, and how it makes them a better company overall.

Key Takeaways:

  • You can’t retrofit equity, purpose, or ethics. Be really clear about your pillars and intentions upfront.
  • Raising money is a “search task, not a sales task: it’s a two-way street.” - Claire Shorall
  • "The path of least resistance in startups is not to be every point you have to be intentional...carve out a non-trivial amount of time to deal with the implications of these decisions." - Chapman Snowden
  • “Build an advisory board before you think you need one.” - Raina Kumra
  • There are concrete tools and tactics that early-stage founders can reasonably incorporate.

Supplementary Resources:

Session Speakers

Raina Kumra

Founder and CEO, Spicewell. Partner, The Fund

Raina Kumra is Founder and CEO of Spicewell and a Partner at The Fund. She has helped both large and small organizations accelerate their growth as an internal and external change agent. In the past she has led strategy and investments for the Technology Ethics portfolio at Omidyar Network where she developed the EthicalOS tool and co-founded Mavin, an app engagement platform. She served in The Obama Administration as Co-Director of Innovation at the BBG, and with the U.S. Department of State. She is a member of The Council on Foreign Relations and one of Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business.

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Claire Shorall

Co-Founder and CEO, Topknot

Claire Shorall is the Co-Founder and CEO of Topknot, an online life coaching alternative where structured peer conversations lead to real personal growth. Before starting Topknot, Claire was a Principle at Neo, which identifies awesome young engineers, includes them in a community of tech veterans, and invests in companies they start or join. She also spent time working for the Oakland School District, working to ensure more students had access to quality CS curriculum and resources.

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Chapman Snowden

Co-Founder and CEO, GoBuild

Chapman Snowden is Co-Founder and CEO of GoBuild. He is an experienced operator with a focus on consumer products, having built products for Google and Dev Bootcamp. His 10+ year career spans finance, venture philanthropy, and education technology.

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Lyel Resner

Co-Facilitator, Startups & Society Initiative

Lyel is Co-Facilitator of the Startups & Society Initiative and across his career, a technologist, entrepreneur, educator, and advisor. He is a visiting faculty member at Cornell Tech, where he is the Head of the Public Interest Technology Studio, and a Fellow at the MIT Civic Data Lab. Previously, he was a Co-Founder of Swayable (YC W18), a public benefit corporation that uses data science to create more persuasive media for many of the world’s leading advocacy organizations, political campaigns, and brands, and was an early executive at The Flatiron School.

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