Every Batman Needs a Robin

T4A.org is all about partnerships. We’re big believers in the idea that collaboration opens the door for a flow of ideas that may not be possible with a single person or single group. In fact, our model is built around the very notion that the public and private sectors can learn from one another and that together, we can begin to solve some of the key challenges facing America.

But government and technology aren’t the only ones that can learn from one another. By introducing their first nonprofit class in March, startup accelerator Y Combinator (YC) paves the way for collaboration between technology and the nonprofit sector.  This connection is beneficial for both groups. In one direction, nonprofits are able to learn how to scale quickly, push boundaries, “disrupt,” and become self sufficient. They are also able to network among the tech elite, making valuable connections and getting business advice from the best in the industry. In the other direction, the tech industry is learning how to reframe their goals and methods as socially responsible amidst public backlash. As Washington Post columnist Brian Fung puts it, the tech community can learn “humility, along with an acknowledgment that there are bigger problems to solve than where the next big dating app will come from.”¹  Fung also notes that nonprofits are also known for bridging the gap between the public and private sectors, providing services that neither groups are willing or able to themselves. And finally, nonprofits can teach tech companies how to slow down and accept changes with time, get out of their comfort zones, and “get engaged with the services and the community so they see the poverty and the need and the complexity.”²

Fung states the nature of these particular “commercial nonprofits” perfectly: “These outfits aim to blend the do-gooder mentality of a charitable organization with the nimbleness of a corporate startup.”³ The title of the article is “Can Silicon Valley teach nonprofits how to save the world?,” but as Fung reveals toward the end of the article, it’s more about what these two groups can teach each other.  

What I believe to be the real moral of this story is the necessity of partnerships. Every superhero needs a sidekick. Very few companies are founded by one person and Paul Graham, founder of Y combinator, lists having a single founder as one of the “18 Mistakes That Kill Startups.” As he puts it, “Starting a startup is too hard for one person. Even if you could do all the work yourself, you need colleagues to brainstorm with, to talk you out of stupid decisions, and to cheer you up when things go wrong.”⁴ Jason Goldberg, founder of four tech companies including Fab, advises entrepreneurs to “[h]ave amazing co-founders who are better at what they do than you could ever be.”⁵ And that’s exactly the point. No one is the best at everything. You can always use help from someone just as there is always someone out there who could use your help. Even in economics, we are taught that trade is beneficial because it allows each trade partner to specialize in the good in which they have a comparative advantage.  Nonprofits and tech companies, as evidenced by Fung, are both good at different things. When you combine the two, there is the potential to create something uniquely successful.

While the effectiveness of these organizations is yet to be seen, I have high hopes that it will work. The value of partnerships is often understated; everyone wants to be the first to do something and they want all of the credit. But often one cannot do it themselves. Advice and collaboration are crucial for success. As we have learned at T4A.org, always strive to do better. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and more importantly, don’t be afraid to accept the help.


¹Fung, B. (2014). Can Silicon Valley teach nonprofits how to save the world? The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/04/30/can-silicon-valley-teach-nonprofits-how-to-save-the-world/



⁴Graham, P. (2006). The 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups. Retrieved from http://www.paulgraham.com/startupmistakes.html

⁵ Goldberg, J. (2012). 90 Things I Learned From Founding 4 Tech Companies. Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2012/10/05/90-entrepreneurship-lessons-fab/

Featured image via  Standal, J. (2011, October 28). New set photos from The Dark Knight Rises – Take a look at Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Christian Bale! Retrieved May 2, 2014, from http://www.filmtrophy.com/2011/10/28/new-set-photos-from-the-dark-knight-rises-take-a-look-at-joseph-gordon-levitt-christian-bale/