Troy: Yeah. Yeah. Cause obviously we can’t even believe we’re here. Like honestly, we’re just curt cable workers, you know,
Troy: We go back to do what we doing. I mean, this new side of it, having a business attitude is new to us, but man, it was awesome when, we, we had that kind of contact with Lindsey and find out we a part of the fellowship, you know, that felt awesome because number one, it kind of adds some validation to what you’re doing because. A lot of people thought that we wouldn’t get to even where we’re at now. A lot of people that work with us didn’t think that we could get now to go to those too big, to be true, but now, to be able to be part of this and have interaction with, something as big as the fellowship program and have all these other people who have like minds working together to try to find, to solve similar problems to what we’re doing, to be able to be where I’m at, just, and be part of that is like way, way, way beyond amazing at anything we thought was possible at this time.
Yeah, we are definitely ready to like deepen, dig and learn as much as we can to figure out how we can help what we’re doing now is starting as a small piece of the puzzle that people need, growth to something bigger and help be something way beyond internet, you know?
Alisa: Yeah, definitely. So a lot of times we only get to see the end result, you know, in however many years when People’s Choice is like the most popular option for internet in your city, you know, they’re not going to know about this, like the beginning days, like how hard it was at the beginning and like all the road bumps that got you there, but they’re going to see this really successful company.
So, I really love talking with founders and people that work in this impact space to really get behind the scenes look at all that hard work from the inside. So, so far, I’m curious about with your time in building this cooperative, what is something that you’ve learned that you didn’t expect to learn?
Troy: Something I’ve learned is to trust in the process and not the results. Like, when we started doing this, even sometimes we would take little videos cause I think about it, like when you, when this business, if this business becomes what we want it to be, it’s like, we’re not doing anything major in one day that makes you just a big business. It’s just like every day we’re going to work. And we’re doing a small thing that takes to make the business grow a little more, a little more. We just have to go install an antenna this day. We have to go speak to this developer and have to do that.
And little by little, you don’t know, but you know, a couple of years later, all those little things added up to make you where you are and just, trying to take note of where we’re at now and what’s happening so, you know, you can realize that going forward. I would say something, you know, I’m really trying to take in is there’s going to be failures and, you know, in the process and going along and try not to take every failure as a setback, because honestly failures help you move forward.
But just look at it as like, don’t get too high if something great happens that day, don’t get too low or something happens in that day, just each part is part of the process. So we just continue to process until you get to the end and just trust that, you know, you’re doing the right thing. I think that’s something I’m learning as we’re going through.
Alisa: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I’m curious, like if you felt kind of entrepreneurial drive, even before this started, like, what did you think you were going to be doing with your life?
Troy: I definitely felt entrepreneurial drive. I don’t know if you know of, back in the days with the late-night TV, the Carleton sheets kind of thing, that was me. I was like, I’m going to go do some real estate. I got the book and read over it, come and do it. But after all that, I was like, you know what? I just need.. you know the excuses everybody’s kind of starts to give they self, even the entrepreneurs before they get to the point. I was like, no, but you know what? I need some kind of money to get it. I was like, okay. I started working for the cable company. I work here for a year or two, and then I, you know, I have enough money and go back into real estate.
And 20 years later I’m working at… but one of the goals I always had was tried to use business to try to affect change as well. And I know too, in order to do these things, you have to be able to have the resources and money to be able to do it.
So I always saw one as a means to get to the next, and then it was just how long it would take me to get there. And then also, you know, putting it forward, but entrepreneurial and try to do something different than just the norm, because I wanted to do, to try to affect change on a bigger level was always part of my thought process.
Alisa: So how did you first get connected with the company ventures?
Troy: Most of that is through, I call Eric the connector. We call him the connector. Yeah, because as we are building a system, a lot of these because of his work already and trying to develop and put together cooperatives, he always has a pulse on what’s going on and what’s happening. So he says, you know, this is something great.
I think it’d be great for you to be a part of. And I said, definitely I’m definitely on board is sound like something. I want to be involved in, a group that I would want to be a part of, cause that will help not only the company grow, but me personally as well. So grateful that he was able to get me into the, help be a part of this.
Alisa: So Lindsay, when a company is looking at venture capital firms and investors and things like that, most of them, it seems like only care about the traditional bottom line of profit, rather than the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.
And so it’s really interesting. I love what you’re doing, or what Company Ventures is doing, and I’m curious, like, if you can talk a little bit about how company ventures is different and kind of what makes it stand out in that way.
Lindsay: I mean, I think you’re right. That the typical venture capital firm is looking at the single P the, you know, the profitability of their investments. That’s what they are in business to do. I think there’s also like a whole world of impact investing, you know, or ESG focused investing where there’s. You know, all sorts of ways that firms are looking at different measurable impacts as part of their investment thesis. Company ventures falls on the venture capital side of that conversation, but believes that you can align good intentions and values with. Profitability and like the business outcomes that are necessary for venture firm, that there isn’t actually a trade off if it’s designed into the company.
What that translates to is creating opportunities to have deep conversations with founders that, that encourage that discussion, right from the beginning, like I was saying earlier, but also conversations with those investing in our firm to say there’s actually room for alignment here in ways that like we believe in the long-term prospects of these investments. You know, in the sustainability of our portfolio, because we believe that the intentions are aligned with what the world requires, right? Like it’s not that hard. It’s not like you have to only meet the needs of X community. It’s like what the world requires is that you operate as a good company. What your employees require is that you operate as a responsible company. The people who want to buy your product expect you to be operating as a good company.
So the conversation that I don’t think happens enough in the startup space is how do you, how do you do that? How do you design for it? How do you bake that in right at the beginning, I mean, on the venture side of, of what we do, like those are the conversations we get to have?
Alisa: Yeah. What you said that’s key is about how it doesn’t have to be a tradeoff; the both of those two things can be true at the same time. You can have impact on the world and you can be profitable. And I do think I’ve seen that a lot in terms of, you know, investors, that they think that it’s like, oh, well you’re an impact company. So you’re not going to have any profit, and that’s just not true. So I love that. I love that that’s something that you’re educating people about.
Lindsay: I think there’s just so many different models of getting good work done. So I think like from the capital side of it, you know, there, you can have different ideas of where you want your money to go and that’s valid. And that’s valid to say I’m only going to invest in those companies solving issues related to our climate crisis.
Like that is what I need to do. Good. Do that. Move money in that direction. We need you desperately, right. But there’s also just room for other types of investment and there’s plenty of incredible entrepreneurs out there that are doing other things that can fit into other types of capital that’s available to them.
And I think similarly for startups, there may be some that like are very mission-driven and are not trying to maximize on profit like that, that’s also okay for some subset of the innovation space, but there’s just like lots of places to play and ways to find alignment that really can, all out be, you know, hugely successful and scalable business, and also be done, be built well.
Alisa: Yeah. So do you only work with companies in New York?
Lindsay: No, our portfolio is not only in New York City. Most of the companies that have Company Ventures investment have actually come through another one of our programs, which is called Grand Central Tech, which is a residency program. So they spent a year working amongst us in our office. But that doesn’t mean they’re all solely in New York city.
That said we’ve been in, you know, we are based out of 335 Madison. We are like physically located in New York and care a lot about New York. And most of these startups in our community, you know, are here, are in New York City and are coming from, you know, all the boroughs and are taking the train and are sending their kids to school and are, you know, deeply embedded in New York’s, everything that is New York, which is part of why, like, I think all the venture firms that operate in New York City need to think broadly about their role in New York City.
So that’s part of the reason that this building this fellowship has been so exciting because it’s like, we care about New York. We care about like what that means for all new Yorkers, both because it’s good for the company, but because we, we’re here like,
Alisa: Yeah, Yeah, you’re home. Yeah. I’m curious, Troy, what kind of impact you’ve already seen in your community from founding People’s Choice?
Troy: One of the things I know a couple of standouts are like once we initially started when the first multiple dwelling units that we built out and we were on a call to speak to the residents, to let them know the service was being turned on. And one of the residents, their service, their kid was on zoom at that time from home and the service went out.
We were all on the zoom call. Said you know what, our service is on in the building, try to put it in this past code, put it in, they put in the passcode. like she’s back on now. I mean, and that was like early on. Like there were like when I first, the first multiple do other users. So that was ultra-cool to see, like, you know, you could directly see the impact and helping and.
Troy: Other people who, like, it was, another elderly lady in the building who couldn’t contact her son from far away.
She didn’t have internet access. So they were able to show her how to use, say WhatsApp to now connect, to speak to her you know, children are far. Just being able to provide the service we provided. Now I’m taking advantage of some of the federal benefits that it takes a lot of time and investment in order to put this in these communities, we’re willing to invest that because we also live in these communities.
And now having been able to use it to do say like laptop distributions. So people who didn’t have even though you could give them internet, but now how did they get on and providing those services? So like day by day, just seeing some of the things we’re doing and seeing how its helping people is definitely like, you know, give us some like credence to what we’re doing. We are actually helping people. So.
Alisa: Yeah. Lindsey. What are some ways that investors can ensure they’re supporting responsible businesses?
Lindsay: I think there’s a pretty important opportunity for investors to think broadly about the impact that they have, whether they’re paying attention to it or not, for example, what kind of technology we are creating? And what’s the kind of ethical implications of that technology. So much of that comes back to investor intent.
Who has access to funding? Why is 2% of venture capital making its way to women founders? Why is 0.2% of venture capital making its way to Black women founders, like who is getting access to money? Investors need to pay attention to that and to do better on that. Ultimately like what problems are we solving through technology?
I think there’s just such a wide array of incredible innovation that can be net positive for our communities and for society. And it’s part of why it’s so exciting to work with people like Troy to work with the other fellows that are in this program, who are thinking hard about how to make our city stronger by starting with the individual benefit, like of who actually is benefiting from technology.
Right. And put them at the center of the story instead of the, you know, the more typical venture opportunities. I think there’s just room for investors to think a little bit differently about which problems we’re solving and who should be solving them, but then I also think there’s, there’s this newer conversation to have about w law firms have pro bono hours that they are required to allocate for nonprofit organizations.
What is the pro bono equivalent for firms like ours, right? Venture firms that have a ton of resources and expertise that can be more broadly applied than how they look at their work day to day. So I think when I think about responsibility, I think about that. You’ve got a ton of money, like there’s wealth movement that needs to happen, but you also have so many other advantages and connections and resources that can be deployed in a way that’s really responsible and better for society.
I think there’s also a need for some humility. I think that the way that venture has blown into so much of our economy, so much emphasis on raising that venture capital in order to build your business, but the, the fact that like Troy comes to the work that he’s doing after 20 years of developing deep expertise, right.
And like deep relationships with the communities where he’s working, like there is so much power to that that I don’t think is the typical conversation that happens in, in the world of venture capital. So couldn’t we as a business sector, not only just VC, but as a business sector, take some humility in that we don’t have all the answers.
We don’t know all the problems to solve. We need to listen a little bit better, especially to people with proximate experience and deep expertise in areas that are sort of outside of the normal kind of pattern matching that goes on in venture and think more creatively about who we design our capital to support and benefit.
Alisa: Troy, I’m curious from your perspective, what are some ways that founders can ensure that they’re building responsible businesses?
Troy: I always try to think of it as, as for ourselves and what we’re doing is try to operate from the part of trying to serve. If you’re going in and trying to serve that your people that you’re working for, I think that adds to the fact of trying to help the community you’re in, but also, you know, you, you have to think of it from a mindset of both ends.
And this is why it’s, it’s kind of like, being worker and own in the company as well for both us and the customer gives you some insight into that because you want to be able to on the customer side, make it so things are affordable so people can have access. But then from the business side, you also have to think about ways to be able to be profitable enough, to keep the business.
So to keep that balance in mind and see that, you know, both ends are needed, but then, especially like a cable company where profits are so baked into it, just from the way they operate and because it’s a need, it’s not bad to have that profit in there, but the question is, is there a purpose behind that profit and what do you do with it?
So now if you want to become profitable, you can take that money and, you know, use it to expand the business to be able to, to, you know, reduce workers and gain more profit and have a highest standing as far as being able to sell a company or take that profit and take a step back, let’s invest in the communities we are coming from so more people can have a step up and we can have expand our customer base because now more people can…
So it is all on the decision of how you decide to use those profits that’s coming in. And if you always think in mind of, well, what will be best service to the. So if you put that at the forefront of your mind, I think it kind of answers itself where you can have both. It doesn’t have to be where it’s one or the other. You can just, you know, try to have it with a purpose behind that profit.
Lindsay: Which by the way, like then your employees are not fighting against you, they come in and show up for your work every day, right, because they believe in it, and because we know the good that comes out of what they’re doing every day.
Troy: It’s a lot harder to fight when you got to fight against yourself. Like, what did you think?
Alisa: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, in my business. So I’m really passionate about that, making work a place that people love to come and my, I haven’t even talked about my business yet. Not that this episode is about me at all, but, what we do at Unity Web Agency is focused on building websites that are accessible and inclusive for companies and non-profits, that are making an impact in their communities.
When I started the company, I was really passionate about creating a place that was for people to work where they felt like they were making a difference in the world, but then also where they felt comfortable being themselves and really love being their whole self at work. And Lindsay, you talked about the importance of engaging our whole selves at work, and I’m curious from your perspective, what does that mean?
Lindsay: I think about this on a few levels. One comes back to what Troy was saying was what’s the purpose for you? Right? Like do something with your time that feels purposeful, and if you have any options in front of you pick the one that aligns with a sense of purpose for you. And I think tied to that is like, and it brings you joy or it’s fun or you see something rewarding and positive about what you’re choosing to do every day
we spend so much of our time at work in our lives. Like it’s, it’s hard to show up every day and be fully engaged in that massive part of your life, if you’re not able to identify any sense of purpose. So that’s, that’s one piece of it, and the other is what’s the environment around you that, that creates a sense of belonging for you to show up fully as the person you are, which is not just, who you may see on a screen right now, but it’s everything else in my life that makes me who I am.
So what are we doing to intentionally build culture at our organizations, at our companies that encourage people to fully be who they are? Never feel othered, feel like there’s a growth trajectory for them there. Feel that there’s flexibility to enable them to deal with their loved ones. You know, whatever the things are that are unique to all of your people. Like you have to just take into consideration that we are a full being with stuff going on in life.
But Troy, I actually want to ask this of you like that sense of purpose. You’ve just got me kind of going down that path, but what, what does it mean to you and the building of People’s Choice Communications in terms of like, what it feels like to show up and be part of that team?
Troy: As far as the team, I think it’s a little different for us because I mean, right now it’s the five-year anniversary of our strike. So all the work is for our company, like we’ve been through a real struggle together through this point and now to all come back together and do something that we’ve done for all this time, but now have a different purpose behind it where we’ve, you could walk around and we looked at New York City and we see this entire system that we build out that was, you know, more or less taken away from us.
And now we rebuild in the city and we have it now with. Well, now we always talk, what can we do with this system? You know, if we could, you know, help people with it or, or if we have the extra money coming in, what will we do to try to help the community? So it’s not so much about building the company to have money in the bank just to say, it’s there.
It’s like each dollar is with, okay, how can we build this part of the company to help do this? Or we want to be able to, you know, be able to add a community, this community needs a daycare center, so how much work do we need to have in order to do that? So each kind of step that we take is with a purpose to it because we have a mindset in mind of what we want to use this to do, as opposed to just what we want to use to kind of just build the business.
It’s two different paths. Like one is just profit driven to get it done. One is with a purpose either way, you still have to be able to make it successful to work. It’s just that the, I think the goal of mine to get there is a little shifted for us because like, I mean, honestly, most of us all have been working together for all this time.
And I think that’s part of being in a union. We already kind of have that collective mindset. And now we’re just taking a transfer to know what, to what we’re doing with this. So it’s like one collective group moving towards the same goal with those purposes in mind.
Alisa: So I’ve got a couple of questions. I’ve got really a final question that I want to ask both of you. So I’ll start with you. Troy, what person or company doing good has had the biggest impact on you?
Troy: honestly, I know one of them is, I think about to kind of model, what we’re doing after this, I started thinking about it is a, is a company called Entraguard. It’s like a very large cooperative. And they started from like, you know, putting workers together. And another one is not really cooperative, but I know early on in our strike, we were doing a couple of calls to different places. And when we were doing the thinking of a new municipal idea, there is, EPB is the municipal in Chattanooga where they went to do electric, use the mines that they were using for electricity. And because they weren’t getting served by the local cable companies, they decided to put internet.
And then they started, you know, doing so good that the company started squeezing them and say, okay, you can’t expand this past this point. And the things that I like about them is because they, their customers, focus on customer service is so good. And that’s a municipal company. So just seeing things that, you know, model what in some form or another what we’re trying to do, gives me idea that I hope to try to like model myself, model our company after, but just have different aspects of it within our company, because I want to see, and especially like we work in these neighborhoods and we’re building this stuff out and seeing people have so many more problems than just besides internet.
So the additional level behind what we’re doing is to use this as more like an organizing tool where people can now, okay, collectively we have internet and we have access, but now we also have this problem. Now we altogether behind this, what do we want to do to use this collective power now to do something else, to be able to help what we need, and we can use this tool that brings us together to do that. And also, our now economic and collective power to try to help get that done.
Alisa: Yeah, I love it. It’s like ripples. It’s just, it’s the, it’s the butterfly effect, you know, you’re making one change here. Somebody else made a change in Chattanooga, you know? And then you learned about that and how you’re applying the lessons that you’ve learned from watching other people into what you’re doing.
And then when you get success at one point with People’s Choice, then you’re like, okay, well then what’s the next step? What’s the next level of impact that we can have?
Troy: Who else can we help? How else can we make replicate here?
Alisa: So Lindsay, what person or company doing good has had the biggest impact on you?
Lindsay: Don’t be mad, but I have 3.
Alisa: That’s okay.
Lindsay: so, when I was 21, I bought a one-way ticket from Chicago to Quito, Ecuador, and didn’t fully have a plan figured out, but ended up running an Ecolodge in the Andes and that lodge is called the Black Sheep Inn, still going today, everyone should go and visit. It’s exquisite. And I, it was my first exposure to the world of social enterprise.
The fact that you could build a truly responsible community-oriented business that was paying attention to waste management and water management and recycling and a library and teaching at the school and employing lots of people and investing in the electrification and solar, like just, they were doing a lot.
And it was kind of like, why would you, why would you make trade-offs here on things like investing in solar energy, when you can do that and also run this hotel. So, it was so life-changing and I don’t think I had the language for it back then that I was at a social enterprise, but that’s what it was.
And it kind of gave me the lens by which I continued to navigate different steps in my career. Always coming back to like, they’re not quite doing it like Mack sheep did like what, what was the magic there?
So that’s my first. My second is when I was in business school, I spent a summer working for Acumen and Jacqueline Novogratz just continues to be a role model to me of and feminist bleeders.
I think there’s a way of operating in the world with empathy first, trying to understand first and then dedicating whatever your talents and resources are towards the best outcomes that you can. So, she wrote a book recently called Manifesto for a Moral Revolution which, you know, everything she does kind of starts with like have the integrity to just do it right.
Lindsay: Yeah. that feels like a goal. And then the third is I love the Zebras Unite Movement and this is another cooperative, but I think that pulling together all of these kind of yes, and leaders who are thinking about how to think broadly about the stakeholders impacted in what they’re doing, how to put an equity lens on all of the work that they are trying to achieve and how to pull together communities of those innovators to support one another, to build us other ways of, of building businesses in the world, I think is, is really inspired.
Alisa: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that and thank you again for joining me Lindsay, Troy. So is there anything else that either of you wanted to share?
Troy: Nothing other than thank you. I’m very appreciative every time I get a chance and people want to listen to hear about our story and I see people actually excited about it and more people, you know, like now it’s working. So, thank everyone for that opportunity.
Lindsay: Thank you Troy, for being here and for doing the work that you do. I think that it is so game-changing, just reconsidering the whole model of how an internet service provider can work, is inspiring to me to work with you and Alisa. Thanks so much for having us.
Alisa: Thank you so much to Lindsay Siegel and Troy Walcott for coming on the Inside Impact Podcast. For more information on Company Ventures, visit CompanyVentures.co. And for People’s Choice, visit PeoplesChoice.coop (said like Co-op). That’s PeoplesChoice DOT C O O P.
And thank you for listening to Inside Impact. If you like this show, we’d love it if you gave us a rating and review on whatever podcast app you’re using right now. For all of you making an impact in your communities, let’s hear about it. Send us an email to email@example.com and we’ll be sure to mention what you’re doing on the show or even have you on.
This podcast was edited and produced by Earfluence. I’m Alisa Herr, and we’ll see you again soon on Inside Impact.