Mike Arrieta, Chief of Staff at DocuSign and Cofounder of New Story, a crowd-funding charity committed to providing homes for families in need, has been selected as one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30: Social Entrepreneurs” along with his fellow cofounders. We sit down to chat about the challenges of building a nonprofit startup, how he juggles work with home life, and how New Story’s radical financial transparency and innovative technology is disrupting the traditional charity model.
Q: Thanks for answering questions for us Mike. Let’s start off with easy questions, where are you from? What’s your background?
Thanks for having me! Starting off, I’m from South Florida. I was born in Miami and raised in Coral Springs. Personal story–my father got really sick when I was 16, so I worked very hard to not only help my family’s finances but for my 4-year college tuition as well. When I graduated, I worked for a financial services company but what I really wanted to do was go where the disruption was—and everyone said Silicon Valley. I jumped to the task and joined a tech startup which sold to Dell, where I then had the opportunity to be Chief of Staff of Dell’s cloud group. It was with Dell when I realized my passion in being involved with companies that are truly changing the world. DocuSign was one of them. And hey — Keith Krach was looking for a chief of staff, and I wanted to learn from a Silicon Valley icon and legend. It was a win-win. I’ve been here at DocuSign now for a year and a half! Every single day…is a roller coaster—and the most fun I’ve ever had.
Q: What’s it like working between DocuSign and New Story?
It’s all about time management. No joke. I’m so focused on splitting every second of the day. Every day is managed similarly : Wake up at 5AM, pray my daily devotional by 5:30AM, head to the gym by 6AM, sitting at the desk from 8AM to 7PM. Next thing I know it’s dinner time with DocuSign partners or my wife. After the meal, it’s essentially New Story til eyes shut.
My weekends are devoted to spending time with my wife – so no meetings. Zero. My family is a big priority, but I’ll still handle work as needed. If you are passionate about something, you find a way to get it done. Figure out a way to pull my own weight. There’s no room for excuses.
Q: That’s a lot of time Mike. Organization is definitely key! So tell us, how is New Story disrupting the traditional charity model?
I went to Haiti with my best friend Brett Hagler (the CEO) and we asked people, “If we were to help you out, what do you want? Education? Healthcare?” And the first thing we heard was, “Guys..before you give us this..look at where we’re living. We live in tents. When it rains, everything is muddy. There’s a lot of child abduction. Sex trafficking. Slavery. It would be great to have a micro loan of course, but we can’t do anything without shelter.” That was the premise of starting New Story.
And now that they have homes, we found we’re building sustainable communities.
As millennials, all the charity models out there are legacy-like. Which means, you donate $1, and next thing you know, it’s disappeared. You don’t know what happened to it. It’s like a black hole with good faith that something good will happen. And honestly, this is where branding and consumer interface is important. Things should be synergistic to our own life. So for New Story, if you donate $1, 100% goes to the cause.
Now, before you donate, you see the exact family in need, their photo, their names, their story — and to the penny how many dollars are needed to build them a house. Once it’s been crowdfunded, you see it all. After the house has been built, every single individual who donated receives a video of the family moving from the tent to the house. Radical transparency.
If you look at our site and brand, it looks like a for-profit company. We treat ourselves as a startup. We just reinvest back in the business. How do we organize these finances?
Well…we created two bank accounts. One account is for public donations. These public donations go directly towards building the homes. The second account is specifically for covering overhead expenses such as salary, rent, marketing, etc. This account is funded by angel investors– or what we call ‘Builders’– and these group of builders range from VCs, CEOs or just amazing people who want to support our cause, so we tell them how we plan growth and ask them to make an investment. Their return is all social return: It’s a donation to them. They’re investing in our business to help us scale, and they know they won’t get money back. And because of this radical model is why we were accepted into Y-Combinator.
Q: Wow. That’s quite the disruption. So out of curiosity, how many homes has New Story completed so far?
Great question. In 2015, we funded 200 homes.
Q: 200 homes. That’s really inspiring. So moving forward, what are the charity’s biggest goals for 2016?
Thank you! For 2016, our biggest goal is to build 500 homes. Our long term goals are to build 1000 communities in the next 10 years.
Q: And it’s always helpful to our readers to hear what challenges your team has overcome. Mainly because they might be going through it themselves. For yourself personally, what has been the biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge? Phew. Well, I just want to start off saying that as Chief of Staff, I’ve had the opportunity to witness that the most successful people have more failures than anyone else. I see it time and time again. These leaders…their failures list is HUGE, yet they have large successes as well. Personally, a while back, I raised money to start an e-commerce company only to realize the margins were too tight and the competitive landscape was really difficult. So the hardest decision was to cut our ties early, close the business, and…we gave back all the money to our investors. Integrity is everything.
Q: Great stuff Mike. Now, final words of wisdom before we depart: For someone who is inspired to join the fold, what advice would you give them for either starting their own nonprofit or being involved with one?
I would recommend, first off, to figure out what you’re sincerely passionate about and find a way to get involved. For example, before we went and started New Story, we realized we were sincerely passionate about helping those who live in the absolute worst conditions across the globe.
We did mission trips to developing countries and decided we wanted to invest more of our time and effort.
So, my advice to everyone is to get involved in whatever capacity your life allows. Maybe you don’t have a ton of extra time, but you have resources to invest. Or maybe you don’t have resources, but you have a lot of time.
If you are going to start something, start something that makes a meaningful impact in the world.