If you see a need, the general desire is to fill it. So we hope! Yet, many of us (myself included) don’t realize the answers to the questions we are seeking are within us. Why can't everyday people looking to drive change utilize capital the way accredited financial investors do? Shouldn't we be able to buy a stake in ventures that inspire us, heal our environment and support groups of people in need? Umber Bawa, the founder of Rabble made that connection through building a platform that will allow us to go one step further. Rabble believes that there is a massive opportunity at the intersection of activism and financial investment. I had the chance to sit down with Umber, Rabble’s founder and his Director of Marketing, Erin Bellsey. “This platform became a place where consumers, people like us want to put their money in something they believe in and have an opportunity to drive positive change with the capital they earn from their day jobs” says, Erin. Within this discovery, I was intrigued at the change that can be developed when you have a vision, you make a decision and take it all the way. Cheers to you Rabble!
This is really exciting, I am here with Umber the founder of Rabble. Which has officially launched. I want to start off by asking what is Rabble to you?
Umber: Rabble is a mechanism for people to support ventures that they believe in. So if they believe in a more democratic society, if they believe in clean energy, if they believe in influencing the way that their environment develops- they should use Rabble.
Why Rabble? With so many ways to influence the world, why should people use Rabble?
Umber: In the 1960’s and 70s punk rock was a medium that people used to express alternative and radical ideas. Young people gravitated towards music that presented a different future that challenged a status quo that many saw as unjust and untenable. The mass movements that came with this music incited shifts in civil rights, the environment and politics. Now, rather than using something like music we have the internet which is a really powerful tool to share your message and mobilize people. We’ve seen how the Arab Spring led to sweeping democratic reform in the Middle East and the online sharing led to the Women’s March which was the largest global protest in history. But we’re on the cusp of something even greater.
So what’s the next step? To us, the next step is not only mobilizing physically but also mobilizing capital. So, people can put their capital behind something that they believe in, which might be something that is more in line with their values – which may be different than what their city might be doing, their state might be doing at a given point in time. They can use Rabble to support ventures that they believe in and manifest the change that they want to see in the world.
When you say people- the (they)- who are the they’s that should be seeking out Rabble?
Umber: Anyone, I think anyone should. When we think about our target demographic obviously it makes sense to choose one subset of people that we want to reach. But, I think that anyone truly wants to see their values brought to life. For instance, one of the contradictions for me that led to us founding Rabble is — I was looking at my mutual funds and what stocks I was holding. At the time, I was working at a cleantech company so by day, I was fighting climate change, but I would look at my mutual funds and I would say ‘ok, I have coal, I have oil holdings— I have all these different things that I don’t really believe in.’ How can I simultaneously do one thing by day, and support another by night – it’s inconsistent. If I want to see more clean energy, my capital should be supporting those things, not working contra. How do you align those things? How do you align your values with what your money is doing? That’s what Rabble is!
Where were you the moment you realized that Rabble is a thing that should be a career in which you made your next move?
Umber: You know, I don’t know where I was, but there was a moment where I was at a wedding of two friends. There was another friend of mine who is a little bit older than I am. We were standing on the beach, it was like 6am in the morning and I said to him ‘So, what are you up to?’ He said, ‘Che Guevara took the Island of Cuba by the age of 30 and I’m turning 30 so I have to do something.’ He soon left his job and started his own company. That, to me, was a wake up call. I was like holy shit, I can do more. I really need to do something about this. I already had the idea, I just hadn't taken the leap to implement it.
Which is incredible because so many of us are full of ideas. I feel it’s amazing that Rabble gets to be this tangible being of this is what we thought to this is what are now doing. How did you begin to take the steps to bring Rabble to life, because this is a big undertaking in my opinion.
Umber: Yea, and it’s bigger than I even anticipated at the time.
Right, I’m sure you are like oh my gosh! I didn’t know I have twins in there….. haha!
Umber: I know, I didn’t know what I was getting into…it’s like triplets and I thought I was just having a baby.
Yes, I totally relate to that.
Umber: I had already taken steps at that point. I had written this down. I identified people to start this with but nothing really mobilized me to do anything about it. I was at a firm where I was doing well and they had asked me to move to a different state to focus on growing that company. That firm was doing great, but this is where my passion was, so I gave them notice and was like: I’m out. That was it!
You made a decision.
Umber: Yeah, I already had this as an idea that I was pursuing. I had spoken to different attorneys, friends that worked in various fields of finance, and I knew that the foundation was there but there was no major impetus to push me over the cliff.
Right! So, from that time to today, how much time has lapsed?
Umber: Almost two years.
From that moment to this moment, what have you learned? I can speak for myself, going for my own big goals, a lot has happened in just one year. Once I simply made a decision believing this is how I am going to live…..this is what I am going to do boom many dots aligned and some intense growth took place. What have you learned about growing a business? What gifts and strengths have you discovered within?
Umber: Wow, there is so much. I could talk about this for like 3 or 4 hours like how much I have learned. I would say, I have always been good at working with people. Yet, it’s a completely different dynamic when it’s your team. When you are the head of the company, their issues end up becoming your issues. If somebody is not feeling well physically or emotionally that does affect everything that the team is doing especially if it’s a really small team. A lot of what I do is, I try and conjure up good energy. That’s really how I think about it continuously and it can be a tiresome process, but I think it’s crucial.
Teach me your ways, haha! How do you do that!
Umber: Ha, I don’t know. Free food and drinks every now and then. I think we do have a lot of fun as well. Most of what we are doing is a lot of fun and being able to focus on 12 different things at once never makes one thing too dry.
Now today Rabble has pretty much secured its first major investment opportunity so to speak. How did that happen? How did you choose them or did they approach you?
Umber: We have a pretty stringent financial, social and environmental impact criteria. Then project feasibility aspect so we have these criteria that we look at every single project through. Century Partners scored really highly because they had several projects that they had done beforehand. David Alade and Andrew Colom, the founders, were running their own fund since 2014 and had raised several million dollars until that point and that fund was extremely successful. That fund was only open to private high net worth individuals. But they were keen on opening up to non-accredited investors, which is what our platform provides. It was a perfect match. At the same time from a philosophical standpoint there is a high degree of alignment with what we’re doing and how they view the investment process. Mainly, if you want to address income and equality and the gap in wealth one primary way to do that is through creating opportunities for ownership. Many of the reasons people who are wealthy get wealthier is because they have wealth and are able to grow their wealth. One fundamental aspect of creating wealth is giving people access to property ownership. This project is going to be an equity arrangement to allow people to actually build equity.
I have a devil's-advocate question within that. Rabble I feel is very open to people like us, younger people who have ideas and are doing things. Maybe they have not had the financial training or tools and even experience but they have a great startup and something going. Would they be able to be considered for Rabble to invest in them?
Umber: It depends because we do have a pretty strict, rigorous, I should say review process. With that said, the founders of this are on the younger side but are accomplished - between 30-32 years old. We want to collaborate with people exactly like them, and at the same time, if we do want to expand the success of our platform and realize those benefits for other people, we have to choose winning projects. It’s a balance.
Ok, for someone who may be thinking Rabble is a target that I want to reach out to in my career future; what are two or three things you would advise them to say — have this in a row and that in a row and then lets talk?
Umber: If a project has social or environmental impact that is measurable, that’s a big check. If they have done a project like this before or two or three projects that are similar, that’s a big check. If it’s tied to a real asset - physical assets or a space - that has cash flows associated with it, that is a big check for us too. Finally, if they have the permits in place or will have the permits in place, that’s a big check.
Then you take that and grow it even further?
Umber: Right, right! We do help advise and refine those types of companies.
Erin: To that point as well the platform is also place where consumers people like us want to put their money in something that they believe in and have an opportunity to drive positive change with the capital they earn from their day jobs. In a sense, like Kickstarter and these other crowdfunding platforms, we enable people to actually give money but they also invest so they own a share in part of the project. So they become even more committed as investors of the project. We connect people who want to drive change with their money to cool projects and founders who are looking for capital.
Umber: What we are allowing people to do is — on KickStarter for instance, if you support a filmmaker or if you support an artist. Your contribution allows that person to materialize his or her dream. What we are doing is not only allowing a project founder to materialize his or her dream but also providing real returns to the person who is making the investment.
Its selling it to themselves as well?
Umber: Right! They are selling it to themselves as well. They are not only producing something that they believe in, but they are receiving that financial return back. That’s how you can really transform the economy. That’s really what we are trying to do.
Not to get to deep but deep enough with what’s going on now, with the President and how that is shifting how people make decisions and the communal aspect. I can’t for see in this moment how is it’s going to play out. Some many say it’s going to be negative and yet maybe not. Is that a thought in your mind of how people are going to choose Rabble or how you are going to drive Rabble? Or you are just focusing on your project at hand and not worrying about the unknowns of the moment?
Umber: I think it’s hard to anticipate how people will react. I think a platform like Rabble is more relevant than ever because unfortunately there will be programs that are cut in different sectors of the country. So for instance: if renewable energy is going to be cut, if affordable housing is going to be cut, if artists receive less support that means that there is a need that must be addressed. We already know that the country is very polarized so for every person that is against some of those things in some form, there are probably one or two people that do support those things. If they don’t have an avenue via their tax dollars to support those types of entities, at least the private sector with an entity like Rabble can meet those concerns.
This actually might be an amazing time for Rabble.
Umber: It actually might be a good time for it, yes! People are always looking to divest — for example, take money out of fossil fuels, but where does that money go? What do you support if you are not supporting fossil fuels? We want to be the answer to divestment. We want to give people an avenue to support things and not just say we’re not supporting things.
Erin: What we as a team love and think is special about Rabble is we’re providing people the opportunity to take part in something that is much bigger than what they otherwise would have access to in former years. You don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to be part of something impactful. You could actually just invest your money towards something that you care about and be an owner in that.
For me, now being able to have this conversation with you more in depth. The biggest takeaway that I really love which you are doing is, how do you find your gift and find a way to share that with others. I think with technology we can become so isolated and self consumed but the flip side of that is, if there was only one person on this planet…. it wouldn’t be the same planet. Money has to be spent by people and we forget that we are way more communal people than we realize and even act.
Erin: I love that angle of technology not being isolating, but rather this is a platform that actually builds community.
Yes and through technology which is what technology should be used for.
Umber: Ha-Joon Chang who is an economist at Cambridge. He said, the washing machine had a greater impact on the world than the internet has. He said this about 5 years ago in his book. His point was, yea it’s great that you can take pictures of yourself and post all of this information. But if you think about the washing machine, it doubled the workforce over night. That was a cataclysmic shift in terms of how people worked, how labor markets developed, how markets developed etc. The internet is here and it’s a tool but is it being used? It’s not being used to its full extent and we think this is the time for it to be used.
I love that this is the TIME! Next year this time what would you like to say that you are doing? Umber is doing x with Rabble?
Umber: I would like to see us have 16-24 successful project fundraises. Then next year going into 2019, we want to reach more investors and increase engagement. So more of the same but bigger!
I love it, thank you! This was great.
Umber: Yes, thank you.