Business with Purpose: 40-Year Thinking

Last week, we rebranded Left and changed the tagline we had trumpeted outwardly for the past 10 years to “Life with purpose. Business with purpose. Travel with purpose.”  While we still live and breathe the original maxim, “We are Left, we do things right,” we believe it is important for us to take those idealistic words and wrap them into messaging that will carry us forward for an even longer duration.

How much longer? I am imagining the world 40 years from now, or two generations. I believe that in order for the world to tackle large-scale, global problems head on, we must be willing to stretch our minds and focus much further out than our usual timeframes. Taking action now will allow everyone to benefit from the world of abundance we find ourselves fumbling towards.

However, prior to going straight to the world of 40 years from now, I need to go backwards by ten, to the start of Left in 2010 and the story that brought us on this great adventure.

At the very beginning, my Co-Founder, Chris Jensen, and I identified a set of core values that helped shape us as a company. Between us, we created a list of 10 values that are now articulated on our website and on the walls of our offices in both Canada and Bangladesh. Now, while most business consultants say 10 values are too many and that any business wanting the proverbial ‘buy in’ from employees should never have more than three or four, we have persisted – somewhat stubbornly – at holding onto all 10 because each value has an important and distinct reason for existing.

Each team member, of course, has one value that resonates with them more profoundly than another. I do, too, although in truth, picking just one makes it feel somewhat like picking a favourite child when I love them all equally – just differently.  Back in 2017, in a speech to our team in Bangladesh, I described the one value that most resonates with me: Make Your Mark (also articulated and expanded on in the subsequent blog post “On Making Your Mark”). This speech and post were made one week after Left became a Certified B Corp:

The journey we are on at Left, together, is one in which we have an enormous challenge in front of us. We believe that we can create products and technologies that can make the world a better place. We believe that we can make our mark on this world, so we must choose to make our mark for the better.

As a company, we have to lead by example.

You may have noticed that on all of my presentations and talks that I gave here this week, that I had this icon on the first and last slide. This is the symbol of B-Corp, and I am very humbled to share with everyone here, that as of last week, Left officially became a certified B-Corp.

What is a B-Corp? B Corps are companies that use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. To become a B-Corp, companies must adhere to rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. This designation was something that we worked on obtaining for over one year, and we will continue to work on to improve upon our score each and every year.

Why? Because it is the right thing to do.

40-Year Thinking

This month is B Corp Month during which those of us who believe in using business as a force for good in the world are rallying around the Vote Every Day campaign to inform others about the collective power of buying from, working for, and working with B Corps – all in service of showcasing the collective action and impact of Certified B Corps around the world.

Coincidentally, March 2020 is also the month in which Left resubmits our certification, providing us with a moment to pause and measure some of the impact we have had (and hope to have in the future).

Becoming a B Corp is an example of what I have been calling “40-Year Thinking”, and it is essential to our strategy to practice Sustainable Commerce. (I will talk more about Sustainable Commerce and what it means to us in subsequent posts, but I want to keep this piece focussed on how Left is building a “business with purpose”, while encouraging others to do the same.)

Last month, I visited the team in Bangladesh yet again (for the 10th time, in fact) and gave another speech about the upcoming year while talking about how we were rebranding with our focus on “Life with purpose. Business with purpose. Travel with purpose.” I began my talk quoting Steve Maraboli, whose words were sent to me by a member of the team earlier that week:

“You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.”

When I talk about our value of Making a Mark, this simple-yet-complex quote encapsulates a lot of that philosophy. We believe that each of us impacts the world around us, often in untold and unforeseen ways. The impact you make may not ever be seen or felt by yourself, but it may be experienced by a child or a grandchild, or it may impact someone on the other side of the world, and you may never be the wiser. The actions you take now to make your mark may not feel like they are having any effect, so we need to remember the impact of many great ideas is only felt in the future, be it 10, 20, or 40 years in the future. As a result, it is important to make your mark for the positive.

Change is Inevitable and Imperceptible

In my talk with the team, I shared the following video featuring my then young family that was filmed on the day before Left was established – way back in June of 2010.

Then, my children were only aged 6 and 4, and here I was setting out on – well truth be told, who knew what at that time – but nevertheless, I persisted. I then showed a photo of my family from today. Both my children, as you can see, are now nearly ten years older and much, much taller.

This was the second time I had shared this video with the team  – “Family is Important” is one of our core values, after all, and being open and genuine is part of who we are. The context for sharing it previously was a talk on change and how it is inevitable:

“Change, while inevitable, is often imperceptible and hard to see when you are living in the moment. And sometimes you are just barely living, you are surviving. In order to see the change, you need to wait a while. Let things percolate. Then come back and look at things several years later.

And this is where we are today. Big ideas take time. They do not happen overnight. The vision we started with – to build something of real and lasting value that impacts our community and make our mark on the world – while still very much true – was created 10 years ago.

I tried to emphasize that world-changing ideas may take a generation, or multiple lifetimes, to be actualized. But those truly great ideas...they are worth it.

The hard part, of course, is envisioning what idea is big enough? What idea is worth waiting a lifetime for? What idea will allow each of us to achieve our greatest self and live out our purpose courageously? And perhaps just as importantly, where would we find such an idea?

Genius is Everywhere

The photo below was shared with me by Rakib Islam, our Bangladesh-based Co-Founder, showing our then 4-person team on the day they moved into our first office in Khulna. This humble beginning was the start of a really big idea.

The year was 2013, and that year I visited Rakib and the team in Bangladesh for the first time. This visit transformed both me personally and Left as a company. In time, I hope we can point back to this visit as something that helped transform the world too.
I will get to that story shortly, but before I do, I think it is important to share another video with you. It was taken on that first visit, and for the last 7 years, I have been describing this scene as a lucky capture of a “moment of genius” … that first spark of an idea.







Let me set the scene for what you are watching:

The power is out for the 3rd time that day. It is 38 degrees Celsius, and there is no air conditioning. Alan [sitting down] attempts to do a code check in while Rakib, Sabbir and Rashid look on. Alan’s shoulders slump as he gets a notice that the file download will take more than one hour on the dial up speed we had at the time and through which we had built many leading Internet brands. Rashid looks in to help while Rakib looks at his watch impatiently.

When I have talked about this video in the past, I have used it in the context of the moment of genius that led to the creation of a number of Left’s first products which focused on connectivity: first Talkify and Gossip, then YO!, then WAVE, then RightMesh, and now TeleMesh. They all solved the same problem, really, slow internet connectivity, which - as illustrated in the video - impacts people’s lives and productivity. But, I was wrong.  Sure, this was a moment of genius, but the real moment of genius was actually happening just beyond the glass wall. That’s where Chris and Ayesha Siddika, the Operations Manager for the Bangladesh offices, were sitting down one-on-one with every member of the team. Talking with them. Learning from them. Hearing stories about their families, their hopes, and their dreams.

And what were people saying? … They wanted to travel.

Why Travel?

Fifteen years ago, I was at a conference focussed on the travel industry, and a young woman, aged 19 or 20, filled with hope and optimism, gave a speech on “Why we love to travel.” She was a recent graduate of a hospitality program, and she had the world to look forward to.

She talked about a lot of things, but the one that has stuck with me the most was a piece of advice she gave. She implored the audience:

When you know someone who has just returned from a trip, ask them for the “best part”, their “highlight”, or their “favourite memory”.
When you ask this question, you will notice people’s eyes look back and to the right signalling they are looking deep into the part of their brain that has a specific memory. This is the hard-to-put-into-words part of travel: the smell of the saltwater; the sound of the waves as they crash ashore; the party music of a late-night disco; a swoosh of red dress from that person who flirted with you late into the evening.

Those memories are dopamine. Travel is a drug that we cannot get enough of. Travel enlivens the senses. And there is no other way than travel to experience the rush.

Food, Family, Friendship, and Fun

The memories that trip the senses typically reside in these four ‘f’s… the smell and taste of wonderful food, the laughter of family and sharing of traditions, the friendships you create, and the fun you have along the way.

As we wrote last year when we were articulating our ‘Why’ for Left Travel:

We believe travel broadens the mind, opens the heart, and gives you stories to tell. We want to create better travel experiences because travel brings people closer together, breaks down barriers, and shows us new possibilities.

That is our why. This is our purpose.

Travel broadens our minds because the people we meet and the things we experience give us new perspectives and open us up to a different way of doing things.

As I wrote above, my first trip to Bangladesh transformed the company and me personally. For me, it changed how I look at the world. I had always thought I had an open mind and was open to seeing a different way of doing things. “Think Different” was another one of our core values from the beginning, after all. But I realized without the transformational on-the-ground and in-the-culture experience, I tended to accept the status quo - as all humanity tends to do. We don’t like change. We like the way things are done because that is all that we know. This changes when you travel.

When you travel, life humbles you.

When we returned to Canada after that first trip, I said to Chris that emerging markets, and Bangladesh specifically, are undervalued, underestimated, and under appreciated. This realization, gained from travelling to Bangladesh, was the genesis of so much we do today. I also said we could change that.

When the world connects, it becomes just a little bit friendlier

The humbling experience of travel never impacted me as deeply as in 2018 when, on yet another trip to Bangladesh, we visited the Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh on the border with Myanmar.

Sometimes when you travel, all experiences are not good experiences. But they still create memories, they create ideas, and if you think hard enough… you can learn from them.

For the past 6 years, we had been working on what we believed would be world-changing technology. Our visit to the refugee camp confirmed this. In the camp, we met people who had fled atrocities when they were small children, and now, here they were, 25 years later, and their circumstances hadn’t changed.

I never felt more fortunate, yet more ashamed for humanity. Yes, travel once again had humbled me, but it also opened my eyes to a really big idea.
So, what is it? What is this really big idea? I believe it is enabling the world to travel.

Travel with Purpose

Think back to what I wrote earlier about how long it takes to bring about change. Big ideas take time. They do not happen overnight.
Throughout my career, I have always tried to apply technology and marketing to solve the problems of today, but what I’ve realized we really need to do is solve the problems of tomorrow. This is “40-year Thinking”.

As Left approaches our 10th anniversary, I have been pondering the root causes of many of the world’s problems. So, while the United Nations has done an admirable job highlighting 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development, I have been thinking deeply about how so many things got so bad in the first place. How did it get to be that Rohingyans have had entire generations knowing nothing but torment? How is the world standing by and doing nothing for the Uyghur in Western China? How did things deteriorate so badly in the United Kingdom and the United States that hatred and intolerance are now, once again, commonplace and cheered?

I believe the root cause of so much evil in the world is misunderstanding and mistrust. This festers over time, and the forces that like to protect the status quo – that oppose change – pick away at all of us, encouraging us to hate and blame. This cycle has to stop. It must stop.

So, while the slow drip, drip, drip of society slipping away keeps me awake at night, I also believe we have the power to change it. But, it is going to take time. And, it is going to take a Herculean effort from everyone: from businesses and consumers in all corners of the globe. This is “business with purpose.”

Big Ideas Take Time

I have been extremely fortunate to travel in my life. I have been to many countries as have many members of the team. We have tasted unique foods and seen amazing sights. But above all else, it has been the conversations and interactions, the new perspectives, the homes we have been invited into, and the open arms that have welcomed us across cultures that have opened our eyes and our hearts.

Oh, the power of that feeling. That feeling we all get when we travel. The feeling that causes us to inadvertently look back and to the right to seek out those memories of the people and the conversations. The feeling that causes those who travel to open their minds to the genius that is everywhere.

The feeling one gets when you realize that what is really is important, wherever you happen to call home, is that people have a shared sense of purpose: to make a mark so profound and positive that it improves the world for those who come long after us. At Left, we know what we need to do. We need to bring that feeling to the world. We need to make it easy and more affordable for the world to travel, open their hearts, and grow just a little bit closer, more tolerant, and more understanding.

For several years, Left’s focus has been on international travel, connecting travel sellers with those who want to see the world and experience that which it has to offer. Yes, the economics support it, but it is also the right thing to do if we want to affect change on a global scale. This is “business with purpose.”

When we became a B Corp, we became part of a global movement of companies that believe business can balance the needs of all stakeholders. And, while there are now more than 3,200 of us in 71 countries, this is only the beginning.

This is the long game. Big ideas take time. They do not happen overnight. But together, we can change the world.

Can Blockchain Change the World?

We believe every kite has a story. At Left, we’ve adopted the symbol of the kite. A kite is playful, but it also needs tending. If you fail to pull the string, it will fall back to the ground. We believe our users, our partners, our community — they all have stories worth telling. Our goal is to try and tell the stories to the best of our abilities.

This post is a travel diary of sorts describing a trip taken Sept 14 to October 3, 2018 by four members of our Canadian team: John Lyotier, Joe Deobald, Rachel Cheng, and Brianna MacNeil (the bios for each are at the bottom of the story). This primary purpose of the trip was to do field research, meet with our team in Bangladesh, plan with strategic partners, connect with potential customers, and … tell our story with the help of the Decent Documentary film crew who accompanied us every step of the way.

I admit, I have had trouble writing this post, and you will see a jarring transition part way though. This difficulty is not because I was procrastinating, nor is it because I had too many other important things to do. It is also not the result of having too much material to share: too many photos, too many thoughts, and too many emotions to squeeze into a few column inches.

You see, core to the trip was a visit to the Rohingya refugee camps on the Bangladesh/ Myanmar border. The largest of which, the Kutapalong-Balukhali (commonly referred to as the “Megacamp”) is the world’s largest refugee camp and home to an estimated 660,000 refugees. Over the past 12 months, over 700,000 Rohingya have fled the genocide in Myanmar and have made their way into Bangladesh. The connectivity (or lack thereof) for these displaced people led us to the camp where we wanted to see how RightMesh could help.

While Brea, Joe, and Rachel may each share their own, individual heartbreak and emotions in their own photo journals, I wanted to set the stage for all of us.

This was destined to be a memorable trip for all of us, though perhaps each for different reasons. Should you have any questions or feedback, please let us know in the comments or drop us a note. There are a lot more thoughts we didn’t have time or the courage to write, but we still would be happy to answer your questions.

Thanks for reading.


Intro & Pre-trip Jitters

This will be my ninth trip to Bangladesh, yet it will be the first for Joe, Rachel, and Brea.

For those who are unaware, Left, the parent company for RightMesh first established operations in Bangladesh back in 2010. Left Technologies International (dba W3Engineers) works across our portfolio of companies, including building apps for the RightMesh ecosystem as well as is responsible for the technology stack for our revenue-producing side of the business. The team also works on other for-bid projects centered around its understanding and expertise in scaling mobile and web applications as well as its growing expertise in decentralized technologies and mesh implementations.

While our visit the Rohingya Refugee Camp near Cox’s Bazar was to be the “highlight” [I feel somewhat awkward calling it that], I take great pleasure in visiting our team and seeing the progress of some of our initiatives while reconnecting with friends and colleagues. On this trip, we were also so appreciative of our team for the effort they have put forth to secure us proper visiting permits, allowing us to visit the refugee camps. This refugee crisis affects not only every Bangladeshi, but it is a global issue that humanity needs to step in and do what it can to assist.

On the back half of the trip, we have added a few days to meet with strategic partners in the Philippines as well as host a meetup with ConsenSys in Manila. The Philippines, which has more than 105m people spread across 7,000 islands, is a place that I have never been to before, and we believe that it has the density and requirements for RightMesh to thrive.

A large part of the pre-planning was coordinating the trip with the Refugium Foundation as part of our partnership on their upcoming documentary, “Decent — How Blockchain Can Change the World.” As we noted in our partnership announcement,

“The film plans to feature real-life use cases of Distributed Ledger Technology which offer solutions to societal issues ranging from a lack of internet connectivity to aiding refugees. Decent will be one of the first documentaries to explore how blockchain companies like RightMesh can have a massive social impact and benefit real people everyday.”

I try to make it out to meet with our team in Bangladesh frequently. I set myself a target of every six months, but this time it will be closer to ten months between visits. My travel schedule of the past year took a toll on me and my family, so after completing the RightMesh ICO, I needed to catch my breath and delay until now.

While I have always felt extremely safe on any of my trips to Bangladesh, I have to admit that I had a little trepidation about this trip. Not only were we to venture further south to the Bangladesh-side of the Myanmar border, but also a lot of the planning was occurring in the midst of the Bangladesh student protests. While things subsided relatively quickly and rather quietly, with a federal election coming up in a few months, I feared that tensions could be running high.

Sunday, Sept 17, Arriving in Dhaka

It was 32 hours and 20 minutes. I have gotten into the habit of setting a stopwatch when I leave my house and stopping it only upon checking into the hotel at my destination. 32 hours wasn’t bad considering I have had other trips to Bangladesh that have been as high as 44 hours. This time was Vancouver > Manila > Kuala Lumpur > Dhaka.

I’m not really sure why I track my journey to be honest. It is probably because I am still fascinated by the idea of time travel, and partially it is me pretending to have a modicum of control over what is a relatively uncontrollable situation.

Thankfully, we just missed the Super Typhoon Mangkhut that did some significant damage and killed 50 people in the northern part of the Philippine archipelago — but it was a reminder that our technology can have a real impact throughout the world. Sometimes when you get a notice of a 4-hour delay in your flight, it causes angst. This time, it was a blessing. We just missed the storm, so other than it being long, the journey was uneventful.

While most of our first day in Dhaka was also uneventful, we had an opportunity to visit the RAJUK Uttara Apartment Project north of the city as we contemplate how our technology can be used in rethinking “Smart Cities” everywhere. While so much of Dhaka has been built out with urban sprawl and without much apparent planning, this was a new initiative that was more of a planned, livable, and environmentally-friendly city. Located over 215 acres, the project will feature 179 buildings of 14 stories each, totaling 15,036 flats. An estimated 75,000 people will live in the community.

Why these figures are important to note is the scale of growth that Dhaka is experiencing. In 1971, the city just passed 1 million citizens. Now there are more than 17 million inhabitants. At the rate of annual growth, enough people will move into the capital city to fill these towers over and over every single month. So when we talk about urbanization and some of the world’s mega-cities unable to keep pace with their rate of growth, this is the scale that we are talking about.

Monday, Sept 18, Dhaka

I had forgotten how horrific the traffic situation in Dhaka was. Though in conversations with locals, it has gotten worse… this happens when you add nearly one “Austin” to your existing population base annually [Austin’s population was 931,000 in 2017]. While they are rapidly trying to construct a rapid transit/skytrain system, this has the short term impact of making the snarls even worse than they already are. The new rapid transit will connect into the new Uttara project as well. Our office is in the Gulshan area of Dhaka, and to go to another office also on Gulshan, we had to have about 40 minutes of travel time “Just in Case”. This was for about 2km.

It is not just the private cars that clog the arteries, it is the CNGs, rickshaws, and now… a whole lot of motorbikes. The motorbikes are relatively new thanks in large part to a rapid proliferation of ride-sharing services like Pathao and Uber.

Bangladesh has one of the highest fatality rate in road accidents in the world. Dhaka, as the country’s largest city, also has the highest total number of accidents and accident rates with more than 2,000 fatalities annually. According to the Dhaka Tribune, “At least 4,284 people, including 516 women and 539 children, were killed and 9,112 others injured in 3,472 road accidents across Bangladesh in 2017.” The number of accidents increased by 15.82% and death toll by 25.56% in 2017 compared to that of 2016.

An interesting side note: during the student protests over unsafe transportation of a few months ago, the government shut down Internet access to quell the actions. This resulted in these booming ride-sharing services also being impacted. When you have centralized infrastructure that relies on always-on connectivity, you really need it to be always on.

In Bangladesh, one of my other observations is that autonomous, self-driving vehicles have already arrived. Well not literally, but as it is more common to have a driver than drive as a single occupant, the effect is the same. The car owner is in the back seat being driven around, and thus, they have time to browse on their phone, read the news, do work, engage with entertainment. And because one of the core product market fit questions that one always needs to ask is, “When will my customers use my product?” In most of Bangladesh, an obvious answer is, “When sitting in traffic!”

In any case, rather than parking a vehicle off the road while not in use — thanks to ride-sharing services — many vehicle owners are putting their private cars to work during the day or during off-use hours. This results in the already crowded roadways being even more congested. This is something that we should expect to happen more and more in already-developed economies as well as autonomous ride-sharing vehicles come to the city near you.

Dhaka Demo Day

When we finally did arrive into our Dhaka office, it was demo day. The team had prepared demonstrations of various technologies and applications that it had been working on since my last visit. This included a few games and several applications powered by RightMesh. When we hit Mainnet in Q1 of next year, our intent is to have several apps in market already that can showcase how the mesh functions. A few of the apps that I saw that intrigued me included:

  • A mesh browser (to browse general purpose websites and cache content for offline consumption by others)
  • An app-updating app market. As described in our initial whitepaper, we have identified that a really big problem in emerging markets is that smartphone users don’t update their apps as the cost/time calculation for the data just doesn’t make sense. A recent report covering WhatsApp cited that only 1 in 5 users in India has the most recent version of their product.
  • A doodling game to play with nearby friends

There were more apps as well, that may or may not get published, but in any case it is great to see the innovation and work of the team.

Crypto-Assets in Bangladesh

When you think about the community support we received during the RightMesh Token Generating Event, it amazes me when I take a chance to pause. We had a wonderful dinner with one of our contributors in Dhaka and received some great on-the-ground insight into doing business in one of the world’s fastest growing cities and the role that crypto-assets will play. And yes, they will be able to transform the country and the economy if those currently in power are willing to let it flourish.

This is one of the challenges with the crypto economy in Bangladesh. In September 2014, Bangladesh Central Bank said that “anybody caught using the virtual currency could be jailed under the country’s strict anti-money laundering laws”. This is quite the statement. In December of 2017, this was further clarified with a circular that stated, “that Bitcoin is not an authorised and legal currency in any other country in the world….Transaction with this currency may cause a violation of the existing money laundering and terrorist financing regulations.” However, they also agreed to study it properly over the past year and various groups are awaiting updates. As noted in the DhakaTribune:

Bangladesh Bank Deputy Governor SK Sur Chowdhury, in a recent seminar, said: “A committee will be formed by next June [2018], by coordinating with various public and private agencies. The committee will work to find out a way on how to introduce Bitcoin in Bangladesh.

Those who we met with believe it is inevitable that Bitcoin and other crypto assets will play a significant part in Bangladesh, particularly as it relates to international money transfers and remittances.

Globally, remittances to low and middle-income countries reached an estimated $466 billion in 2017, an increase of 8.5% over the $429 billion in 2016. This data was published by the World Bank’s latest Migration and Development brief. Remittances to low and middle-income countries reached an estimated $466 billion, an 8.5 percent increase on $429 billion in 2016. Global remittances also grew 7 percent to $613 billion in 2017.

In Bangladesh, remittances accounted for $13.5 billion annually.

The world is slowly making progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for remittance fees. The World Bank reported that for just the second quarter ever, the percentage of remittance had dropped below 7%. In Q3 2018, the percentage paid for sending remittance was 6.94%, while the SDG target remains at 5%.

While many within Government may be worried about the flight of money out of the country, the efficiency gains to return remittance into the country will be substantial.

Prospective Partner Conversations

IMPORTANT: The mentioning of specific entities or companies does not imply any sort of partnership or relationship with any of the companies mentioned. The possibility of working with such an entity is only hypothetical and will remain as such until formalized announcements are made.

One of the trip’s primary objectives was to engage with strategic partners or potential strategic partners and explore how our technology could integrate with other solutions and solve real problems. We believe all too often companies spend too much time locked away from potential users and miss the opportunities that are presented to them. In Dhaka, I wanted to highlight a few conversations:

A division of Swedish-based Saltside Technologies, Bikroy was launched in 2012 and means “sell” in the local language Bangla and has become the largest marketplace in Bangladesh. is one of the countries most-visited websites and their app is one of most used in Bangladesh.

Bikroy has done an incredible job tapping into the consumer mindset in Bangladesh and has created a platform to facilitate P2P transactions. Their users use the Bikroy app and site to facilitate thousands of mobile phone sales daily as well as real estate, autos, and other new and used goods.

We are interested in exploring how mesh technologies could help facilitate direct payments. We also believe that through their existing density of users, we would be able to blanket the entire city of Dhaka with a mobile mesh network creating a new telecom infrastructure.

ME SOLshare Ltd

SOLshare is a fascinating group with great technology. I had initially heard about them on a previous trip to Bangladesh about some early pilot deployments they had. Joe sought them out on this trip to learn more about them, their technology, and their vision for a more sustainable world. SOLshare describes their business as follows:

Sustainable, affordable energy access for low income rural people is possible right now. Our decentralised peer-to-peer microgrids deliver solar power to households and businesses, and enable them to trade their (excess) electricity for profit.

What interested us in SOLshare was their focus on similar customers. They are going out into remote Bangladesh villages where existing infrastructure seems to have forgotten inhabitants or has not yet caught up to a modernized world. There are unique connectivity opportunities in each of their deployments, and hopefully we can help them with some of their challenges as they expand their program.

Wednesday, Sept 19, Dhaka

Wednesday was a day that I kind of dreaded a bit. Marek, from the Decent Documentary crew, was going to be asking me a bunch of questions about RightMesh, our vision for rethinking for connectivity, what brought us to Bangladesh, and more. I didn’t really know too much about what to expect, but I knew that it would make me feel somewhat uncomfortable.

I don’t really like talking about myself, you see. I am willing to do so, of course, but I would much rather talk about the team and their accomplishments, the company and what it has achieved, or a shared vision that many of us hold dear. But talk about me? My start? My background and probing questions like that? That kind of makes me squirm a bit.

I guess that is what a good journalist does. They ask the hard questions, but in the end, they help tell the stories that need to be told.

For those unfamiliar with the DecentDocumentary and their exploratory question of, “How Blockchain Can Change the World?” watch their latest trailer below. We are so honored to be a part of this project.

Once I set aside my apprehension, Marek, Sebastian, and Anna were great to work with. Wednesday was our first of nearly 10 full days with them, and we gave them full access to our team and our project. I can’t wait to see the finished result.

I also gave a talk to our team in Dhaka about the “Robot Revolution” of which we are living in the midst of. And while this will become its own blog post one day, I don’t want to delay from the meat of this post. I did want to share a candid shot I snapped on the last day of our team hard at work, however:

Note the Canadian flags that I handed out to the team. We often try and spread a bit of Canadiana each time we visit. I am proudly Canadian, largely in part because I believe that Canada is a nation that is a true cultural mosaic in which our differences make us who we are rather than drive us apart.

Thursday, Sept 20, 2018

Today was another travel day. This time it was the journey from Dhaka down to the Chittagong Hills region where we would stay in beautiful Cox Bazar. Note the back cover of today’s newspaper from my hotel room:

Do you see the headline? A Bangladeshi scientist leads discovery of a novel quantum state of matter. Yes, that’s right. A really smart person has done something that no one else in the world has done in a field that is one of the most technically complex and incomprehensible to the majority of us.

Or perhaps an alternative headline could have read, “Look at the potential that is unleashed when you bring connectivity and education and opportunity to the rest of the world!”

I often ponder how much faster society could have advanced if we were able to tap into the collective brain power that exists elsewhere in the world in people who are not given an opportunity? How much more scientific advancement, poetry, or original thought have we lost over the years because we have historically excluded half the population (women), or today half the population (unconnected) from being their best selves?

A Deloitte study from a few years ago indicated that if you increase Internet access in Africa, Latin America, India, and South East Asia to levels seen in developed countries you would increase :

  • Productivity as much as 25% in these developing economies
  • The resulting economic activity could generate $2.2 trillion in additional GDP, and more than 140 million new jobs
  • Personal incomes would increase by up to $600 per person a year, thus lifting 160 million people out of extreme poverty
  • They showed evidence on the link between health literacy and mortality rates suggests that internet access could save the lives of 2.5 million people and 250,000 children
  • 2.5 million HIV/AIDS patients could increase their life expectancy thanks to better monitoring and adherence to treatment
  • Another 640 million children may be able to access the internet and the wealth of information it makes available improving their educational outcomes.

In other words, not only would inclusiveness and connectivity help understand quantum entanglement and other hard science questions, but if we could solve connectivity, we could solve some of the world’s biggest problems. And this… this is what we are all about and why we are so passionate about our mission.

But just as we were about to fly, I saw another headline come in via CNN and a whole syndicate of other news sites:

“UN calls for genocide tribunal over Rohingya crisis”

We were literally going into the heart of the headlines… directly into the flames, if you will, of a nation in crisis. Our mission: to see if mesh networking could alleviate some of the everyday challenges of refugees and for the associated humanitarian groups; to see if blockchain could change the world. And really, we wanted to see what — if anything — we could do to help.

I was terrified.

Friday, Sept 21 Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong Region, Bangladesh

We are staying at a beautiful 5-star resort just over one hour away from the Rohingya Refugee Camp. I woke up and have been able to look out over a large swimming pool, and just beyond that you’ll find the breaking waves of one of the longest beaches of the world. This is the type of spot I would love to bring my family for a relaxing vacation. Yet, the contrast with what today is all about is jarring.

Today, we are venturing into the Kutapalong-Balukhali (commonly referred to as the “Megacamp”). This is the largest refugee camp in the world, the “home” to more than 660,000 refugees. And as the day starts, I sense the entire team is all a little nervous. Well, I know I am, and maybe I am just projecting my feelings onto others.

Upon arrival in Cox’s Bazar, we had a meeting with the ETS group of the World Food Program, and this conversation stuck with me overnight. I am glad we had those conversations on our arrival as it served to steady the nerves a bit on our first full day. One of the things they had mentioned was that, during the day, the camp is relatively safe and the Rohingya are, for the lack of a better word, “happy”, noting we will be probably be greeted by smiling children.

The reason given for this contentedness is simple: they are alive, they can practice their religion, and they have a small rations of food (thanks to the World Food Program, which they indicated was only 30% funded for this particular mission). How low of a bar is that?

Meanwhile, I am sitting here in the resort with the air conditioning on high, a large bottle of water next to me, having already nibbled on some early morning snacks prior to going down to a buffet breakfast, and feeling somewhat annoyed that my connectivity is forcing me to multi-task into multiple tabs while my ADD can’t have the patience to wait for something to download [the real definition of a first-world problem is good connectivity].

I have read enough to know a little bit about what to expect as we ventured into the camp, but this was to be still an “unknown”, and our protective DNA has coded us to be a little apprehensive when faced with situations with which we are unfamiliar. While today may hold a lot of unknowns, I know that I will learn things, the lessons from which will last a lifetime.

This apprehension grew as we were waiting for our drivers and translators. We were handed face masks from one of our handlers in case the smell was too bad.

I was ready.

What does it take to retain top talent

So we woke up this morning as the repeat winner in the Community Engagement category for the 2016 BC Tech Association’s TIA awards. And while the wine was flowing in celebration afterwards, less than 8 hours later it was back to ‘business as usual’… though our Wednesday morning ‘usual’ is hardly that as we start each Wednesdays with an early morning cardio bootcamp for the team at a local fitness club.
In the office, there were some high fives that spread around the room with those who could not make the gala, and a quick passing of the heavy-as-brick trophy from person to person (with a few carrying it aloft like Lord Stanley’s cup). But the celebration quickly abated before our Lefties settled into their daily routines. Everyone had work that needed doing.
As the day progressed, and while the mood remained positive (it almost always is), I started to reflect on the previous night’s gala and the next-day energy of the team. Yes, there were a few guffaws about having to get a bigger (and reinforced) shelf to hold this latest embodiment of success. But honestly, I noticed a distinct almost ho-hum nature to the team today. You see, between the win last night, last year’s win in the same category, our Best Workplace win from a few months ago from Small Business BC, and the Business of the Year award from the Maple Ridge Chamber, we have kind of gotten used to having this winning feeling.
Now, before it sounds too much like I am bragging by citing these accomplishments (and the team’s somewhat laissez faire attitude to this success), I need to qualify this with a very humble… we are so very honoured to be recognized by our Community and our peers with each and every award. And it is hard to brag or be arrogant about this success when we are genuinely shocked each time we hear our name called out (especially given the calibre of the companies we were up against with VictorySquare and Traction on Demand — both excellent and admirable companies).
However, I don’t think our team actually realizes the magnitude of what they just accomplished. They just showed us something incredible, a word that carries a lot of weight around these parts.
A bit more of a background for those unfamiliar with the BC Tech Association and the Community Engagement Award that we were just blessed with:

“Founded in 1994 by the BCTIA, the Technology Impact Awards (TIAs) celebrate the successes of our industry and the companies, people and innovation that continue to put British Columbia on the map….[The Community Engagement] award recognizes a company that embraces corporate social responsibility. By engaging their employees, winners of this award are focused on building a corporate culture that has a positive impact on the community in which they live, work, and play.”

This particular accolade was first introduced in 2010, replacing the Leader in Sustainable Technology category, which was awarded at the gala event for the 10 years prior to that. Past winners (of both awards) include a veritable who’s who of successful BC Technology companies, including: TELUS, IBM, Business Objects (SAP), Sierra Wireless, Global Relay, Traction on Demand, AbeBooks, Westport Innovations, and several other notable names.
But last night, our little experiment in doing the right things right, saw little old LEFT become not just the first back-to-back winner, but also the first two-time winner… something that all those other iconic BC companies never achieved. Incredible indeed.
While I won’t go into detail in this post about what we do that makes our Community Engagement program award winning (though I did post some highlights from our program below), I do need to call attention to one thing that I think makes us special and somewhat unique. You see, our community engagement program is embedded into the very DNA of our team. It is what makes each Lefty do what they do. As a company, we are all aligned to our 10 core values and we are driven to make our mark in the world, a mark that starts by impacting things at home in our province, in our cities, and in our neighbourhoods. This is our Community, and we could not be more proud of it.
Thanks again for the privilege of being the 2016 TIA recipient of the BC Tech Association’s Community Impact award.
We are truly honoured.
John, co-founder
The following is an excerpt from our application:
‘Impact Your Community.’ These words are one of the twelve core values that ‘Lefties’ (employees here at Left™) encompass and live by every day. The values were established by our co-founders over many cups of coffee, and are illustrated in chalk art on our kitchen wall, written on cards given out to each other monthly, and ingrained within our company culture.
The other values cover things like making time for family, accepting failure, making money, and being incredible — all of which are hugely important — but making a difference in our community tends to be the one that’s most on the forefront of our daily, monthly, and yearly actions and decisions — both as an organization as a whole, and as individuals.
Since establishment, our founders knew Impact Your Community was a core value that needed to be of utmost importance; however, they didn’t envision it becoming such a passionate employee-led program. Through team work and charitable efforts, Left™ has created an identity which lies within the amazing people who make up the organizational culture. It all started with the choice to relocate our office to Maple Ridge, so Lefties could be closer to their families and provide a better work-life balance; therefore, we built the business around our community: the heart of where we work, live, and play.
Some of the specific things we do as an organization to foster community engagement include encouraging employees to take unlimited paid community days throughout the year to volunteer in any way they chose, as well as quarterly group volunteer projects that we decide on and implement as a team throughout the year. The great thing about our community engagement, is the 101% that’s given by our employees. That extra one percent being the family and loved ones that so often come out to support us. When Left™ sets out on one of our quarterly commitments (with 100% team participation) Lefties often bring along their loved ones to help us help the community as well.
The extrinsic and intrinsic benefits that result from prioritizing our community engagement program are undeniable. Our program fosters team building, motivation, and a sense of purpose and achievement. Additionally, by offering a chance to recharge and de-stress, it encourages mentally and physically healthy employees. We have also noticed a common theme that offering employees these opportunities allow them to achieve personal goals and dreams. Inevitably, Lefties are also discovering new skills and passions along the way as they connect with community members.
But maybe more importantly (or at least just as importantly) we’ve taken impacting our community to another level with our app YO!, which aims to connect people globally who have limited access to fast, cheap, or secure internet connections. We think Impacting Our Community means more than impacting close to home — and we’re striving to impact the global community with our work on a daily basis. We also take pride in having an active role endorsing our community members in other ways — by hosting local entrepreneurs in our office during their early start-up phase, shopping locally, participating in boot camp at our local gym, and encouraging family connections we are instilling the importance of community everywhere we go.
Our focus on engaging with our community, both locally and globally, has shaped who we are as a company, how we make decisions, and the work we do on a daily basis. It allows our Lefties to impact the things they’re passionate about — whether that’s working in schools with their children or volunteering at the SPCA — and feel proud and excited to work within an organization that continues to find ways to impact other areas of the community on both a small and large scale.

6 Lessons in Leadership Learned from Watching Britney Spears

To clarify before you judge me, I am not a fan. I am a 43-year old male who just happened to be in Las Vegas last week, and yes, I attended the Britney Spears concert at Planet Hollywood.
I did not go alone. I attended with Sarah, our Marketing Communications Manager for YO! and Left of the Dot, with whom I was attending a marketing conference. It was kind of a ‘school-is-out-lets-celebrate’ kind of event, and Sarah (unlike me), is female, younger, and way more willing and eager to take in Britney’s Piece of Me tour.
But I did find the show enlightening, so much so that I rewrote and delayed last week’s blog post by a few days while I contemplated what I had witnessed and contrasted it with that which I had already had put on paper.
You see, I had a rather poignant piece written about the role of leadership in today’s high-tech startup, inspired by a trip to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) the week prior. I know what you are thinking: contrasting the symphony to a Britney Spears show, you can’t really find more juxtaposition. And to further clarify, I am not saying that I am an orchestral music snob. In fact, I had not been to a performance in 20 years, but I had the opportunity and play the part of parent chaperone for my sons’ field trip, and thus I found myself being ‘cultured’.
I have been informed by those more attuned with the fine art of orchestral music that the Conductor really is important and it just wouldn’t be the same without him. I countered that argument if he were that important, why doesn’t every rock band have a conductor? I know, not a very good argument, but it was all that I had.
This event did inspire me, and I had intended to write about the multitude of leadership styles that I had seen that day, starting with:

The Conductor: He who gesticulates with a baton, commanding the attention of the entire audience… though it appears as though not a single member of the orchestra so much as looks at him. He is the one who gets the glory, however. He is the one who takes the bow. He is the headliner. He is the one standing on a podium with his back to his customers. Nothing starts or happens until he is ready and takes the stage.

You see, I wasn’t very impressed by this particular leadership style. It is way too out in front for my taste, hogging the glory rather than pushing the orchestral members to the front. I had contrasted this with the First Chair violinist, and the percussion section and their jobs as rhythm keepers.
But then I saw Britney and most of that post was put out with the trash. And thus, I present to you instead, the 6 leadership lessons I learned from watching Britney Spears.

  1. Take joy in your team’s passions
  2. Give the audience what they want
  3. The best leaders inspire others to do their best work by leading by example
  4. The best way to spot a good leader is to watch a great team.
  5. A leader needs to be powerfully persistent and not worry about the knocks and doubters
  6. A leader steps outside of his or her comfort zone and risks ridicule

While I believe people should always play to their strengths, a true leader should not be afraid to step outside of what is comfortable with their everyday to experience something new and unexpected. Not only can a leader see an alternative perspective when they do this, but this allows one to better communicate your own wants, needs, and viewpoint. By stepping outside your comfort zone and being open to new experiences, you may find a better way of doing things.
I think this last lesson in leadership may have been the most interesting for me. Yes, my wife teased me about it when I returned home, and so did our other teammates, but this is but a little ridicule. I can take it, because inside I am like:

Are you kidding me?
No wonder there’s panic in this industry
I mean please…
Do you want a piece of me?

Now that is poetry, Britney. Pure poetry.