Getting off the Silicon Valley Treadmill
I am so grateful for having had the courage to step off the Silicon Valley treadmill to explore a deeper mindfulness practice and to re-imagine the impact of my life and our lives as a couple. It took some time for me to discover and understand the purpose of my life and I am thankful for the progress, yet I still feel like I am only at the beginning.
I am working on increasing my capacity for compassion, heightened awareness, equanimity and flow in humble service to humanity and the planet. I am particularly excited about the possibilities of doing this together with a global community of deep impact investors.
During my years as a Silicon Valley Technology Executive I thought that I was in control of the outcomes of my business decisions and actions. The whole system is set up to reinforce that illusion. For successful managers, it might even be harder to let go of that notion than for many others. After I quit my job, the first thing I did was to develop a business plan for the rest of my life – of course with clearly articulated outcomes.
Fortunately, I soon began experimenting with letting go, intentionality, and bigger awareness, and wonderful things started to happen. I remember writing down this reflective note a couple of years after I quit: “All of these great things happened that I did not even plan for.” That’s when I started understanding the power of intention and detachment from outcome.
Deepak Chopra taught me this mantra, which served me well: “My actions are blissfully free from attachment to outcome.” I have learned to trust my intuition, not to judge perceived opportunity costs, and to improvise based on circumstances – all resulting in powerful impact that I would not have been able to imagine and plan by myself.
After a significant liquidity event and successful careers in Silicon Valley, we had to ask ourselves: What is the meaning of wealth? What are we going to do with the wealth that came our way? For us, wealth is a privilege that comes with responsibility and accountability. We are committed to using our financial and non-financial resources to make a meaningful and positive contribution to humanity and the planet. We did not have a choice but to align our investment strategies with our values.
Living a life of awareness automatically leads to holistic inclusion of all activities – including investing. Once you are on the path of awareness and consciousness, there is no turning back. To me, living a high integrity life means living true to my life’s purpose, which is to serve humanity and the planet.
Transformation starts from within. A major part of my motivation comes from within. The quality and impact of our lives are a reflection of our inner state of being. Therefore, my mindfulness practice is of extreme importance to me, as it enables me to stay on my path of awareness and consciousness and to go deeper over time.
Lisa and I started our meditation practice with Deepak Chopra. For the first few years we attended many of his workshops and learned the basics of transcendental meditation. Today we have an established meditation practice and enjoy the occasional 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat which allows us to go much deeper in the exploration of how our mind and our subconsciousness interact.
Part of the exploration of mindfulness with Deepak was to discover and tap into our archetypes and our archetypal energies. After a few years of exploration, I discovered, that mine are the Celts. More research revealed, that the Celts originated from the same region that I am from: Central Europe. From there they migrated to what is now France, the UK and Ireland. Celtic symbols speak to me, and we integrated some of them into our beautiful home in Big Sur. The Triquetra in my logo is a Celtic symbol that represents life, death, and rebirth; eternal spiritual life with no beginning and no end.
The early years of Impact Investing
In the early 2000s, Lisa and I started asking the question of how to align our wealth with our values. At that point in time it was still difficult to find products that went beyond negative screening. And it was close to impossible to find intermediaries with the know-how to help us on our journey. By the mid-2000s we were well on our way, with investments in micro finance and various products applying positive and negative screens. With our philanthropic capital, we started our first accelerator for impact entrepreneurs in India. And we did a few direct investments in social entrepreneurs all over the world, helping them not only with our capital, but also with our business know-how and global networks.
It was time for us to move out of Silicon Valley. We purchased our Big Sur property in 2000 and 2001. Part of our property is on the ocean side, and part on the mountain side. It took time to restore the old historical cabins on the mountain side, and it took time to restore the abandoned house on the ocean side. Once that was all done, and once we had reliable Internet, we permanently moved to Big Sur. That was in 2006.
Around 2006 we decided to align 100% of KLF with positive impact. We took the then novel approach of articulating a total portfolio strategy, i.e., we decided to overlay all asset classes with impact, as opposed to carving out a portion of our portfolio for impact. We finished our goal of aligning 100% of KLF’s assets after seven years. Now investors can move to 100% impact much faster. Since then we have aligned our other investment entities with impact as well.
We support social entrepreneurs all over the world and it was important for Lisa and I to educate our kids about the challenges and opportunities that social entrepreneurs face. And it was important for us to travel with them and experience these enterprises on the ground. Since at that point in time both our kids were studying, it was relatively easy to align our schedules and do three extended trips, where two thirds of the trip would be spent with entrepreneurs, and one third with tourist activities.
The first such trip took us to Brazil, where we visited a few entrepreneurs in Minas Gerais and Salvador, but also brushed up on our Capoeira skills in Recife.
For our second trip we worked with a number of social entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka and India, before visiting Nepal and Tibet.
Our third and last such trip lead us to East Africa, visiting Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda. One of our objectives for that trip was to explore different types of Safari lodges, from a lodge that was owned and managed by locals all the way to the exact opposite, a lodge that was owned and managed by Westerners. Observing the differences, challenges and opportunities for each of these different models sparked great and deep conversations under the African skies.
In the late 2000s we made significant progress in aligning 100% of our assets with impact. We started sharing our investment approach with other investors which ultimately lead to the creation of Toniic, a global network of active impact investors. By that time, we were not the only ones going to 100%, and it was clear that this nascent 100% deep impact movement was emerging all over the world.