It’s no secret that mistrust of tech is at a crisis level right now. Whether it’s Facebook serving its users misinformation, Twitter enabling targeted harassment campaigns, or just the general exploitation of data that are leaked by sketchy sites across the web, many people are taking a hard look at the technologies that pervade every part of their lives—and many are not feeling happy with what they see.
The truth is, many tech scandals are about a lack of accountability. We don’t know who is really in charge, and who to hold accountable when something goes wrong with the tech to which we’ve entrusted so much of our lives. And in almost any company, accountability ultimately lies with the board of directors. Though they give lip service to social good or community responsibility, the truth is that most boards of directors only care about the bottom line and only concern themselves with a company’s finances. If we’re going to get different results from a tech company, and if we’re ever going to build technology that people trust, then it’s clear: We have to change the way our boards of directors work.
I’m the CEO of a New York City-based company called Glitch, a platform that lets people easily make apps. So far, we’ve had a little bit of that startup success story that so many entrepreneurs dream of. We raised a substantial first round of funding, we hired incredibly talented people, and most importantly, our community has used our platform to build millions of cool apps. This is the point where conventional tech wisdom would suggest that a startup such as Glitch should focus entirely on growth and ignore almost any long-term consequences. Typically, that means barely giving a thought to the board of directors, either simply allowing a founder or CEO to maintain overwhelming control (as happened at WeWork and Uber), or populating the board with the usual members of the old boys’ club—insiders who are already intimately connected to the company because they funded it or they are part of the leadership team’s social network.
But given how tech has gone wrong in recent years, this is hardly a recipe for necessary accountability. At Glitch, we’ve come to the conclusion that one of the best things we could do to ensure our long-term health and success as a company is to think differently about the way that we run our board. So we’ve decided to do something unprecedented for an early-stage startup company: We’re making an open call for a board member. That means we’ve posted an open application for any interested member of the public to join me and our company’s cofounder in making fundamental strategic decisions about Glitch’s future.
This is a real, voting board member, who will have full visibility into our finances and strategy. And yes, that means this new board member can truly hold me, as CEO, accountable. Major corporate decisions require board approval, and as a voting member of the board, this person will have the ability to reject significant choices if they aren’t in the long-term, big-picture interest of not just the company, but of our community and society overall. They’ll also get to meaningfully contribute to the positive things we do, bringing insights that we wouldn’t get from the usual suspects.
And yes, that means this new board member can truly hold me, as CEO, accountable.”
In the tech world, being open about process isn’t unusual—we use lots of open source code, we often allow people to publicly report bugs, and there are even rewards for people who find undiscovered security issues. In that context, creating an open process for participating at the corporate strategy level makes perfect sense.
That doesn’t mean this is a game show. We’re not holding open auditions like it’s a reality competition. We’ll be vetting for skills, perspectives, and experiences that complement the decades of experience that our team already brings to bear. But just the mere act of letting the world know we want to include more candidates in the process has connected us with a significant number of extremely talented and experienced people—many of whom had never considered participating in a startup at this level before.
Since we began this process in early November, dozens of candidates from many different industries have explained to us how their background might expand our view of what’s possible for a small company to achieve. This has given us a new perspective on our existing work.
It feels a bit like cleaning up the house because you know company is coming over.”
At Glitch, we’ve already seen the benefits of being more inclusive in our hiring, as it’s helped us be more innovative, move more quickly, and anticipate risks we might have otherwise missed. Our open call simply extends that strategy to the board level. And for me as an executive, it’s already helped clarify and prioritize my thinking about the work Glitch’s board does, because we have to make everything comprehensible to someone who may not be deeply steeped in every detail of our history. It feels a bit like cleaning up the house because you know company is coming over. I expect the discipline needed to welcome in an outside board member at an early stage will serve us well for many years to come.
Everyone who works in tech is acutely aware there’s a crisis of trust in the technology industry. We could do our best work, execute perfectly, and still fall victim to the larger cultural trends that make people distrust the tech in their lives. That means we have to go above and beyond in building trust, and be as innovative about our corporate governance as we are about our technology, our design, our brand, our hiring, and every other part of running a startup.
The first step is simply opening up. We’ve taken one admittedly small step in that process. Now we want to challenge the rest of the tech industry to join us. Introduce real accountability for executives, empower community members to have meaningful impact on your companies, and then perhaps we’ll start to see companies go from making empty promises to making real progress toward building technology that we can trust.
Anil Dash is the CEO of Glitch.