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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

How to build better next-gen businesses

The time for better businesses is now—and it’s up to us to make this happen.

How to build better next-gen businesses
[Adobe Stock / fizkes]

When Richard Branson and his partners launched The B Team in 2013, their aim was to galvanize corporations to reconfigure how they ran their businesses and forge solutions toward fixing societal ills, shifting the culture of accountability in business beyond numbers and performance and toward people and planet.

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“Our current economic model is broken,” Branson said. “But it did not break itself. And it will not repair itself. … [so] we will create new norms of corporate leadership that go beyond commitment and toward fundamental transformation today, for a better tomorrow.”

The pandemic exposed so much vulnerability within our world. I believe we have to build better businesses, not only to stem the flow of employees leaving their current jobs—over 47 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2021—in search of employers that value their contribution, but to also open up the C-suite to underrepresented people who have so much to offer. But before the big macro shifts happen in society at large, it has to start within companies themselves.

As a serial entrepreneur, I know it can be tough to pivot when keeping a close eye on the bottom line. So, if you’re in the market for finding new frameworks to follow, here’s what we did at Mindgrub Technologies.

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VALUES-FOCUSED

As I discussed in my article How to Move Your HQ to the Metaverse, I’m proud of our values-focused vibe at Mindgrub Technologies.

Sure, we have the company perks like wellness weeks with yoga, nutritionists, and music-making, along with healthy snacks and a very active fun committee. Yes, there are fun projects, such as developing an in-house robot that brings snacks to hard-working team members.

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These things are all important in ensuring we have a happy, engaged team. However, what is really important to us is our commitment to the community and upholding our key value of inclusivity without exception.

We support many local charities through games-for-good, our annual initiative to connect and rally employees, along with fitness challenges that result in the donation of thousands by the winning teams that we fund.

The mission of Mindgrub’s Foundation is to invest in science, technology, education, art, math, and design-thinking education (STEAM’D) for our underserved populations. We recently hosted our Second Annual Charity Golf Outing where we invested the profits into three deserving not-for-profit organizations. Our leaders commonly consult for startups, both locally and at the national level. Additionally, I sit on the board of three other nonprofits to give back.

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This isn’t performative—better business is something I believe in deeply.

ORGANIC DIVERSITY

We created committees (including Diversity Equity and Inclusion and many more) to uphold our values and make us accountable through data and regular scorecard reporting. I’m very proud that our C-Suite line-up at Mindgrub is an incredibly diverse group. This transpired organically, due largely to my upbringing.

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Without going into too much of my own back story, I was born in upstate NY, but my dad got recruited to a medical facility in Maryland so I grew up in Columbia, a planned community outside of Baltimore. There, civic planner James Rouse was determined that people from all walks of life, economic backgrounds, multi-ethnic identities, and cultures would live, work, and play together.

As a result, I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood. I was not conditioned to think about the differences, but about our commonality as members of a community. I have always been determined to bring this into my businesses, and I am happy that our leadership reflects the community of Baltimore where we began and are now headquartered.

LESSONS IN BUILDING A BETTER BUSINESS

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Is focusing on building a better business good or bad for the bottom line? Well, we are building a company that follows a “conscious capitalism” mindset. This means that short-term—when you invest in your team and community first—it’s not great for the bottom line. But long-term? That’s what separates the winners from losers. By focusing on our team, Mindgrub took COVID in stride and has also been able to do tremendous things for the community.

All these initiatives have made us stronger, definitely. But we also had to look internally to see how we could become a better business, and that wasn’t easy. For example, the move to a work-from-anywhere model meant we added over 100 new, geographically dispersed team members. But meeting overload was soon killing us. I love data as much as the next boss, but there were too many touchpoints across multiple communication channels. The noise-to-signal ratio was tragic—something had to give. We had to streamline the business, move from org charts to an accountability matrix, and shift from functional hierarchies to business units.

My COO, Shalisa Mohamed, took over a large chunk of the top-line responsibilities, freeing me up to focus on setting the vision, while she is now charged with delivering it. We got clear on deliverables and expectations and took out complexity and chaos. We boiled it down to achievable goals and a trackable scorecard, keeping our values up front where everyone can see them. We also built an emerging leadership program and the members are chomping at the bit to change things, super excited about progressing through the business, and holding us accountable to our promises.

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All of these changes—internal and external—have made us a better business, regardless of our decreased profits in the short-term. If you build it (right), they will come. As Branson said: “A world where business is motivated primarily by profit—is no longer an option.” The time for better businesses is now—and it’s up to us to make this happen.


Todd Marks is the award-winning Founder and CEO of Mindgrub Technologies, the cutting-edge digital experiences agency. 

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