I’ve had a lot to reflect on over the past few days, particularly in the light of Grant Thomas’s participation in Sam Newmans offensive video, now deleted from Twitter. Some have brushed it aside laying blame at Sam Newmans feet (see NewsCorp’s coverage I won’t link it). Others, like Joan have highlighted how this hit home in the startup and finch community. If you’re not familiar with the issue at hand, her article is wonderful.
I’ve spent the last 9+ months getting excited about Up. Not just excited, enthralled. I’ve been able to visit and hang with some of their team, yearned to be sent stickers and swag and recommended them left right and centre to anyone that will have a bar of it. They’ve not only created some groovy tech but they’ve built a product, a brand and an experience that is second to none. They’ve been changing the banking industry (and that change is sorely needed)
So it is only natural, that I was disappointed, and pretty outraged after their co-founder was video’d partaking in such a hurtful and harmful “stunt”. In fact, I felt let down, and betrayed that I had placed my energy and enthusiasm in a team that was led by and tied up with someone who expressed such views.
A typical not-apology.
Late Tuesday night (after tweeting my disappointment) I received a call from Grant; he wanted to make an apology and offer some context for his role in the video. The first 10-15 minutes of this was… well it was a justification. A large part of Grant’s point was to invite me to partake in a broader topical conversation and temper his participation in the video to mellow my reaction.
It’s typical; an apology for the offence caused is offered followed by a long winded justification of their viewpoint.
In response to this (on the call) I highlighted a few key points back to Grant:
- Transgender people are almost 11 times more likely to attempt suicide.
- Comments like this are distasteful, damaging and offensive. Context has no part in changing or tempering that.
- The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. If he, as he claims, cares and welcomes people from all diversities then public commentary and behaviour like this is a blatant contradiction.
- This is a defining opportunity for Grant, and Up, to show (not tweet or phone) their values. It’s an opportunity to do some good in the world and leverage it as a turning point.
To date, Grant has only issued a shallow and underwhelming apology to Twitter and had the tweet deleted.
Should we use the same brush?
I also struggle with boycotting the business for one person’s commentary (that is clearly contradictory of the team’s values). Doing so is not uncommon. Take, for example cringeworthy comments from Travis Kalanick. Uber has struggled (with many things, yes) to separate itself from their former CEO’s personal brand and commentary. People paint Telsa with the same brush as their views on Elon’s rhetoric and abuse on Twitter.
Businesses that are built and leveraged off the back of individuals personal brand, in my view, also invite the same association to an individuals less than savoury viewpoints. Yet in my interactions with Up, its not Grant, but the rest of the team that have been positive and engaging. To date they’ve been a wonderful, positive and engaging bunch of folks and I see no reason that would change.
A defining opportunity
Businesses (and yes, startups) have an opportunity to do good at a scale that isn’t available to most individuals without a platform or following.
Often there are but a few opportunities to truly define what they businesses and teams for. Some use these opportunities and build on it. Thrive on it. Grow from it. Others don’t, and they are the ones that have gone down in history as an example to others.
Up clearly thinks this is the case too:
This, is the team that I’d been following so closely. A team that does things carefully and considered. A team that is now (as per tweet) taking the opportunity to reflect upon and define their own set of values.
Money where your mouth is
I am however, someone who boycotts brands over their business practices, behaviours or political stances of their leaders. Prior to its sale in 2014 I boycotted Gloria Jeans and I avoid using Uber where I can. Yet I’m not one to cut off my nose despite my face. I still order from Stickermule despite their CEO’s support of Trump, but I do highlight this to everyone I recommend their product to.
I believe consumers need to be significantly more informed about their purchasing power, to vote more with their wallets and put their money where their mouth is.
I’m emptying my Up account
Until this week I used my Up account as a budgeted transaction account, so its never held my full savings or bank balance. Earlier today, I donated the full balance of this week’s budget (and more importantly my entire Up account) to Minus 18 Youth.
This may not be much, but I want this to be a strong statement to Up’s leadership team and specifically Grant. For my fellow disappointed Up customers, I encourage you to do something similar. Speak with your bank balance, not just with Twitter.
My message to Grant and the team
Grant, your apology was weak. It was underwhelming. It was disappointing. You have a substantial following, a platform and a voice in the community and you abused it. The standard you walk past (and participate in, Grant) is the standard you accept.
I do not accept this standard from any of Up’s founding or leading team.
With that said, Up has represented a hugely positive shift in the financial industry, and so far they’ve been an awesome team of people leading that change. Up, team, you can still be that to me and continue leading the industry by doing things differently.
I’ll happily return to Up when I’m confident that there are clearly defined values that nobody in the team is above. Including its founders. If that means Grant no longer has a place in that team, so be it. Whatever that set of values is, I need to be confident that they’re lived – not just written down and forgotten. Some form of impactful action needs to be taken.
And that means that, at least for now, I’m Up and out… but I want to be Up and back again soon!
Edit 8th March: Clarified phrasing regarding Grants participation vs comments in the video.