Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Unreasonable.
Daniel Epstein: Almost the entirety of my adult life, starting in university, has been shaped by a fundamental belief that entrepreneurship is the answer to nearly all the issues we face today. By the time I received my undergraduate degree in philosophy, I’d started three companies. Although these startups were in entirely unique sectors, the one thing they had in common was a desire to leverage business to solve seemingly intractable societal problems.
The genesis of Unreasonable was simple: I felt like a misfit and wanted to seek refuge amongst fellow misfits (i.e., entrepreneurs who are foolhardy enough to believe that they can change the world, but so hellbent and determined they won’t stop of anything short of that). Unreasonable has always been about a community of support for entrepreneurs looking to re-purpose capitalism. From its inception to where we are today, we exist to leverage business to create a more just future. Now.
How does Unreasonable innovate?
Daniel Epstein: We are innovative by not focusing on innovation itself, but rather on solving particular problems within the constraints of our values. Our focus is on driving resources into and breaking down barriers for the more than 250 growth-sage CEOs that we support through the Unreasonable Fellowship. We are also focused on working with our multinational partners and the investors in our network to make it easier for them to finance, partner, and align with the entrepreneurs in our global Fellowship. By listening to the direct needs of the community we support (i.e., entrepreneurs, investors, and major institutions), we are constantly innovating new solutions to ensure that they can more easily collaborate with one another.
As an example, we just launched a new “innovation,” called the Unreasonable Collective. This new product is being led by one of our teammates, Pratibha Vuppuluri, who heads up our investments group. She listened to the entrepreneurs and the investors in our community and realized that we could create a new product that innovatively served both of them. The Collective is a great example of how our team innovates new models and approaches to better living our mission that is deeply aligned with our company values.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Daniel Epstein: The pandemic has been felt across all industries and the world at large. Unreasonable is no exception to that. We’ve needed to create new platforms and identify new ways that we can support our community globally and virtually. Much to our surprise, we’ve found more efficient and oftentimes effective ways to drive value to our multinational partners (like Pearson, Accenture, and Barclays), our Fellows, and our global community of investors. By moving all our engagements online, we can curate anyone in the world, be able to dive in, and help scale the efforts of the companies we support. We’ve also been able to connect more investors to these companies via the Unreasonable Fellowship, through online forums and events that typically required people to travel to a specific location at a specific time. Rather than hosting intimate 20-person investor gatherings, we are now able to give hundreds of investors access to opportunities without the need to travel and be apart from their families. We were also able to align with our long-term partners Barclays, to launch the Unreasonable Impact COVID-19 World Summit. Together we granted $2mm to the entrepreneurs we support in the Unreasonable Impact Fellowship who have actively pivoted their businesses to combat the challenges related to the pandemic.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Daniel Epstein: The hardest lessons that I’ve learned in 2020 are around team culture and morale. It’s been remarkably difficult to pivot our entire model to a virtual world and keep up with the scale of work that we lead. As I write this response, our small team runs 5 programs that span 3 continents, all virtually and all simultaneously. Although we see amazing results, I feel that as a CEO, I could have done a better job of protecting my team’s time and better positioning teammates to have a healthier balance between work and life. Part of the lesson here for us has been that it’s actually more difficult and more time consuming to create world-class and high-value experiences online than it is to do in person. I assumed that with the flexibility of virtual it would be easier – but I, and our team, have found that to keep the extremely high standard of quality to the levels that we have, running programs virtually for our partners, Fellows, and investors, is far more time-intensive than in person. All this, combined with the current state of the world and our inability to get together in person, has taken a real toll on our team and company culture. The thing I seek refuge in, though, is the realization that our team, culture, and the impact of our work will all be stronger because of this challenging period. It’s making me more hopeful for the future. That said, if I could rewind the clock, I would have more appropriately resourced the team earlier this year with the hopes of ensuring our teammates can find more balance between work and life.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Unreasonable in the future?
Daniel Epstein: All things considered, I’m personally doing well. Being an entrepreneur, I often thrive in uncertain environments where the stakes are high, and the path has yet to be set. What’s been toughest for me is seeing the toll that 2020 has taken on my teammates. The key to protecting my energy and health and my team’s energy and health is that we need to commit to doing more by doing less in 2021. In 2020 we had to re-invent much of our product and processes. We found some real wins and incredible lessons learned along the way. In 2021 I think the focus needs to be on “re-grounding” the company and giving all our teammates the chance to step back, breathe a bit, celebrate some of the wins, and practice the lessons that we learned in pivoting to virtual programming this year. Practically, this means that in 2021 we will take on less new work and focus on optimizing the work we already have on hand.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Daniel Epstein: We are in the business of creating a more just future for people and the planet. I do not believe in competitors. We will collaborate with anyone who wants to work with us towards the same end, and I’d be a champion for any organization that exists to help support businesses in having a long-lasting positive impact on society.
Your final thoughts?
Daniel Epstein: Ultimately, business isn’t just business. Business is people. The greatness of what we achieve will be determined by the breadth and depth of the relationships that we hold. Although Unreasonable is a company, our mission is to leverage business to drive lasting and scalable change. That’s why we build a community between entrepreneurs, institutions, and investors to solve pressing global problems profitably.
Sound Unreasonable? We hope so. Because reasonable ideas seldom change anything. If you want to join us on the journey, we’d love to hear from you. You can reach out to us via this contact form here.
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