My 3rd Act
The framing of life into 3 acts has been around for some time. In summary;
· Act 1 is all about the foundations of life (education, relationships, starting and trialling career options).
· Act 2 is more about building — your family, relationships, career and interests.
· Act 3 is all about using the experiences of life to develop some wisdom and perspective, realising this is the 3rd act of a 3 act play and trying to leave a legacy that leaves the planet better because you have lived.
I co-founded AirTree Ventures at age 54 and it has become one of the 3 major Venture Capital funds in Australia over the last 8 years (alongside Blackbird Ventures and Square Peg Capital). As AirTree looked to raise its fourth fund in 2021 ($700m) I had just turned 62 and I had to make a call.
Was I prepared to focus a lot of time and attention on helping my fellow employees at AirTree make fund 4 a success (at least a 6 years commitment) in some sort of Chairman role (which would have been the easy option) or take time to think about what path I could take over the next 10 years to try to leave a lasting legacy?
I have often advised friends who are presented with the opportunity to really think about what you want to do when you grow up — that they should not let momentum push you down an obvious path but rather sit with the angst of indecision long enough to understand what, at this time, you really care about.
So, taking my own advice led me to a hard decision. Firstly, working out that I had nothing more to prove in the VC ecosystem (having founded 3 venture firms over a 25-year period and all funds and firms being global successes). Secondly realising that AirTree — with an amazing partner group and some incredible junior staff did not need me around to continue its success. In fact, by stepping away I would give the partners free space to make AirTree what they want it to to be.
I also realised that what I really care about more than anything else is trying to alleviate suffering. Now as I read that last statement I think this sounds like the words of a wanker…So let me provide some context.
When my family returned to Australia from working at Microsoft in the US, in 1993, my wife, Carolyn, and I moved around 35% of our total assets into the Petre Foundation. Over the years we have donated tens of millions of dollars to a range of causes — most of the money going to alleviate suffering in some form.
Further we have funded research into Philanthropy to try to understand why Australia’s wealthy are so greedy (i.e. giving rates for our HNW are the lowest in the group of US/UK/Canada/NZ and AU) and spending a lot of time trying to help others…
So, I come to this focus for my 3rd act with both context and a track record…I might still be a wanker but for other reasons!
Through our family Foundation we continue to give quite a bit of money away each year to charities we care about but, to be honest, this is not enough.
My sense was that if I could spend some time and resources focused on trying to increase philanthropic giving by our wealthy then this would dwarf our own donations and might, just maybe, help create a new way forward in our society in Australia.
Having spent so many years working with start-ups a few things seem true;
· Generally speaking, start-up founders are more socially progressive than their counterparts in the traditional economy.
· Founders want to be a success but also realise that the tens of millions (or hundreds of millions) of dollars they make through their equity is probably more than they deserve. Yes, they have worked incredibly hard and made real sacrifices and taken real risks but even with these incoming conditions all of the wealth they have created is not something they believe they deserve.
· Founders want to make the world a better place and generally want to give back to society at a much higher rate than the rich old guys that have come before them.
So, my thesis was that if I could inspire tech foundes and execs to move some of their equity into their own charitable foundations and give to charities they care about then we can ramp up overall giving.
I was SUPER lucky to be able to convince Antonia Ruffell (ex-CEO of APS — the most experienced exec in the PAF space in Australia) to join me as CEO and try to create a culture of giving in the innovation community.
So, what is the goal?
The goal on the horizon is to have a culture in the innovation community where, if you are successful, you set up a philanthropic structure. For example, if you end up with at least maybe $10m — $20m in equity you move 5% ($500K — $1m) into your own PAF to give to charities you care about. $1m in a PAF would throw off $50k a year and you can do a lot of good with $50k a year. You do this because everyone like you does this, and it is just a thing everyone who is successful does…A true cultural movement.
The short term (2–3year) goal is to help inspire 100 founders and execs to set up PAFs and start their giving journey.
StartUpGiving is all about trying to create more philanthropy from our sector and in doing so alleviate suffering — in whatever form.
And so, begins my 3rd Act.