team of volunteers All Hands All Hearts Puerto Rico cheering

Go Beyond Gratitude This Thanksgiving

Bold statement this Thanksgiving week:  we can do more than give thanks.

Before starting Sponge, I worked for a few companies that made me feel icky. Parents got side-eye for scooting out early. Email was active all night and all weekend. Charitable contributions seemed to center around golf?

One time, I was told point blank that if I wasn’t available nights and weekends I’d never get to the VP level. I quit 3 months later to pursue a startup idea, and found “startup culture” was somehow more depressing. Any hour you’re not working, you’re losing ground against your competitors! Kill yourself to get funded by people that don’t know (or care) about what you’re trying to build!

I stumbled across a podcast about Laura Roeder at MeetEdgar and audibly gasped. It didn’t have to be this way. I could build a company where people loved to work. As I pivoted from a product-based business to a services-based business, I started thinking about flexibility, benefits, and deadlines without the baggage that comes from a zero sum mentality. We wouldn’t work ourselves breathless. We would celebrate parents managing and enjoying their families. We would do great work, share our knowledge, and build things to last. We wouldn’t burn out. And since we would be self-funded, we could put our profits where we wanted.

Candidly, that means everyone at Sponge has generous 401k contributions, and I don’t think we’ll ever lose an employee because they want to make more money.  But it also means putting profits into causes like:

  • Charity: Water – a charity that helps cut the amount of time women spend collecting clean water
  • Dignity Has No Borders – a group distributing menstrual products to 40,000 women and girls at the border
  • CARE – who help women affected by the wars in Syria and Yemen, and by ebola outbreaks

Our monthly donations are still small, but I’m proud that we’re starting to profit-share, and that we’ll be filing as a B-Corp in 2020.

For me, one of the things I care about is helping other women to rise up. When I started Sponge, it was a risk to leave a full-time job and a steady salary, but we had money and my spouse had a good job. My kids had childcare and healthcare. If Sponge didn’t work out, the consequences weren’t dire. My lack of stress was eye-opening. Taking the plunge, being entrepreneurial, being creative… it was a luxury and I could afford it.

Since moving to Puerto Rico, I’m acutely aware of how lucky I am.  I set a goal of volunteering every Friday with All Hands All Hearts and Habitat for Humanity, rebuilding roofs damaged by Hurricane Maria.  I’m not there yet, but I’ve been amazed how easy it’s been to take a step back from the grind. Living on an island has forced me to confront the identify of “always being busy”. Here, things move slower, and time doesn’t equal money. It’s been a gift to me personally, and it also inspired Sponge’s new policy of giving everyone an extra day of PTO every quarter for community service.

I guess what I want to get across in this post is: if you’re a business leader, please do more than saying, “Thank you for your hard work this year.” Show your employees what you value through better salaries, 401k contributions, family leave, community service, and charitable contributions. Confront burnout.  Spearhead a group donation to one of the causes above.  Coordinate a team building that’s a day of community service instead of Topgolf. Make it a priority, schedule it, make it routine.

Our success is not a treadmill set to high speed. It’s why we have so much more to give.


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