Zach Nies on company culture and the purpose of business

Zach Nies is Managing Director of the TechStars Sustainability Accelerator in partnership with the Nature Conservancy. He’s a serial entrepreneur who was part of the first companies to take a BCorp designated company to public offering and is passionate about how the business, human and technology elements interplay. In this rich conversation, we talk about:

  • Why leaders need to see personal growth as a critical part of their company’s success
  • Why lean methodology is not just about efficiency, but about company culture
  • The difference between a global max and a local max, and why the best entrepreneurs are the kind that have the grit to back track to ensure they’re on the right path
  • Why the unicorn and the do-good company is a false dichotomy and breaking that dichotomy is where breakthroughs can happen
  • Why lean and agile are great methods for balancing the paradox of being open to possibilities while being hyper focused on a few given things at any one time
  • How stoping to reflect can actually increase your velocity as a company, and the importance of making the distinction between motion and progress 
  • Two dimensions of servant leadership: lead by serving and serve by leading.

References and resources:


  • “How you create the container for progress is different than how you create the container to maximize motion.”
  • “If you think about the pressures to grow a business, you can’t meet the growth targets by just adding time and often you can’t do it by just adding people. There are disproportionate gains from stepping by and going, ‘where can we fundamentally improve the business?'”
  • “From a pragmatic standpoint, if you’re building a product, you’re going to build it for the human beings using it. And their adoption is largely based on the psychology of how they view your product and how they view their situation. So to me, psychology was an interesting way to understanding the human side of building a business.”
  • “We’re prone to black and white thinking and I think there’s a black and white dichotomy, which is you’re either a unicorn chasing all about shareholder value company or you’re a do-gooder and you’ll putter around with your business for a while and you’ll do something interesting and it’ll be good for people. To me, the global max is thinking about: how do we break through that black and white thinking and ask ourselves, ‘how can we have both?'”
  • “You have to do the work, but the key is to do the work that leads to the progress, that moves the business forward in the way you want to. And there’s such a belief system, especially in startups especially in American corporate environment, which is the only thing that matters is that we’re all working at 100%. There’s such a false trap around that.”

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