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I’m a big fan of top rated Wharton professor Adam Grant whose best selling book Give and Take outlines the basic but counterintuitive truth that “givers” succeed in the business world more than “takers” or “matchers”. I’ve always felt intuitively that doing the right thing pays off in the long term, but now we have Professor Grant’s rich research and growing canon of examples to prove it. Giving is at the core of Amasia’s DNA as a firm, and today’s announcement provides an opportunity to outline how our focus on giving led to our investment in Switch Communications.

Given his pedigree as one of the world’s foremost experts in voice and communications, we were naturally excited to explore a partnership with Switch CEO Craig Walker. He had a lot of inbound interest from VCs and it took a couple of tries to get him on the phone. When he explained that the company wasn’t raising money we replied with 1. “no problem” and 2. “how can we be helpful”?

Given that Switch had Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz as the sole outside investors, the company’s needs were sorted in the US, but Craig expressed interest in partnerships with telecom operators overseas. Over the course of the next several months we introduced him to major business owners and CEOs of telecom operators in Asia, without any expectation in return. Our view was that we’d be happy to just call Craig a friend.

When it came time to start thinking about the next round of funding, Craig was very open to our participation because we had demonstrated differentiated access that was relevant to his business, but also because we were happy to be helpful without agitating to be investors. Our focus on cross border fit nicely with Switch because their product is global from day one. (One customer is deploying across 50 countries as we speak).

Most importantly, we found Craig to be a giver as well. At Grand Central (which he founded and sold to Google), Craig and his team gave away free voicemail to the homeless of San Francisco through a program called Project CARE (Communications and Respect for Everyone). This allowed them to keep in touch with their families and loved ones, but also fill out job applications properly as they were trying to get their lives back on track. Google Voice continues to implement this program today long after Craig’s departure.

Both Craig and we believe in the concept of giving in the context of business, but we also believe that giving needs to be “strategic” and thought of holistically. When Craig took over Dialpad in late 2001 he had to cut headcount (from a high of 300 staff and a monthly burn of $4m) to 15 employees. Craig brought Dialpad through the bust, and found a Korean investor to fund $4m with a promise to add another $10m shortly. Only $1m of the additional funding materialized so Craig asked his team (which he had begun to expand again) if they wanted to take 20% layoffs or a 20% across the board paycut. They chose the latter, and Craig promised that he would get them back to full compensation as soon as possible, and that they would be made whole on any difference.

About one year later Yahoo came in to buy Dialpad (which became Yahoo Voice) and Craig told the corp dev team that paying out this obligation to employees was at the top of his priority list. Not only were they paid the 20% arrears, but Craig also managed to convince the Korean investor to take 10% of the deal proceeds and distribute that to Dialpad employees (not including Craig).

His sole motive was to reward his team for working hard and seeing the company through the largest crash in the history of technology markets, but a side effect of Craig’s giving approach is that he has become a magnet for great talent. His core team from Dialpad has remained with him for the last 15 years, and with each successive incarnation he has added an additional layer of amazing talent.

It goes without saying that Craig’s vision of building an awesome unified communications experience for businesses is a form of giving as well.

Givers give because it’s the right thing, not because it’s the smart thing but as we can see from the Switch episode, the two are often aligned. I would highly recommend checking out Switch’s products, but also practicing a bit more giving in our own lives today.

 

 

Posted
AuthorJohn Kim