Statewide Broadband in Maine – The Benefits to Business – Kerem Durdag

Statewide Broadband in Maine – The Benefits to Business – Kerem Durdag

This week on Fast Forward Maine we’re going to be talking about what it will take to bring broadband throughout the state of Maine.

We’ve got President and Chief Operating Office of GWI, Kerem Durdag, with us, to talk about why broadband is essential to the growth, health, and well-being of the people and the business ecosystem here in Maine.

Rich: My guest today is President and Chief Operating Officer of GWI, a leading ISP in telco here in Maine. Previously, he served as the entrepreneur in residence for the Maine Technology Institute, a quasi-public loan and venture capital entity. He was a CEO of a startup in the sensors market, leading into growth and eventual acquisition by a public company.

Another startup he led, Medical Device and Advanced Materials was sold in 2016 to a global Chinese company, after he failed to sustain the growth trajectory. Who includes that in their bio? You’ve got to be pretty awesome if you’re willing to just admit that in your bio.

He has also been the CTO of a large U.S. subsidiary of a public German semiconductor and optical media company. And prior, was leader of an engineering department of an electronics company, which went public twice.

With an inherent strong bias towards action, a long-term advocate for the inclusion of immigrant and refugee voices in societal conversation, and extremely passionate about doing his part to close the economic and digital divide, our guest today also serves on several boards and is a member of the Maine Angel Investing community.

Today we’re going to be diving into what you need to know about broadband here in Maine with Kerem Durdag. Kerem, welcome to the program.

Kerem: Thank you for having me, Rich. Wonderful to be here.  

Rich: I’ve never read a bio in all my years of reading bios, where somebody mentioned something that didn’t go well for them. So let’s just start there, what happened and why did you include it in your bio? Like, I don’t mention the fact all the things I’ve done wrong over the years. I absolutely respect you for this.

Kerem: Well, that’s where it kind of, I think part of it is my desire towards being transparent, and honest, and being genuine. I think the other desire is we have a culture that is very celebratory towards just success, and we tend to forget that on the road to success is many a screw up and many of failure. And I want to sort of equilibrate and calibrate everybody that there is a certain joy and a certain amount of fulfillment in being vulnerable. And that company that I unfortunately wasn’t successful with, that was a six and a half year journey with a great bunch of peers and colleagues. And for all the best intentions, we couldn’t make a go of it. And it was psychically very draining, as it is for a lot of startups. And I just want to be very transparent about it.

It helps to have the conversations, which are very, very hard to have. And it helps to have those conversations on an even playing field. So that’s why I’m very upfront about that.

Kerem: And I love it because, Kerem, immediately as soon as I read that, I liked you even more, if that was possible. But you know, the bottom line is I get pitches all the time to come on this podcast and the other podcast I have, and everybody’s always talking about how in three months they went from zero to six figures or seven figures. And it’s always about how amazing they are and everything that went right in their life. And it’s honestly, it’s a turnoff. I know that they’re doing this to kind of establish themselves, but yeah, that’s much less interesting than somebody who says, look at what also has gone on, it hasn’t always been perfect. And that’s a much better and more interesting story to tell. So I appreciate that.

So moving backwards through time, Kerem, I’m curious, what was your first job though?

Kerem: My first job.

Rich: Your first job. The first time you got paid for doing labor.

Kerem: Does that include the college?

Rich: Sure.

Kerem: Cleaning toilets at the monastery. So I went to St. John’s University and it’s the second largest Catholic institution in the United States. It’s the largest Benedictine Catholic institution in the world. And my first job, which was a week after I’d arrived. So there’s all this talk about this, about how shocking it was for me, because I didn’t even know it was an all-male Catholic institution. I knew nothing. I didn’t even know it was in Minnesota. I had never seen snow and all of that good stuff.

So a week into it they had said, “Well, you’re going to be working on campus”. I said,  “Great, let’s go.” They’re like, “Well, you’re going to be cleaning toilets, clean the showers, making the beds in the monastery.” All right. At 4:30 in the morning, I’m up there doing the thing. So that was my first paid job. It was a paid job.

Rich: Now I have cleaned toilets in my life too, but it was when I was at an all-boys summer camp that I went to for nine years. And our nickname for the bathrooms, I think it’s a military term, was ‘KIBO’. And so every day you would, after breakfast, your entire bunk would have to clean up and you’d have rotating schedules. And once a week I would be on KIBO duty and I would just have to clean all the bathrooms. So yeah, I think that’s what keeps us humble.

Kerem: No, it does. It does.

Rich: What an interesting conversation. This is why this has been great. Thanks for coming on the show.

Kerem: Yeah. Well, you know, toilets and names, you know, can’t go wrong.

Rich: Okay. So I want to talk about, I do want to talk about broadband, although this was surprisingly interesting. We’re recording this the day after Governor Mills proposed how she wants to use the $1 billion plus dollars in federal aid, including $150 million to develop universally available broadband connections.

I’m wondering Kerem, have you had a chance to review what she said, and what are your immediate thoughts? Is $150 million enough? Is it more than we need? What are your thoughts?

Kerem: Yeah, so we follow the local, state, and federal movements very, very closely. So the $150 million is part and parcel of the allocation to the state of Maine coming through the American Recovery Act. The total bill for the state of Maine to create infrastructure, brought high-speed broadband infrastructure, to unserved areas or underserved areas is about $600 million. The total bill for the state of Maine, including the served areas, which essentially includes the Metro areas that are served by the cable companies, is about a billion. So the $150 million is going to go a fairly long way. It’s going to make a nice dent in those areas, which are served by DSL. Stuff over phone lines where you can barely actually read your email, thanks to the infrastructure that’s essentially rotting out under everybody’s feet. So I think it’s a good thing.

The key thing for the state is to leverage that with private capital, is to leverage that with all sorts of other incentives that may be offered, so that you can get closer and closer and closer to fulfilling that $600 million need. In that sense, it’s a tectonic transformative change. Never before in the state of Maine has ever such an investment been made in infrastructure for the internet. And if you look at it from a sort of a comparative point of view. So the ConnectME Authority, which is the authority – it’s been about 10 years – that has been entrusted with dispersing funds from state coffers to do high speed internet in rural areas in Maine, which is where the significant population demand is, is about a million dollars a year over the last 10.

So now we’re going about 15x that. And this $150m is obviously in addition to the $15 million bond that was passed by the voters last year. So you’re looking at essentially a step function change in terms of the monies that are available to build infrastructure. Now, one could argue, you can always do more because other States are either equivalent or doing more. But this is a massive, massive, massive, big step.

Rich: Okay, so it’s good news. Could be more, but it’s definitely a good start. And it’s going to help a lot of people in underserved or unserved areas of the state.

Kerem: Correct.

Rich: Why do you feel that broadband is so important to Maine and the U.S?

Kerem: So, if you look at it, there’s two very viable, joyful data points from the past. There’s a rule edification program, which was done in the 1920s and early thirties, which essentially wired up all of the United States to participate in electricity. In fact, the stuff that we’re doing for broadband relies in leverages on that infrastructure that was built in the 1920s, the poles. All the poles that you have your electricity running through are the same poles that have high-speed broadband fiber optic cables run through. Are the same poles that the telephone wires run through. There’s a lot of stuff on those polls that were put up in the 1920s and 1930s. So that was one huge, large project.

The second one was the National Interstate Highway Transport System, that was in the 1950s, which essentially linked all what I would say Metro tier one, tier two, tier three areas altogether. Otherwise we’d still be driving on crappy roads. So this is the sort of the third instantiation of a large infrastructure that connects people together in a way that is 21st century oriented.

So without high speed internet, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. People will not be able to participate in tele-health. They can’t do remote work. They can’t do distance learning. They can’t see the transparency of the local governments who are participating in online town hall meetings or doing their car registrations online. Infrastructure today defines civilization. And that infrastructure, other than water, power, sewer, and roads, is broadband.

And that realization has happened now because of the pandemic. Because everybody sort of went verklempt. There was an ‘oh crap’ moment. Because everybody realized that the existing infrastructure were telephone poles. The BSL infrastructure is simply inadequate, is simply nonfunctional in today’s day and age. Even the cable infrastructure has issues with it, the cable co-ax infrastructure still has issues with it. So if we are to build infrastructure that is going to be respectful towards the dreams and aspirations of not just the next generation, but three generations from now, we have to build stuff that allows for the consumption of information at very large scale. The consumption of what I would say commerce, the consumption of knowledge at very, very large scales in a very efficient way. And in an affordable way, it has to be fricking affordable. We can’t spend $130, $140, $150 bucks on getting an internet connection. It will not work. Because other than the fact that it’s a pain in the butt for you and me to pay that bill, there’s a significant amount of population in the United States and in Maine that can’t afford that. And we just can’t say, well, you know what? That’s okay. They’ll have to figure a way out. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. It is not their job to figure it out. It’s all our jobs to figure it out but make it affordable and make it accessible. Because at the end of the day, if we don’t do that, the economic divide that we have currently that exists, that is an existential threat to the way we live to the way democracy functions, it’s even wider and wider and wider.

And you know, my background is obviously from the third world and developing countries. If you do not take care of certain things at the point of origin of that separation, in the terms of kinetic divide, that chasm does not close. It gets wider and wider and wider, and then society starts to fray upon itself. So I think it’s our moral, ethical, and financial obligation to make sure that everybody, everybody is connected, that there’s no red lining that there’s no exclusion. And those are some very complicated, problems and challenges. It’s this curious intersection between policy tech regulation and consumer. I do think it’s a calling of our generation to be able to try to fix that up.

The other thing is that, and I don’t want to digress too much, but also remember that in our ability to get high-speed broadband connected, there is also a climate impact change. It makes us drive less, which is huge. It makes us use less power, which is huge. So those are the things that have macro impacts that we don’t tend to realize. But if you multiply it across not just the 1.3 million citizens of Maine, but 331 million citizens of the United States, you’re talking about massive leverage points that impact all these dimensions at the same time.

So that’s why we need it. It’s a non-negotiable, it’s just absolutely non-negotiable. We need it now.

Rich: Kerem, you mentioned earlier that the DSL lines and even the cable lines have shortcomings. Like they just, they’re not able to handle the data needs that we have now in the state and in the country.

What are we doing with the $150 million plus, like what does the physical product that we’re talking about look like? And how do we know that it’s not going to be out of date in 10 or 15 years?

Kerem: Great question.

Rich: Thanks. I just literally thought of it. It was not one of my questions.

Kerem: So the exact rules about the $150 million are going to get determined by the connectivity authority, which is getting set up by Governor Mills, impetus and inclusion in a bill that’s actually currently being discussed. So the rules will get established. There will be an auditory governance and fiduciary functions of that authority, so that there’ll be tracking, there’ll be reporting. The rules that will govern the eligibility of the way that funds are going to be used, I suspect, will be well thought out, will rely on the years and years of what the ConnectME Authority has done for rules and eligibility. There’s a lot of federal programs that have determined in the past what rules and eligibilities are. So I suspect there’ll be a good amount of learning to say okay, here’s what we need to do now.

So in your house today, Rich, if you look outside – depending on where you are – you have essentially a cable line or even a phone line coming to the side of your house. And so it’s just the box. That box then kicks in the wire to the inside of your house. And if it’s a cable, it comes to the side of the wall, and you connect your router, your modem, and you’re off to the races. The fiber optic cable is going to be essentially the same thing. It’s going to be a fiber optic cable coming from the pole, the closest pole to your house. And if you’re in a neighborhood that has underground conduit, it’ll be there. It’ll come out from there and go to the outside of your house. And instead of a box that takes the cable co-ax, it will be a box that takes the fiber optic cable. And it’ll have a jump connector and you just connect it. It will look pretty similar.

And then into the inside of your house, it will get wired and companies like ourselves and other ISPs do this all day, every day. It will come inside your house and there is a Wi-Fi and just your standard Wi-Fi modem and router that fiber optic cable will pump right into just to connect, very similar.

Rich: From the consumer side it sounds like nothing in my life is going to change. I’m just kind of curious about you know, we laid down these fiber lines and what we think is more than adequate amounts of data transfer today, turns out to be a trickle in tomorrow’s world. Because suddenly Zoom is in 3D and holograms and also includes smells and odors or whatever it is.

Kerem: I’m looking forward to the day when my hologram is right there in front of you, pontificating about the joys of digital inclusion. But so comparatively speaking, so fiber optic cables are glass. So today you can transfer a gigabit up and a gigabit down without breaking even a sweat.

So on a cable co-ax, on the best day, it’s 400 megabits down and 20 megabits up. Now, what do those megabits mean? So essentially if you are on Netflix and if you have five people watching Netflix at the same time, just at the same time, the 20 megabit upload, you will choke it. So if you have five kids on a Zoom call going to class on 20 megabits upload, you’ll choke it. You’ll get to the wheel of death. You’ll keep on watching it until you hypnotize yourself and believe that Alex Trebeck is coming back to host Jeopardy. God bless his soul because I loved that guy.

So that’s it. But on a gigabit by gigabit, you will not even notice that. So you can have 20 kids, 30 kids, or you can have a house party and they go to all be on Zoom driving each other bananas, they’re not going to feel that.

Now the thing is, that’s a gigabit by gigabit. The possibility that it’s a terabit by terabit, which is a thousand times that, has already been established. So it’s going to be a while, even with the imagination is what it is, Star Trek, Jean-Luc Picard again, God bless his soul. You know, I love the guy though he’s not dead yet, by the way, I just love the guy. I just love the guy. I just want to bless his soul because I just love the guy. By the time we get to the Star Trek realization, we may be going by a terabyte by terabyte or a petabyte by petabyte, which is even more than that. The thing about glass is at the speed of light, you are not limited other than the speed of light in terms of transmission. So it is going to be a while before we choke that system.

So the physical infrastructure off the fiber optic cable is estimated to be between 40 to 60 years. So the electronics on the other hand, that can change any day. It gives us flexibility. Look at it this way, the electric city, the wires that today allow us to consume electricity were set in the 1910s. We’re still using it, there’s enough capacity. We’re never going to blow by it. So those are some comparatives. So don’t be nervous. Rich.

Rich: I will try not to be nervous.

Kerem: Don’t be nervous. You will live. You will live as a cyborg connected to the computer and you’ll be fine. Okay. You’ll be fine.

Rich: So let’s talk let’s bring this back to business here in the state. What benefits would broadband bring to companies here in Maine, especially in the South where we already have connectivity? Like, why should we care about this if we’re already well connected down here in the South?

Kerem: Well, a couple of good reasons. One is competition is always a good thing. So it’s highly unlikely that the $150 million is probably going to get diverted to larger spots in Southern Maine because it’s served, right? However, companies like us and whole bunch of our sisters and brothers believe that competition is a good thing. And so we are also focused on how do we bring fiber optic connections to Southern Maine. Because at some point the business community, or even the residential community in Southern Maine, is going to go and say, look, I want choice, I want affordability, and I want to be part of an infrastructure that has a certain amount of runway still left to it.

So even though we are served today, we are not going to be possibly doing that well in the next 5 10, 15 years. Also, there’s a sense of equity. So if your neighbors an hour up the road have a fiber optic connection that’s as good as New York City, or Miami, or Chicago, or San Francisco, well, why shouldn’t Portland? Why shouldn’t South Portland? Why be exclusionary? Right. In exclusion lies stupidity and ignorance, and that’s always a one-way ticket to be nowhere. So that’s why everybody needs it now.

The responsibility of bringing it in Southern Maine and making sure that the citizens of Southern Maine habit, that pretty much rests on the free market. You don’t need subsidies to do that. You want the free market to be able to do that. And so you have a bunch of people trying to think that through.

So it’s not a zero sum game, and it should never be a zero sum game. So there are people thinking that through so that everybody in the state of Maine has it. Also there are parts in Portland, there are parts of South Portland, there are parts of Scarborough or wherever, you know, these areas that are Metro-ish, Biddeford, Saco, Wells, that do not have decent connections, even though they’re supposed to. There are communities of color or immigrants that don’t have it because telecommunications in the past have gone by those low-income areas, even in those so called Metro geographies. So it is a tragedy in a sense that we have these perceptions of connectivity just based purely on geography. And that’s not necessarily true. It doesn’t hold true all the time.

Rich: Kerem, we’re coming out of COVID – knock on wood – and one of the things that we’ve seen is a lot of people from other parts of the country moving to Maine, probably because it seemed like it was a safe idea, a lot of people wanting to work remote. What impact has that had on the push for broadband, and what kind of impact if we do get this fiber optic throughout the state, what impact might that have on the state’s economy? Especially in terms of attracting high knowledge workers, high-end knowledge workers who might want to work remotely from places from Wells to Calais?

Kerem: Sure. I think that’s a good question. So I think it’s accurate to say that if companies and the industry pre-pandemic thought that we had about 10 -15 years to bring high speed fiber optic broadband infrastructure to all of the United States. I think that would have been an accurate assumption, just based on just historical trends. So fiber optics infrastructure got started actually built about 10, 15 years old, even prior to that. The backbone that connects cell towers, it’s actually fiber optic. So fiber optic has been around for a while. It’s just that it’s being utilized in a significantly different way. Fiber optic connections for businesses. Has been around for a while, but never at the so called the residential consumer level.

So even we thought, I remember we have documentation where we thought we have about seven to 10 years to try to do this. The pandemic essentially contracted the down by half and the reason. And the reason is because the pandemic was the catalyst that changed. The psychology of 331 million Americans, which is, oh my God I have to exist in a different way. I have to communicate in a different way. I have to manage my life in a different way. And so the consumer behavior got changed because of that tectonic event.

For all the education, for all the conversation, for all the marketing, for all of that, pre- pandemic the conversations and the consumer sensitivity to infrastructure was always at a low. Call it low tepid percolation. Because we are human beings until the temperature is turned right outside, you know, up and calamity is on our forehead, we tend not to react. That is humanity at its finest when it comes to our evolution. But when everything is going to crap, we then get into gear. And that’s what happened. So the pandemic essentially raised that percolation to a boil.

Now, what are the implications of that? I forget what the GDP of Maine is. I know it was  close to 48 or 49 billion. 144,000 businesses in the state of Maine of which 77% – and this data is about two, three, four years old – 77% of those 144,000 companies are 20 employees or less. So small business. Our heart and our soul is small business. But also realize that the economic lever relies on commerce. And that commerce has a fulcrum on it by exchanging goods and services, not just on a state level, regional level, but national and global level. It just so happens at a national and global level, in order for you to participate in 21st century economy. most of its digital and most of it requires a high-speed connection.

If you are in Machias and you want to sell your services and goods to the UK, you need a high-speed internet connection so that your website is viewable, and you can communicate with those customers. Or that you can run payroll with a company that may be in Bangor. And so then you need a high-speed connection. So these things become a day-to-day occurrence that when you multiply that by 1.3 million people in Maine, you can see that the impact is far and wide.

The whole idea of having an economic factor coming in, which is inbound immigration, is really important, Rich. Because the birth rate of the native Maine population is on the decline. So if you look at the latest census data, the amount of people we gained in the last 10 years is actually the lowest in the region and one of the lowest in the country. That does not bode well if we cannot change that trend. You need people and humans to be able to construct a society that do things together.

And so in order to do that, you need to be able to do two things. One is encourage inculcate and incentivize population in migration. And the second thing is you need to inculcate incentivize the population that’s already here, like immigrant population, and say you can participate in the economy. All those things require infrastructure. So if you have a young family from Chicago or New York, or wherever, Massachusetts, that wants to move in here, they will definitely only move if there’s high speed broadband connection. If you ask real estate agents, now there is an enormous sensitivity to say, what is the connection here?

Rich: So just in the way that people ask for schools, they’re asking about it.

Kerem: Absolutely. And now you have areas which may have been traditionally disregarded in terms of movement of population demographics now becoming attractive centers.

Look, there’s only so many things you can do in Portland in terms of housing, or in Scarborough, or in Biddeford, right? At some point population, and the U.S. is full of examples, it will go outward bound. And when you go outward bound you need infrastructure. So, if you want to make it attractive for people to be able to bring in their families, especially young families, that has to be that infrastructure.

Additionally, we have to be in a position where we can excite our next generation. We have got these bright, beautiful, smart, forward-leaning kids who want to do a crap load of stuff. In order for them to do that, there needs to be infrastructure, right? If you want to go and design games, you can’t do it on a DSL connection. If you want to do the next startup and do molecular genomics, you can’t do that on a DSL connection. You can’t even do that on a cable quest connection, frankly. So in order to do that, we have to show them that our gift and our trust and our responsibility is building infrastructure that they can leverage for the future. Then they can say like my kids tell me, you are screwing it up, so fix it. And I’m saying, well, I’m going to be able to hopefully do something to some point, but I can sort of give you enough so that you can then do the things that you want to do. So I think it’s that social contract that I think we would really, really, really need to have.

Oh, by the way, you know, this whole idea of democracy and social contact is very dependent on infrastructure. Because infrastructure allows us to get into relationships. We think that businesses sort of transactional as one transaction at a time, it’s actually not, it’s a human relationship. You can’t have a human relationship on a crappy DSL connection. Your conversations don’t go anywhere. You’re just watching it in a frozen screen. And these are really some very small things that really impact that ability to actually do business together or be together.

Rich: You’ve laid out a really good rational on why this is so valuable and so important. Is there a role for the average business owner in Maine to move this agenda forward? Or is this really something that’s just up to broadband companies and the legislature to make it happen? Like, can I do anything about this or is this just something that’s going on that I can read about in the news?

Kerem: No, I think you can certainly do something about it. So in Maine, the Maine Broadband Coalition is the coalition. That is the voice of the consumer. You. It’s the voice of the consumer at the legislative level and at the decision-making level. It is important to realize that the legislature in Maine is a citizen legislature. People need to be educated about the demand and about the need and about what they’re going to do with it. So the legislature cannot, it’s just too much to be able to understand, Rich, your needs. Why do you, that is involved in all the glorious things that you and your company are involved with – marketing, communications, articulation – why do you need a decent internet connection? Because God knows if you didn’t, you won’t be able to hire your colleagues. You won’t be able to work with your peers, and your customers would sure be going nuts at you because you couldn’t get on a video call to do the things you once said you were going to do, or share those large files, or share the website mock-ups or the marketing ideas, right? So you need to be able to articulate that. So the Maine Broadband Coalition is one.

But the interesting thing is the legislature has also realized that they need to be able to be the recipient of that. So it’s not just a coalition, but if you today called up your legislature and said, “This is why it’s important”, I bet you $1,000 they said, “I know. And tell me more.” Whereas a year ago to five years ago, that would have been a very, very different conversation.

So the way you get involved is yes, absolutely get your communication out to your legislature, get involved with the coalition, because that’s how the policies are going to get written up. And once they get written up, the impact is far and wide also from a timescale point of view. So you are empowered, absolutely empowered.

Now, if you are a resident in a place that wants that kind of an infrastructure and you’re enormously frustrated, get the flag out and start screaming, articulate it. Whether it’s to the coalition, whether it’s your legislature, your municipal leaders. in Maine, there’s a magnificent law actually, which allows municipal broadband to be deployed. So if a municipality says, “Nobody’s listening to me, I’m sick of it.” They can actually take the wheel of the bus and do it themselves. The law actually allows them for it. I mean, there’s a lot of nuance there, but it does that. It’s one of the first ones in the country actually to do that. So if you believe that you should have net neutrality or data privacy as the operating principles of your infrastructure, you can do that, Rich. Because that’s actually on the law. That’s one of the things that GWI championed with our friends.

So there’s a bunch of stuff that’s already in play that allows you to be in charge of your own destiny. It’s not easy. It takes expertise. It takes time, money, energy. Yeah, absolutely. But it doesn’t mean that one has to be stuck in neutral and get enormously frustrated and rip their hair out.

Rich: What was the name of the organization you mentioned by the way?

Kerem: Maine Broadband Coalition.

Rich: I want to make sure that we link to that in the show notes for anybody who’s interested in that. Kerem, there’s a question we ask all the guests here on the podcast and I’m curious to get your take on it. What one thing would you change if you could to improve the business ecosystem here in Maine?

Kerem: Other than becoming Aladdin the genie so I can do all sorts of cool things? Start singing like Frank Sinatra and make a movie like Interstellar. I digress. So what would I do? I would do, it’s a one answer with a two-parter. What I would do is tell the citizens of Maine that our future lies in inclusion and diversity ,and changing a little bit of the rules that we have played with. I’m enormously, enormously, enormously passionate about the B Corp certification program. So a B Corp certification allows a company to use principles that put the consumer in the middle of the decision-making process, the environment, and the community. And companies like Tom’s of Maine and Ben and Jerry’s, Patagonia, are B Corps. So GWI became the first ever B Corp telecommunications carrier in the United States last year. And B Corp’s do exist in Maine. In fact, we’re going to be launching a website, which is pretty cool. So there’s about 10 or 11 companies in Maine, Coffee by Design is one of them. Allagash.

Rich: My friendly competitors over at iBec are either a B Corp or well on their way to becoming one.

Kerem: And what does that do? So essentially, what we’re saying is in order for you to be a viable, sustainable business that respects the consumer and allocates a responsibility from us to them to say, we’re going to do good things, you need to be a B Corp. So people have the adage of people, planet, profit, doing good. B Corp allows you to do it in a very regimented way. Extremely regimented, reportable, auditable way. So you can hold our feet to the fire and say, “Kerem, you said you were going to do that and your reporting shows you didn’t. So as somebody in the community that said you’re going to serve, you need to do that.” So it’s corporate leadership that is like servant leadership. And I think that’s enormously important. It’s enormously important because in the 21st century, we cannot operate under the principles that the 20th century were governed by. We cannot pillage the consumer. We cannot just do things only for the purpose of is off the bottom line. You just cannot. It’s immoral and unethical.

So you cannot have wage disparities by orders of magnitude. You can’t screw the planet in order to make the buck. You can’t tell your employees something and do something else. You can’t tell your vendors to do something, and then you go behind them. You cannot, it’s just not right. And so the B Corp certification allows companies to be able to say, “You know what, we respect these guardrails, and this is what we’re going to do. So we’re not just talking about it. We’re actually doing.”

And so for me, if I were a one-on-one, I would make it so that everybody in the state of Maine knew what the value of a B Corp was. Because they would only buy from B Corp companies. When I did that one, I would also want all of the companies that had the intention of doing good, become B Corp. And as I did that one, I would also say, inclusion and diversity in our business communities is the absolute vital necessity. The world is not homogenous. The way we deal with each other is not homogenous. We are a heterogeneous, massively complicated, culture building, oriented society in the United States. And here in Maine, in our corner of the world, as glorious it is, as peaceful as it is, we need to lean in and be inclusive.

The whole idea of saying you are not from here and you’ll never be from here, it’s toxic to the core, it is destructive. And what it does, it actually is a lazy person’s argument of exclusion. So, if we are to say to our kids and their kids, that you can have a world where you can participate equally, fervently, and with a desire to do global change even at the local level, we need to be inclusive. So within that one, it’s a big one. You said you have one, one with that sweep, that’s what I would do. Because there is so much economic potential in doing so. Huge. And so why wouldn’t we. Why would we self-limit ourselves? Why would we just want to be just the insular and looking down? We shouldn’t. Lift our heads up. Let’s move forward, lean in, and become a B Corp and be inclusive and diverse.

So that’s what would be my wish. I mean, then there’s a whole trailing edge of all other wishes, but that’s the one I would start with.

Rich: Awesome. Kerem, this has been great. I always enjoy our conversations. For people who want to learn more about you, GWI, or anything else you shared with us today, where can we send them online?

Kerem: is a great place to go to. If people want to know more about me, they can Google me, actually, and find out. They could reach out to you. You know, you could always say nice things about me.

Rich: I think I will.

Kerem: There’s a bunch of videos. If they search me, they can watch a whole bunch of videos about me. But is a good place to start.

Rich: All right, Kerem. Thank you so much for your time today. It’s been a great conversation.

Kerem: Thank you so much, Rich. You’re very, very kind to have me very, very kind of you.