Notes of Note from John F. Ince


Whenever anybody asks me what I do, I have to pause for a moment and reflect where I am in the journey.  Depending upon the karmic potential of the moment, I might be a , a social entrepreneur, a social designer, an economist, an author, a journalist, a video producer,  an environmentalist, a documentary filmmaker, a satirist, an hiker, a mountain biker, an dreamer or an explorer.

Over the years, I’ve become something of an expert at re-inventing myself – always with an eye towards something larger that is drawing me towards the next challenge.

At the outset I was committed to “succeeding” within the system.  This is what I had been taught to do.  As the son on of a Wall Street banker, doors were open to me and I gladly walked through them.  I was very good in that mode.   Success on a superficial level came easily to me.  I was voted class president and most likely to succeed at Garden City High School in suburban Long Island.  Following the footsteps of my father, I went to Harvard and there was again President of my graduating class as well as an all American athlete in two sports. (squash and lacrosse)   I continued along the golden path to Harvard Business School and Sea Pines Company, Chase Manhattan Bank and Fortune Magazine.  Mixed into to these years was a Senate Fellowship working for the late Senator Paul Tsongas and a stint as a casewriter at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government working for former Governor and Democratic Presidential Candidate, Michael Dukakis.

These were extraordinary windows to the world, with access to the people who shaped and ran “the system”.  Through all this, I found something lacking in my life and more importantly, I saw something deeply missing from the lives of those people who stood around and above me in these environments.

It was at that point that I ventured off the golden path and started to explore other paths.  First it was a year writing a novel in a converted barn off the New England coast in Marblehead Massachusetts.  Then it was off to California where I started a non profit called One World Inc, operating as part of an enclave of visionaries in a converted Army barracks, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  During this period I saw the protection and preservation of the natural environment as the primary issue.   And I saw the youth as the hope for the future.  This is what lead me to dedicate my life during this period to non profit causes and crusades, most noteably the Earth Pledge Campaign.  It was a heady period.  Those of us working in the environmental movement were propelled by a sense of mission.  As the author of The Earth Pledge and the architect of the Earth Pledge Campaign, I was near the epicenter of this movement.  On the 25th anniversary of Earth Day in 1995, millions of people signed the Earth Pledge and we organized concerts and events in celebration.  But suddenly something happened.  Like the demise of the solar energy industry 10 years before, there was no good reason that the issue should fade from consciousness.  The underlying reality was the same, but somehow our preoccupation with things more immediate overwhelmed our concern for longer term issues.

On the surface level, I confess to sense of personal defeat on that score.  But on a deeper level, I learned a valuable lesson about how the world works – the imbalances that exist between those who are fighting for the public interest vs those who are fighting for private interests. After years working in the trenches of the nonprofit world, it became clear to me that power flows from money and money wasn’t flowing into the third sector in general or environmental causes in particular.  The net result was a perpetual sense of ineffectualness both for myself in my efforts and more generally in the efforts, grand in design though they were, of my peers.

This is what lead me back into the system.  I entered through the door of a journalist, banking upon my years as a researcher / reporter at Fortune Magazine almost 20 years before.

When I first contacted Upside Magazine in 1999, my first assignment was to cover an obscure search engine with a quirky name based in Mountainview, California.   Back then few people beyond the Stanford campus or Silicon Valley tech circles had ever heard of Google. As a fledgling startup, Google paid virtually nothing for advertising, instead relying on word of mouth and articles in print magazines like Upside.   So Cindy McCaffrey, then head of Google’s Corporate Communications, was more than happy to block out a two hour slot on the schedule of Google’s co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page.  I also spoke later with Google board members and VC funders, Michael Moritz and John Doerr as well as angel investors Andy Bechtolsheim, David Cheriton and Ram Shriram.  Today, Brin and Page are billionaires and the investors in Google occupy five of the top six slots on the Forbes Midas List, which ranks the best dealmakers in high-tech.

I’ve often reflected on the serendipitous nature of that first Upside Magazine assignment.  I had the opportunity to witness a revolution from the front row, by interviewing these guys at an early stage, before they even had a clear business model. Today, of course, any reporter would kill for that kind of opportunity.  I caught these entrepreneurs at a time when they were relaxed, uninhibited and more than happy to tell their whole amazing story is crisp detail, without any of the filters that now characterize Google’s PR efforts.  Although Brin and Page were obviously taking a crash course in Entrepreneur 101, it was clear to me that they were very smart, and I figured that, with the guidance of seasoned investors like John Doerr and Michael Moritz, Google had a bright future as “a disruptor” or existing systems.

Today this is the kind of opportunity for disruption that exists in our money and banking system. (See Chapter 15 of my book, The Money Question, on The Cloud Banking Network) The emergence of cloud technology opens up a world of possibility for systemic reform in the money and banking world.  That reform will come not from within the corridors of power on Wall Street or Washington, but rather from nodes and networks that spring from the ground up – all empowered by emerging technology – much like the revolution that Google and other Internet startups created a decade ago.

For the next four years I covered tech space for Upside as well as B2B, Venture Capital and Investment banking, interviewing hundreds of analysts, investors and entrepreneurs in the process.  Over these years I built my rolodex.  I interviewed hundreds of CEOs of startups, investors and thought leaders.  I learned how to build companies from the ground up.

But in 2003 Upside Magazine folded and I moved on to produce the documentary film: Time-Bomb:  America’s Debt Crises, Causes Consequences and Solutions.  The film grew out of my father’s concern, expressed over the dinner table, almost 50 years ago about the growing national debt.   I had now filmmaking experience, but I did have the credentials and knowledge to get interviews with powerful people: billionaire investors like George Soros and Peter G. Peterson, Harvard economists, Kenneth Rogoff and Ben Friedman, Senators like Pete Domenici, (Former Chair of the Senate Finance Committed) and Warren Rudman (Co-author of the Graham, Rudman Hollings Deficit Reduction Act)  The film has now been shown  on national TV half a dozen times and is available for sale on Amazon.  More importantly it gave me a depth of understanding about how our money and banking system really works.  I came to understand how banks create money out of thin air and how this power might be “democratized.”

After the film I started a podcast, PodVentureZone, I continued interviewing startup CEOs, venture capital and angel investors.  Later that year he became a channel partner with and for two years provided Podtech with “Podcasts for the Venture Capital Ecosystem.  More recently I expanded my podcasting channel reach with a a “Green and Clean” podcast, a “Social Enterprise” podcast and most recently: Ztartup.

Now, with the pace of change and technology flowing faster than ever before, I’ve increasingly felt the need to integrate these seemingly disparate identities.  This is of course what personal integrity is all about.  Serendipitously my multiple selves seeming to be merging in what I view to be the next challenge … whatever Serendipity may have planned for me.


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