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People-First Impact

When people talk about impact, it’s often in the context of solving big, ambitious problems. Many founders don’t just want to make great products. They want to have impact. Even the word itself has weight. There’s an implied power and speed behind impact, a sudden force that leaves a lasting impression.

While change can and frequently does happen quickly, it’s easy to overlook the fact that lasting impact usually doesn’t happen overnight or by accident—it’s often the result of small, deliberate decisions, and it happens consistently over time.

Most people want to have a positive impact on the world and leave it a better place than they found it, but figuring out how to do that can be really hard. Who do we help first? What problems should we try to solve? Which issues are the most urgent?

There’s certainly no shortage of people in need of help or causes to champion. But when we look around us and try to identify those needs as individuals, it’s all too easy to become overwhelmed, which can lead to inertia or paralysis. Worse, it can lead to the kind of fatalism that tells us the choices we make have little or no meaningful impact on the world around us.

Similarly, when we try to identify those needs as an organization, it can be difficult to agree upon a direction. Companies are singular entities, but just because we all work at the same company doesn’t mean our priorities are the same or that we’ll agree on what to do or who to help. Collective action can have an enormous impact, but dictating how people should spend their time can be divisive or devolve into subjective value judgments that may not align with our priorities or the needs of our communities.

Building products with purpose

The decisions we make as an organization have a tangible effect on our people and on Wildbit as a business. But to us, true impact is external. It happens in our families, in our communities, in the environment around us. We act consciously about matters that have an immediate impact on our people, but we’ve found that having a positive, lasting impact requires a bigger-picture mentality that looks beyond the confines of Wildbit as a company and examines our place within these social structures.

We built Beanstalk to help developers review and deploy code more easily because making great software is hard enough without worrying about version control. We built Postmark to make email better because email is a vital part of how we communicate and should be faster and more reliable. We built People-First Jobs to help people find companies that share their values because too many companies put profits before people.

We’re proud of the work we’ve done and the products we’ve built, but impact is about much more than solving problems or building products. It’s about purpose.

As a small company, we decided the best way to identify opportunities for us to help was to establish an impact committee. Like other aspects of our business, such as how we approach innovation, we’ve found that creating some structure around the idea of impact was necessary to move beyond individual idealism and identify commonalities in what matters to the people who work here.

We formed our impact committee shortly after the protests for racial justice that followed the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. One of the first decisions that emerged from that committee was our mentorship program that aims to help people from traditionally underrepresented communities launch and develop careers in technology.

We’ve advocated for the four-day workweek for some time now. It’s one of the first things many people ask us about, and our co-founder, Natalie, has spoken about it extensively. Part of the impetus behind the four-day workweek wasn’t necessarily to do less work but to create space in which our employees could devote time to projects with a purpose beyond Wildbit as a business and give something back to the world.

Although we’ve worked a four-day week for a while now, we still believe strongly in using that time productively—because, as Chris once observed, “it would suck if Fridays just became laundry day.” Our impact committee meets on Fridays to identify and discuss ways we can help as a company, which is where most of our outreach activities begin. Many of our team members use Fridays to serve their communities, whether that’s mentoring younger folks who want to work in technology or volunteering at their local church.

This may not directly benefit Wildbit as an organization in a financial sense, but it does give our employees time to be their true, whole selves as people and give back to our communities.

Being intentional about doing good

Just as creating space in which people can do their best work often results in stronger products, we’ve found that being intentional about giving people the opportunity to help others has a significant impact in and of itself. It gives our people the physical and emotional space to be a whole human, to spend time helping others and having a positive, tangible impact on the world, whether the people we help are our closest loved ones or complete strangers.

People-first impact also means being intentional about avoiding focusing myopically on single issues. We all have causes that are dear to us, whether it’s helping lower-income families put food on the table or minimizing harm to the environment, and we believe that working toward solving these problems is vitally important. But for many of us, impact is about more than just advocating for specific causes. It’s about how we choose which vendors and contractors we work with. It’s about which features we should build and how we communicate with our customers. It’s about how we treat our employees and what we look for in prospective hires.

If we can make work more meaningful and create a space in which people can be their entire selves—not just their professional selves in the context of the company—we believe our people will be better humans.

If people can be good at work, they’ll be good in their homes, in their relationships, in their communities. These qualities are much harder to define in terms of impact, but they also have a powerfully cumulative effect that goes far beyond individual companies or workplaces. Giving people the time and space to be good parents or partners can be just as impactful as giving our people time to volunteer at food banks or homeless shelters. It may not be quite as tangible, but the effect can be just as powerful.

Creating space for bigger conversations

We also believe that impact should be scalable, not in the typical sense of scalability we often refer to when talking about technology companies but in terms of size or resources.

It’s easy to wax philosophical about impact or philanthropy when your company has hundreds or thousands of employees and millions of dollars in revenue. It’s a lot harder when you’re a bootstrapped two-person startup operating out of a co-working space, and the very real economic pressures to survive often take precedence over making more conscientious choices about how we do business. Large, well-funded companies have done a tremendous amount of good for marginalized communities and those in need, but if we’re going to have the kind of impact founders often talk about having, we believe it needs to be part of a much larger conversation about the culture of business we’ve created.

We see impact as the result of large, ambitious projects as well as the small, conscious decisions that we make every day. Not every decision we make can or will change the world, but viewing impact through this lens helps us make better decisions with some much-needed context. It also helps us critically examine how we can have the most impact, and how to get there, whether that’s through conscientious individual action or the work of our impact committee. We haven’t figured it all out yet, but we’re constantly thinking about the scale of the impact that we can have, and how to make that impact happen in our communities and the world.

Although we’ve taken some concrete steps toward quantifying the impact we can have as a company, it’s still very much a learning process for us. We don’t have all the answers, and we’re not going to pretend that any of this is simple or easy. That said, we believe there’s never been a better—or more urgent—opportunity to discuss these ideas. The events of recent years have laid bare the flaws in the systems we’ve built in profoundly shocking ways.

Never before have so many people questioned why things are the way they are and who really benefits from the current structure of our societies and our economies. This often involves asking hard questions with even harder answers.

We intend to keep asking those questions—of the people and companies we work with, of Wildbit as an organization, and of ourselves as human beings.