Mission Matters

The 2015 SXSWedu Conference and Festival is underway in Austin, Texas. SmartBrief Education editors are on the ground, bringing readers coverage of the discussions and happenings at this year's show.

Can companies honor mission and purpose in light of fiduciary responsibilities of making a profit? What does purpose or mission mean in industry -- and what are the costs? A panel discussion of women leaders, led by EdSurge CEO Betsy Corcoran, aimed to answer these questions Monday at SXSWedu's session "Women Disruptors 2.0."

The future of profit is purpose, according to panelist Lynda Weinman, co-founder and executive chair of online learning provider Lynda.com. She cites her company as an example. Lynda.com existed as a profitable organization for several years before taking on investors. She attributes this success to the company's commitment to its core mission: to create a product that truly supported higher education and lifelong learning.

"We were purpose-driven," she said. The company didn't want to copy what others were doing or follow the model of traditional education. Instead, she explained, they wanted to see how they use technology to create a platform that would "be a complement to higher education, to organizations and individuals."

In addition to commitment, companies will also need creativity, in order to fulfill their mission, said Vicki Abeles, director and co-producer of the education documentary "Race to Nowhere." Abeles is an independent film maker. Her organization has no investors and operates with funds raised through crowdsourcing efforts. Additionally, Abeles declined offers to distribute her film through traditional channels, choosing instead to take the film directly to schools.

So how does a company balance purpose with profit? How do they navigate the concerns of money and mission when it comes to investors?

Make sure your investors align with your organization's mission, said Deborah Quazzo, managing partner of GSV Advisors LLC. It's not uncommon for companies to become intoxicated by dollar signs. Quazzo warns organizations not to get flattered by the money but instead to focus on doing due diligence about whom they're bringing into their business.

And when it's time to bring on investors, be sure you're ready. Dreambox CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson, a presenter at last year's Women Disruptors panel, attended yesterday's discussion and outlined three criteria venture capitalists want to see in potential investment opportunities:

  1. Leadership team. Who is guiding your company's mission and efforts?
  2. Marketplace opportunity. Does your product or service align with a larger wave or trend?
  3. Is this product or service going to be sticky—will it be successful? Be ready to explain why.

Check back daily for more conference coverage. Read our Q-and-A with SXSWedu Executive Producer Ron Reed.