â€œWhich path do you intend to take, Nell?’ said the Constable, sounding very interested. ‘Conformity or rebellion?’
Neither one. Both ways are simple-minded – they are only for people who cannot cope with contradiction and ambiguity.â€
â€• Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age
At Anthemis Group we believe that the key to (business) success in the Information Age lies in building strong, vibrant, inter-connected networks of smart people and businesses. The digital tools of the 21st century allow us to do this with a depth, breadth and speed hardly imaginable only a decade ago. And yet however powerful, these tools do not replace the value of face-to-face connections.
Every community needs to ask itself, “Who are the people that are going to drive this community forward in the next 10 years?” and figure out how to support them. – Charlie O’Donnell
With this in mind, last week we hosted our 2nd (annual) Anthemis #HackingFinance retreat (#AHFR13) gathering 60+ amazing individuals – startup founders and executives, investors, designers, senior financial services executives, thought leaders and the Anthemis team – in the magical alpine setting of Meribel.* We asked them to take a step back from their busy professional lives and connect. With each other. With the environment. With the future. And for at least a few fleeting hours, think about how this community, this ecosystem might contribute to the re-invention of financial services. Think about how together we can build better business models, create better products and services, shape better regulation. Think about how we can clear a path that takes us from the manifest obsolescence of industrial age finance to a new paradigm for the provision of financial services that is natively aligned to the technological, economic and cultural realities of the 21st century.
Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it – often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo. – Mark Zuckerberg
Anthemis is still a very young company. The resources and effort – time, money, people – required to organise and host this retreat were material to us. Like a startup company, it’s hard to build a traditional financial model to gauge the value or to try to quantitatively measure the RoI. And yet it is abundantly clear to us that the value created by such an event is very real – not just for Anthemis or our portfolio businesses, but for the wider ecosystem. Value that arises directly from the energy, passion and engagement that each and every participant brought with them. For that I am incredibly grateful. We’ve tried to build Anthemis as a substrate: fertile soil from which wonderful businesses can grow, seeded by talented people who share a common passion and sense the manifest opportunity that exists to create a better financial future.
In the language of flowers, anthemis (chamomile) means patience in adversity. It was known as the herb of humility because, as a lawn plant, the more it was trodden on, the faster it grewâ€¦In Biodynamics, the chamomile preparation promotes a good breakdown of the proteins in the compost to humic plant nutrients, and prevents the protein breaking down to ammonia which would be lost to the atmosphere. It helps soil to retain nitrogen and calcium, keeping them in the living realm and preventing loss to the atmosphere. Chamomile preparation strengthens the plantâ€™s regenerative life activity and reunites this with the physical. This ability has led chamomile to be referred to as the â€œplantâ€™s physicianâ€ in folklore. It has been said that if you have a failing plant, simply plant chamomile next to it and it will revive. (from Chamomile â€“ The Plantâ€™s Physician)
It hasn’t always been easy for us, building a business is hard. Raising capital is hard – especially when you deviate from the status quo in any way. But we knew that going in. I don’t think there are too many things in life that are truly worth doing that aren’t hard. And being surrounded by incredible people who trust and support you** – the entrepreneurs we’ve backed despite our modest resources, the early investors who have backed our vision, the people who have helped us in a thousand different ways just because they thought what we were trying to build was worth building – makes all the tough moments just that, moments. And makes it clear that “the juice is worth the squeeze.”
Over the coming weeks, we will do our best to distill the learnings that emerged from the many conversations that echoed across the alpine meadows and peaks. And where relevant we’ll help encourage and assist with implementing many of the ideas and potential collaborations that arose. And stay tuned to our YouTube channel for a taste of what transpired (and in the meantime you can get a glimpse of last year’s event below.) Although it’s a year away, we’ve already started dreaming about next year’s event, maybe we’ll see you there!
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller
* It’s no coincidence to us that some of the most productive and creative gatherings are hosted in the mountains: Allen & Co.’s Sun Valley conference, the Aspen Ideas Festival (and numerous others), Dialog, Davos (before it jumped the sharkâ€¦) etc. – one can not help but to gain a new perspective and think big thoughts when faced with such a majestic landscape. Also the effort required to get to these locations helps to reinforce the disconnect from one’s day-to-day concerns and routine.
** I cannot thank enough all the #hackers – so many of whom traveled from the furthest reaches of the globe to join us. In particular I’d like to thank Kirsten Dunlop and Suncorp who not only travelled all the way from Sydney to join us but who kindly sponsored our opening dinner. I’d also like to thank the entire Anthemis team for their positive energy and willingness to do whatever was asked of them to make our retreat a success, but in particular would like to thank Simrat and Pascale and my dear wife Sandrine without whom the retreat simply would not have been a success.