Moving from .com to .org

Today is my first week as the inaugural CTO of Stand Together, where I’ll be on a mission to operationalize the idea that “our principles are our product.”

Stand Together is a philanthropic community tackling the root causes of the biggest problems facing humanity. How do we do this? Our over 700 business leaders and philanthropists support over 200 community-based organizations like The Phoenix, which is addressing addiction through a fitness community. We take a systems approach to solving issues, bringing together policy, communities, and scholars. For example, with criminal justice reform, we’re proud of the First Step Act, legislation that was passed in 2018 by an overwhelming majority during an extremely divisive time in our country. While exciting, the Act was a first step and we’re not even close to being done.

Our approach is based on first principles: we believe in people, we recognize bottom up solutions as the best way to tackle problems, and we will unite with anyone to do right. As our founder, Charles Koch, reminded us recently on a podcast, the core principles of Stand Together are the principles of human progress, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. When we adhere to those principles, society flourishes; when we don’t, society suffers.

Being the first CTO, I’ll spend my first few months unpacking the role, but I do have a few observations to make.

As Marc Andreessen famously stated: software is eating the world. Similarly, data and models will run the world. Every organization, even a philanthropy like Stand Together, will succeed only when it elevates technology as a core part of its strategy and culture. Technology is an agent of change.

Zooming out, we have an opportunity to consider how technology will affect the key institutions of society — government, education, community, and business — and to dream about an infrastructure that will scaffold and help scale the work of our partners.

On a personal note, I’m excited to dive into these monumental questions because they align with my own philosophical interests. My plan after exiting my last company was to take a sabbatical and go back to the basics in economics, philosophy, and technology. What can economic thought teach us about value, exchange, and incentive systems? Why are the esoteric philosophies of the post-Marxists so popular and showing up in major papers? And what can we learn about social media from previous major media transitions like the printing press or the telegraph? Those three threads are linked by technology (an exercise left to the reader) and I can’t wait to dive deeper.

I’m not entirely new to Stand Together; I’ve been an entrepreneur partner and donor for the past few years. In Stand Together, I’ve found an organization that reflects my values and is willing to ask pressing philosophical questions and embrace the idea that no matter how well we may be doing, we can always do better.

I share a belief with Stand Together that we learn by doing, so very early on I’ll be looking for a product to build. For example, a key component of our support for social entrepreneurs is to help them apply Market Based Management to improve their organizations and overall performance. What if we could turn that management philosophy into software that empowers better operations? Further, data has the potential to create positive feedback loops that make organizations more responsive to the needs of its customers. What if it could help philanthropies to better measure their impact using data and models? I expect that we’ll uncover a number of projects where software, data, and models will help us accelerate change in the world.

I started on Monday, so I’m already a few days in. So far, I’ve been blown away by my colleagues. They are incredibly kind, intelligent, and thoughtful about creating change in the world. I’m honored and humbled to be part of this incredible organization.

I’ll be moving from Omaha to DC over the next month, so do reach out if you’re in the area.

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Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

2.5K Followers

CTO of Stand Together. Former CEO of GrainBridge, Co-founder of Descartes Labs, CEO of Zite. Love product, philosophy, data refineries, and models.