Unreasonable Values

If you don't know the Unreasonable Institute (or the wider Unreasonable Group including businesses from travel to media), read up. Unreasonable might not be as familiar to those of you who aren't well-connected to the social entrepreneurship "scene," but if founder Daniel Epstein has his way, you certainly will hear about them some day. A LOT about them.

Many other people also believe in his ability to achieve greatness and some are helping to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy: Earlier this month, Daniel received the "Entrepreneur for the World" award along with Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. It's a fitting pairing as Unreasonable's strategy, branding and structure share many parallels with the Virgin empire: Both have edgy names, both use their memorable brands as a connector across otherwise disparate business lines, both are founded by unreasonable men who put others that identify as 'serial entrepreneurs' to shame and both have "galactic" offerings (Unreasonable's likely being a tongue-in-cheek tribute to their strive for Virgin-esque global domination).

The first time I met Daniel, probably about four years ago, I remember being blown away by the contradiction between his drive, vision and clarity of thought and his age: He's only just about to turn 28 next month, and he's already started nine companies. (Disclaimer: He would call many of them "experiments" and not companies.) His entrepreneurial fire was lit when his parents told him that he wasn't going get an allowance: If he wanted pocket money, he'd have to earn it. The job he dove into, like most 11-year-old boys in America, was landscaping and mowing lawns, yet as the years went on, most other teenagers didn't end up employing tens of others as they grew their business. I assume his parents helped him along on this process to give him structure, keep him busy and teach him how to shape the world to your own vision, but more than anything else he learned from his parents, Daniel attributes his commitment to respecting values more than rules to their wisdom. When I asked him what drove him to start Unreasonable, he said his parents' role-modeling caused him to question the status quo around him, and if things didn't feel "right," he sought to change the status quo and make it right.

It's therefore no coincidence that his companies carry an "unreasonable" name: George Bernard Shaw was probably speaking about people just like Daniel when he said this quote from which the Unreasonable name is derived:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

With his tool belt full of entrepreneurial skills, grit and a strong sense of values, what Daniel needed to create the change he wanted to see in the world was some other brilliant young people who also believed in their own ability to create a future others might deem "unreasonable." While others went to college and worked with friends on school projects, Daniel jumped right in and started seeking out co-founders (Teju Ravilochan, Tyler Hartung, Vlad Dubovskiy), and from their college campus in Boulder, CO, the seeds of Unreasonable were born.

I check in with Daniel a few times a year to get the latest updates on his brand's exponentially unreasonable growth or to get advice, as I know that any business topic I bring up he will have either experienced, thoroughly researched, or know exactly who I should talk to. This past week, when I was in Boulder, I caught up with Daniel for both of those reasons, to get a pulse check on how both he and his Unreasonable brand were doing and to ask him some questions about growing a great company.

I walked away with a brain full of values-related ideas. Fortunately for me, helping people live their values through their work is a topic I'm highly interested in and one that Daniel and his team have spent the last year or more coding into their organization's DNA. The Unreasonable Values that they have come up with really might seem ridiculously "unreasonable" to a lot of people: Their employees can take unlimited vacation days, they require people to take days OFF of work yet do not track days IN work and all employees get $500 per month allocated to a learning fund which they can use to learn anything they like from metalwork to martial arts. His teams' bank accounts might be grateful for the access to $500 extra per month, but fearful of the monthly commitment they each need to make to building a new routine, as each month, every employee has to commit to doing something every day single for that month (from a daily meditation practice to a daily home-cooked meal). If they don't make good on their commitment, they then have to put $50 into the monthly party jar for every day they skip out on their commitment.

By creating routines that help people live their values, the Unreasonable team is not only trying to help their company grow and make their team one of the most desirable places to work I've ever come across, but also helping each person hold true to the changes they want to see in themselves. I have been working on a project to help young people answer the question "How can I do good in the world?" and like the Unreasonable team, I believe that global development and personal development are intrinsically interlinked. What I learned from the Unreasonable Values process, is that I could do a better job to create routines for myself and my team that give us the space, inspiration, (and perhaps peer pressure!) to live up to our own standards for ourselves.

As my friend Ben Keene of Tribewanted said, "The Unreasonable team is communicating the future of how all businesses should be built," and I too believe their new practices can help all of us be more creative in how we set up our lives and companies to help us live our values. If they continue to grow and gain global accolades, which I certainly hope and predict they will, their unreasonable HR practices might stop being article worthy and might start to drive a new norm. In the meantime, while the rest of the world is getting sucked under by a deluge of emails, the Unreasonable-ers spend an hour every Friday afternoon handwriting thank you notes to identify and spread hand-written packages of gratitude. And for that, I too am grateful.