50. Joe Sanberg: Aspiration.com & A Mission of Public Service

“I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable”

Martin Luther King Jr.

My conversation with Joe spans his company Aspiration Partners and his story as a change agent. We discuss:

  • Aspiration and its current and future products
  • Where Joe envisions his startup in the future
  • Joe’s thoughts on the lack of financial security afflicting the majority of Americans and how that problem can be solved

Excerpts:

(Time 4:50) Does [Profit] Margin still exist for you at Aspiration even if you’re funding socially beneficial causes and excluding ones that harm society, can you still make that profit?

Of course because one of the biggest cost factors for traditional financial companies, are the costs that they incur because their customers don’t like them. The tons and tons and tons and 10’s of billions of dollars that traditional financial companies spend on marketing are primarily monies spent to offset the negative brand impact of their bad actions. So if you save the need to spend those monies, by not doing bad things in the first place, then you create a whole amount of room on your income statement to do the right thing and still generate profit.

Joe Sanberg

(Time 7:57) Do you have any advice to someone who would want to start a business today, a young student perhaps. What would you tell them, what would you do differently before we switch over to the social aspect of your story?

Well my number one piece of advice for a young entrepreneur would be make sure you’re starting a business that you care about for reasons that are non-monetary. Because starting a business is, I think, one of the hardest things that you can do in the private sector. You know nature is inclined towards inertia, so by definition if you’re starting something new you’re trying to change your state of nature, and everything is kind of lined up against your success. Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but it means you better care about what you’re building more than just making money. 

For my co-founder Andrei and for me Aspiration is not about a job. It’s about a vocation and a mission. And of course it needs to be a profitable company because there’s the team we have to pay & shareholders we have to honor. But what gets us up every morning and during the hard times is, nothing having to do with money, it has to do with the mission and problem we’re trying to solve. So, in conclusion, if you’re going to start a business make sure you care about it for reasons that are non-monetary.

Joe Sanberg

(Time 9:37) So what made you interested and passionate about being a public service advocate? 

Well its personal for me. I grew up in a low income household, my mom raised me by herself. She really kept that away from me and my brother, we never really appreciated how little we had, until I think in high-school and eventually when I was a teenager we lost our home in foreclosure. And in hindsight I realized those experiences that our family had don’t make me unique and they put me in solidarity with 10’s of millions of other people in our generation.

Which is, there’s no middle class in the United States. No matter how many times the media wants to say there is or politicians want acclaim the American middle class, when 8 out of 10 Americans live paycheck to paycheck, which is how things are, there is no middle class. Because middle class isn’t living paycheck to paycheck. I think what we have in the United States are four different groups. We have the billionaires and the oligarchs, we have the rich, we have the poor, and we have the extremely poor. And those 8 out of 10 Americans are the poor. For those who are homeless, they are extremely poor. But there is no middle class, and I want to fix that. And I’m not going to be satisfied until I do everything I can with every waking moment I have to try and change that.

Joe Sanberg

(Time 15:28) If you had to impart a few ideas onto society right now, regarding either entrepreneurship or the things you’ve learned as a social advocate, what would you say? What would those ideas be? 

Well the first it that, just because something seems unfinishable doesn’t mean you don’t have to try. You know one of my favorite charges from Martin Luther King Jr. is something he said in his unfulfilled dream speech in 1968. He said, “One of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable. We are commanded to do that.” And I think over the last 40 years, there are a lot of instances where we’ve failed to strive towards complete justice because the task seemed so tall. Are we going to end poverty in our life time? I hope so, but obviously the odds are against us. That docent mean that the objective shouldn’t be to end poverty even if it seems unfinishable. We’ve put limits on what we can achieve before we’ve even begun to start fighting. 

The second thing is, be ready for intense opposition. When you fight a problem, always expect the problem to fight back. And sometimes I find that entrepreneurs in civic life or in business are surprised when there’s a counter response to their pursuit of justice. Well don’t be surprised. Any problem that’s worth solving, is going to fight back against the solution. 

Joe Sanberg
Joe Sanberg
Joe Sanberg

Joe is a co-founder of Aspiration Partners, a startup bank geared towards putting their customers conscience first and is also a social advocate for a litany of progressive issues. In addition Joe founded of the Golden State Opportunity Foundation which focuses on expanding financial security to Californians.

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