Black Lives Matter… and Startups Must Do Their Part


Many companies have been making statements lately about Black Lives Matter—using this opportunity to take a firm stance on the systemic issues around policing, economics, health, and racism that disproportionately harm Black Americans.

While Fortune 500 companies and many large tech companies have been part of this discussion, there has been distressingly little meaningful contribution by startups to the conversation, and even less from the decentralization community.

To some extent, this is understandable. With small budgets, workforces, and audiences, some startups may feel their voice won’t add much to the conversation. And, some degree of reticence may be part of the culture of decentralized companies, who tend to place a high premium on anonymity and privacy.

However understandable the silence may be, now is not the time to be silent. Now is not the time to stay anonymous. For the decentralization community, we should recognize individual empowerment is at least as important a value as anonymity. And, for the startup community, we should not be timid and act small in addressing justice issues while we promote boldness and fighting above our weight in creating new products and tackling new markets.

Though we be small, we are mighty.

Small businesses account for more than half of all employment in the US. And, if tech startups are one of the major vehicles for new wealth generation and advancement in this country, we need to do our part to make sure all communities have an equal opportunity to participate. 

As small companies, we can’t fall victim to the view that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is solely a problem with—or responsibility of—the larger companies. Issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion are pervasive in the VC and tech community in general. It’s too convenient for small companies to say, “We’ll focus on building product, revenue, and culture now, and worry about DEI later.”

Consider the ten largest companies by market capitalization today:

The top seven all began as tech startups. Five of those are 21 years old or less.

We all know culture and leadership get established very early on in company lifecycles. We all know the upside from stock appreciation goes disproportionately to the early team members and leadership at startups. If we want to ensure the next wave of economic opportunity doesn’t pass by Black American and other marginalized communities, DEI needs to be part of today’s startups as they are beginning their journeys.

Storj’s Experience

As a company with a presence in Atlanta and Minneapolis, with a Black American founder, and a highly diverse workforce, we think Storj has particular responsibilities. While we may not have the reach or resources of larger organizations, we can do our part to promote equity both within our organization and to help educate/encourage other small companies to do the same.

Storj has tried to do its part in this crisis, through public statements and through donations (matched by our executives) to causes like the Equal Justice Initiative and Black Youth Project 100 Education Fund. We’ve given employees time off as needed, and encouraged them to support initiatives in their local areas. And, we’ve joined the movement to make Juneteenth a company holiday. But, given our size and scale, the impact of these efforts is modest/symbolic at best.

More importantly, we’ve worked hard to build DEI into the fabric of our company, to ensure—even though we’re a startup—we establish things right from the outset. While we hired a General Counsel and VP of People Ops with an extensive background in this area, DEI is a corporate priority, not just the priority of one individual or organization. We believe it’s also our job to help others in the startup and decentralized communities use this moment to make DEI a core initiative—not an afterthought. This isn’t just because it’s important for society as a whole; it also happens to make great business sense to build a company that has a diversity of ideas, is reflective of its customer base, and draws talent from the widest possible pool.

Resources

We’ve shared some of our initiatives in the past:

  • We’ve systematically implemented measures used to minimize unconscious bias in recruiting.
  • We’ve tried to be leaders in inclusive recruitment. For the past year, we’ve also adopted the Rooney Rule.
  • We’ve tried to be systematic in our application of DEI initiatives across the organization, with both top-down and bottom-up leadership, education, measurement, and mentorship goals, and with the incorporation of DEI metrics into our corporate goals and bonus programs.
  • We’ve also adopted policies on promotion, compensation, and equity to ensure we’re compensating all employees justly. We’ll be sharing more on these initiatives over the next few weeks.

Of course, there are many areas where we can do better. While our workforce and leadership are more diverse than many companies our size, we’ve got a long way to go. And, while our internal surveys show progress, there is still much work needed to make sure all employees feel valued and included. But, all long journeys begin with a single step. And, all great movements are composed of individuals who, though their individual impact may be small, their collective impact is great.