An Unremarkable Private Company

by Daniel Jacobs

In April of this year, MeiMei Fox wrote a beautiful article in Forbes about the company I co-founded, Avanoo. As I read it, I felt strangely exposed and out of place. It was the first time since I co-founded Avanoo in 2013 that any journalist had shared our story.

During those years, we’ve built a thriving social enterprise that has positively impacted hundreds of thousands of people. We’ve helped tell the stories and improve the cultures of many of the world’s most notable brands. And we’ve done it all while inventing a new business category.

Yet still, few people know who we are.

In fact, recently, we were so humdrum in the eyes of one Wikipedia editor that he deleted Wikipedia’s page about Avanoo because, in his judgment, Avanoo was “an unremarkable private company.”

An unremarkable private company.

An unremarkable private company.

An unremarkable private company.

Ouch.

While Wikipedia editor Sandstein got it wrong, I get it.

To be remarkable in the eyes of Wikipedia editors, journalists, or many executives, we must be willing to share our story. And led by me as CEO, Avanoo has done an extraordinary – perhaps remarkable – job of hiding ourselves from the world.

I’d love to tell you there’s a strategic reason we’ve kept so quiet. Some organizations stay in “stealth mode” because they are afraid of competition. Others are back-office solutions that don’t need to be seen. Neither of these reasons fits.

Instead, the reason we’ve stayed so quiet is personal.

I’ve been afraid to speak up.

I’ve been afraid to share with you, others, the world… why Avanoo is so special, why our voice must be heard.

Anyone who knows me knows how counterintuitive this seems:

I was the five-year-old who jumped onto a stage in front of 800 people during someone else’s performance and did a spontaneous breakdancing routine. I was the 21-year-old who was one of People Magazine’s Hottest Bachelors because I was unafraid of cameras.

But beneath the absurd moments of overzealous confidence has lurked a dreaded existential fear that the work I care most about in the world – work I get to lead with Avanoo – needs to be so perfect, so well developed, before we’ll ever be “ready”.

Nothing our clients share with me about our readiness has changed that view. And our clients have been telling us we’ve been ready for years:

“Avanoo provides powerful insights into the orientation, desires, and motivations of people that you can’t find elsewhere.” – Renee Erridge, Head of Leadership, eBay

“Miraculously, Avanoo has given a voice to the vision we’ve always had. Avanoo has been the piece of the puzzle we were missing, and a major success for our company.” – Lindsey Flores, Carlton Senior Living

“Results of Avanoo’s work with us include many millions of dollars in savings and millions of dollars more in new product and process innovations.”, Dianne Riboul, Director of HR, Amsted Rail

Avanoo helps KPMG bridge gaps and share our firm’s message with our diverse workforce, making it easy for us to connect our culture with purpose. – Melinda Xanthos, Partner, KPMG

Afraid to speak up, I’ve instead worked with our team to build Avanoo brick by brick, referral by referral, under the cover of darkness. And while we’ve grown fast enough to justify increasing venture investment, our vision is about more than growth; it’s about how we show up in the world.

Yesterday morning, as I considered the magnitude of what it would mean to be unafraid and have Avanoo’s voice heard in the world, my 22-month-old daughter, Luna, approached me with her shoes in hand. She motioned for me to help put the shoes on her.

I smiled and leaned down to help.

Once velcroed in, Luna grabbed my hand and walked me over to her child-sized playhouse. She then released my hand, and entered the playhouse. She stomped, howled in laughter, spun in circles, and often paused just long enough to check that I was watching.

I felt grateful for our little moment; but I also felt strangely sad. For I realized that if life goes according to plan, she’ll grow up, I’ll grow old, and eventually I’ll be gone. What will be left in my place for Luna will be the values I shared and the example I showed.

I realized, as I watched Luna continue to play, that the values I hope to share are simple: I want Luna to value unconditional love, inner peace, and deep fulfillment… and to amplify those values in her life and our world however she chooses.

The example I hope to show is equally simple: I want Luna to know that I lived a life aligned with the values I hold most dear, and in doing so I opened to my own greatest potential and helped many others do the same.

So, Wikipedia Editor Sandstein, I’m excited to let you know:

Today I am ready.

Ready to stop questioning whether Avanoo is remarkable enough… ready to step out of the shadow… ready to stop wondering whether now is the right time… whether I am the right person… and whether I, or we, deserve to make the impact we are making.

I don’t know what will happen when I fully show up and allow myself and Avanoo to be fully seen. But I am ready to find out. It is the example I am committed to show for my daughter; it is the impact I am determined to make in my life.

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