Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Digital Hero: Katz Kiely, Founder, Beep

We’re asking some of our industry’s leading figures to nominate their digital hero and to explain what’s so special about them.

The inspirational Katz Kiely is an award-winning serial entrepreneur, digital pioneer and Founder and CEO of beep.

Who is your digital hero?

It would have to be Mark Benioff, Mr Salesforce. Not because of his wealth or power or the size of his empire, although all that is pretty awe-inspiring.

What makes him my hero is his commitment to the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. And the fact he continues to put his money where his mouth is.

What have they done to win hero status in your eyes?

Mark has steadfastly refused to subscribe to the Silicon Valley “use em up ad spit em out” way of doing things. He knew instinctively that free food, football machines and the odd bean bag is only a small part of the solution – and that people are most productive when they have a sense of purpose.

So 20 years ago, Benioff decided to dedicate 1% of Salesforce’s technology, people and resource to do good. He calls it the 1:1:1 model. He set out to build an inclusive connected culture where customers, employees, partners, and communities take care of each other and work collaboratively to build a better world. His investors must have thought he was bonkers.

Salesforce is now San Francisco’s largest private employer, with 30,000 employees across 25 countries, and worth a cool $6.4 billion.

He’s proved passion and purpose drives commercial success. For that I salute him.

How has their heroism helped drive digital?

Benioff is a role model for conscious capitalism, tech for good and an inspiration for a new generation of digital business that are on a mission to drive positive change. Like mine.

Refusing to drink the Kool aid, he has continued to speak his truth as the myth of Silicon Valley grew around him. His peers developed business models that depended on building addictive digital tech, stripping the middle out of the economy, paying lip service to “ do no evil” but taking a lot and giving back very little.

He predicted the impending “crisis of trust” that looms over the world of data, software and social – and designed a business that has doing good in its very DNA.

Benioff is also proving that corporates can, and should, be a powerful platform for positive change.  Last year he started a movement committing to 100% renewable energy by 2022 and persuaded Autodesk, Bloomberg, Uber, WeWork, and HP’s CEOs to join him.

What the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?

We are heading towards an environment, economic, social, political meltdown.

Temperatures are rising, hurricanes and wildfires are increasingly common, glaciers continue to melt. If things carry on as they are, sea levels could rise so fast that Silicon Valley will soon become a submerged memory.

If the planet suffers, the economy suffers and business suffers. In the US. alone, these freak tragedies cost $306 billion. Climate change could knock 10% of GDP.

Depending on which report you read, we have at best twelve years to get our act together. Digital has played its part in causing these problems. Our responsibility now as innovators and entrepreneurs is to build businesses that fix them.

But Mr Benioff, like me, believes we are at a cross roads and suggests we should repeatedly ask ourselves one simple question “is what we are doing ethical and humane?”.

Technology is neutral, It can be neither good not bad. It’s up to us, digital leaders, to choose how we use it.

We have all the bits of the puzzle: Big data means we know more about human behaviour and the interdependencies across our ecosystems than ever before. Tech gets smarter every day. We are more connected than ever before. It’s our choice whether we use the incredible technologies we’ve developed and the knowledge we’ve gathered to make the world better – or worse.

The opportunities for technology to fix the problems we’ve caused are boundless.

What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?

My first business would now be called a digital transformation agency. We delivered the world’s first open innovation competition for HP Labs and became expert in co-creation, design thinking – basically using digital to help corporations to become more “digital.” The UN then head hunted me to lead a massive and massively successful digital transformation project that ended in a co-created event connecting 6,500 world leaders, 100 social entrepreneurs,10,000 school kids across the world and millions on social.

The UN are not known for embracing change so that really a truly heroic effort.

Working at the UN really opened my eyes to the state of the world. I left with no doubt that neither it – nor governments – are in any fit state to do anything about it.

Corporates on the other hand, reeling from rapid and constant change, are desperate to figure out how to get change right and are looking for digital solutions.

So  a couple of years ago I stepped off the ladder into start-up land to aggregate 20 years of learning into a software platform that drives cultural transformation and positive impact.

beep, our software, rewards and recognises people for surfacing and finding solutions to all those frustrating niggles. Leaders can really listen and connect.  real time, to employee challenges.

Benioff’s  1:1:1 model was my inspiration for our 1:1 model. Every license we sell – one is gifted to a non profit; accelerating impact while giving employees a sense of purpose.

Good for people. Good for profit. Good for planet.