Drew Hackman / Founder of Startup Hacker Consulting / Denver, CO
Tell me a little bit about your background.
Drew: I grew up in a northern Chicago suburb, in a culture that pushes you to take ten AP classes, juggle three sports, master an instrument (or two), lead four clubs, all while giving back to your community and helping others. Well-equipped with a strong math and science background, I chose chemical engineering at Bucknell University. Never a shortage of interest in subjects outside STEM fields because of that suburban high-achiever culture, I was able to minor in English to fulfill my philosophical and existential needs.
The goal by choosing chemical engineering as my path was ultimately to follow one of two paths: either to change the world by alleviating the American childhood obesity epidemic or by working on alternative and sustainable energy projects to save the environment. But, my starry-eyed 18 year old self didn’t anticipate that pragmatism and a paycheck would land me in the industrial gas industry after graduation, working for a Fortune 250 whose revenues largely funnel to oil companies, my 18-year old self’s nemesis.
A far cry from saving the planet, and feeling far removed from my lofty social-impact goals and those existential needs, I took four years of project management, process improvement, and engineering consulting in a new direction. At that point, I needed a change. I got my foot in the door at a fast-paced startup-sized healthcare consulting firm as a consulting analyst to learn more business acumen, a regimented work ethic, and how to navigate higher-level client relationships and negotiations. But after a year of weekly airline travel and the no-time-for-lunch 7am-7pm work schedule, I was burned out fairly quickly in a field I wasn’t passionate about.
Again, the cognitive dissonance knocking on the door became too much, and I left the company. I booked a one-way flight to Paris, and took three months to solo-backpack Western Europe and Eastern Asia for 9 of the 12 weeks, in a new city every couple days. People thought I was crazy. “Alone? … You mean alone as in by yourself? Like, alone alone?” On the surface, it might have looked like a “find myself” trip, but it wasn’t. I knew exactly who I was. I simply wanted to take a break from the go, go, go I had all my life and learn to become comfortable with uncertainty and spontaneity.
It was good for me. And I wasn’t without a plan. Upon my return to the States, I would move to Denver without a job and make things happen in the forward thinking, social-impact startup hotspot, overflowing with ideas to make the world a better place. I didn’t know yet what form it would take, but that’s what I wanted to do. To get back to my community leadership roots and find ways to make systemic and sustainable social change.
How did your engineering and consulting backgrounds help you start your current business? Why did you choose to work in social entrepreneurship?
D: When I got to Denver, I started networking like crazy in the startup space. Specifically, I was looking for social entrepreneurial ventures or B Corps that I could really get behind–companies with a clear social mission and purpose, focusing on the Triple Bottom Line (or TBL)–those with social, environmental, and financial outcomes. I was looking for big-picture opportunities that focused on root-cause solutions to systemic problems.
When I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for, a mentor told me what I needed to hear: “Why don’t you start your own consulting business for social enterprises? A lot of early stage or seed stage entrepreneurs need your help.” It sounded lofty at first: how could I consult on something when I didn’t have 20+ years of experience? But I realized I had a unique combination that made me well suited to help these ambitious social-good entrepreneurs:
- A service-oriented upbringing and an intense passion for social-good organizations.
- A project management engineering background, providing the conceptual framework: cross-functional planning and leadership as the backbone for implementing sustainable operations and root-cause problem solving.
- A consulting background, providing the methodology: action-oriented team management, climbing steep learning curves on short notice, and partnership-building.
I had the tools. It was time to put them into place. I founded Startup Hacker Consulting in April 2017 to provide planning and strategy for social entrepreneurs. My mission is to support the change-makers and the visionaries by shoring up accountability, providing effective strategies, and staying focused on positive social and environmental outcomes.
Some of your passion points lie in educating men on feminism and toxic masculinity. Can you explain what you would like to do in this realm?
This is a question that I’ll try to answer with as much brevity as I can. The words “feminism” and “feminist” make a lot of men nervous, and they get defensive, because they’re afraid – it’s seen as an “unfair” threat to their power or status since they can’t control that they were born as a man, so why should they be vilified for it? (Exactly the point, though, am I right?). They conjure up images of overbearing and power-hungry women hell-bent on castration and flipping the power dynamic into a matriarchy. It makes me laugh, because it’s absurd. Feminism (and more accurately, intersectional feminism) is this totally radical idea that women are people, to steal a phrase. It’s getting rid of incessant objectification, double standards, and treating half of the entire population as lesser-than. It’s about creating equality – in the workplace, in social outings, in our communities, and in our minds. We’ve been hard-wired to subconsciously assign traditional gender roles and capabilities based on that gender.
And I’m no exception. I’ve made mistakes and continue to make mistakes, but it’s important that we listen and learn and do better next time, not brush it off or dismiss. That’s what toxic masculinity is: the inability to have introspection, the idea that conquest and physical power can solve problems, and the normalization that masculinity is inherently valued more highly. And thus, the threat of emasculation and the threat to that power dynamic leads to a lot of adverse effects like anger as a first-resort, domestic and emotional abuse, sexual harassment and assault, and systemic oppression. As an extension, I believe that toxic masculinity is at the root of most of our global problems: resource scarcity, colonialism and imperialism, and human rights violations. So, how do we fix it?
First and foremost, we need more female leaders, which is why I primarily aim to support social enterprises with at least one female co-founder, and preferably female solopreneurs or founders. The patriarchy is endemic and its effects are systemic; it’s high time we raise gender equities and re-prioritize.
I realize the irony of calling out the patriarchy and mentioning toxic masculinity as a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied man who is no doubt part of the problem, but this isn’t meant as a finger-pointing gesture to others in my box; simply, if the goal is to create progress by creating awareness and improving outcomes, then we need more seats at the table for under-represented groups, particularly groups that are marginalized or most affected by the way it’s been done in the past.
I like to start by supporting women in order to offset its effects with the hope that it then opens up even more seats at the table. It’s an exciting time to catalyze change-makers that can bring something new – new perspectives, new skills, new brainwaves.
Additionally, I’m coupling that effort with a curriculum for corporations to work on comprehensive sexual harassment training and eradicating androcentric behaviors that lead to workplace issues. If companies don’t want to just check a box and they want to be part of real Corporate Social Responsibility measures not only to be on the right side of their consumer base (hello, #metoo movement), but also to improve their workplace environments and increase employee retention by making it as inclusive as possible, then they will invest the necessary time and resources needed into a tangible, effective curriculum that aims to foster more effective communication, spread awareness about gender-related micro-aggressions, and ultimately improve workplace culture.
What advice do you have for men who want to do more on behalf of gender equality? A lot of my male friends want to do more but don't know how.
Listen. Learn. Do better. Be an advocate. Speak up when you’re in male-only settings and somebody perpetuates gender stereotypes or justifies harmful behavior. Discuss consent with your other male friends and women friends alike. Ask your women friends what they’d like from you. Stop minimizing their experiences. Stop making excuses and victim-blaming or slut-shaming. You don’t need to be on the front lines and you don’t need to be perfect. Just provide solidarity, provide advocacy, and above all, believe her, even (and especially) when you’re the one on the receiving end of the questionable behavior. I know I’ve had my fair share of learning experiences, and I’ve got a long way to go; we won’t do better if we don’t listen when we’re told we screwed up.
How will you bloom in the next year? The next 5 years?
This year, I’m focusing on growing my business by supporting mission-aligned social impact organizations, moving towards implementing outcome assessments and metrics. In the next five years, the plan is to work as an impact investor, providing financial capital to the most promising social enterprises and change-makers.
What do you want to be remembered for?
When people think of me, I want them to think of someone who is an advocate, a voice of empathic reason, a well-intentioned connector, as someone who genuinely strives for improving people’s lives in systemic and sustainable ways, and who speaks up for those without a voice. I want to be remembered as being on the right side of history and as being a leader in the social enterprise movement. I want to be remembered for “getting it” and for actually giving a shit.