How Deborah Greene Journeyed to a Social Tech Startup
Deborah Greene founded LiveaMoment — which promotes peaceful living through technologies that help individuals find inner balance and collective philanthropy — in 2016 after “quitting everything” to pursue a more socially impactful professional life.
Writer, educator, founder of The Foliage Project in LA, and serving most recently as the Interim National Director of The Peace Alliance, Deborah was searching for her next, bigger impact. Until last year, after a 9,000-mile road trip, a few man buns, and a single conversation put her on the path to tech entrepreneurship.
I had the chance to speak with Deborah at TechCrunch Disrupt NY last week to learn more about her leap into tech and advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs.
Tell us more about your journey into tech entrepreneurship.
It’s a two-part story, really. I had been working in media in front of the camera and at a for-profit company. After 9/11, I just quit everything. I wanted — needed — to do something more socially impactful. It was an emotionally raw, turbulent time so I shifted my focus to efforts that promoted peace and I did that for years.
But last year as my next personal milestone approached, I took a step back and thought about where I wanted to go next. I had some ideas, but knew I needed to give myself time to fully explore them and I needed input from others to see where they’d lead.
So I took the leap and started talking to people. I drove all over the US – 9,000 miles in total – asking people about world peace and how we get there. I met one student who really challenged me, that solving world peace was too big a task, and I replied “what if we start with 3 feet of peace?” That became the foundation of our mission: if we each create 3 feet of peace and then we come together, all those overlapping efforts can make a real impact.
Sounds like your plan evolved as you traveled. When did you lock in, begin pursuing funding?
As I traveled and talked to people, my vision began taking shape and becoming more clear. I became much more committed to the concept, but there was a moment when I wasn’t sure exactly how I would get the funding.
I was in a coffee shop and noticed men with man buns. I was chuckling to myself thinking I could start taking photos of “Man Buns Across America” as a side project. A women comes over, intrigued that I’m entertaining myself, and we start talking. I tell her about my journey and vision and right there on the spot, she wrote me a check for $5,000. That’s when I knew I could get the funding to make this happen.
We often hear the fear of fundraising makes many aspiring founders hesitant to push forward. Can you share more about your early efforts?
In the tech space, a good chunk of initial capital can go to attorneys. They tell you what industry standards you need to meet, help make sure you’re setting up your organization properly so you can then go and raise more funds. You don’t want to skimp on that. You want support from arenas that aren’t typically in your wheelhouse.
Once I had a clear understanding of the industry standard, I decided how I want to represent this company. I want to get to a place where we can be generous on top of industry standard, but not stupid where we are making bad decisions for the company. You have to find that mid-line so people get where your heart is.
And then the support comes. People get involved because they know I’m working harder than anyone else. I am walking the walk everyday. You don’t have to be super-human and I had to learn that lesson – that walking the walk doesn’t mean perfection – but there’s certainly no dabbling in this. I’m living in this space I’m trying to create, this calmer world. It’s my daily motivation. I am 100% behind this vision, even on the days I feel like I’m struggling to find my own peace of mind.
And now you’re here at Disrupt NY with a newly launched app. How do you see technology improving social responsibility and awareness?
When you’re talking about social tech innovation, I think it’s this simple: you need to use technology instead of having technology use you.
Our work is about leveraging the technology to activate our social lives and stretch our humanity. Our app validates how people are feeling, that they’re not alone, and allows them to connect with others who share those feelings. Then we encourage them to put the phone down and take action. We want people to be engaged and then get engaged in their physical lives. We don’t want to take them down the tech rabbit hole. We want them to use it as a tool to become better people, to bring more peace to their lives by having a purpose outside of themselves as individuals.
We hear a lot about the shortage of women founders in tech startups. What advice do you have for women considering a tech launch?
For me, there was no other choice than to do this because I truly feel I found my purpose. And that was the greatest peace I’ve found so far professionally. Once you find your purpose, don’t look back. The resources will be there, they’ll find you. It will be a journey, and there’s nothing about the journey that will be neat, but if you’ve truly found your purpose it will happen.
Once you’re there, make sure you work with the best of the best. I think in the tech space this is even more critical because it’s so competitive.
Lastly, trust your gut and be confident. I’m in a completely different place today than I was when I began this journey. It’s growing in ways we never expected since we started, but I have very little fear. We have events planned in 8 countries and companies are now coming to us to get involved. It’s busy, but I always make time for stillness so I can process everything, focus and really listen to my gut. I can’t be a bobble-head in the middle of a peace movement.