Podcast: Alexandre Mars, How Epic Foundation Innovates Philanthropy

Alexandre Mars, CEO & Founder, Epic Foundation

As with any startup opportunity, when the serial and successful tech entrepreneur Alexander Mars decided in 2013 to tackle philanthropy, he had to identify the market gap. Turns out, he already knew it: The disconnect, as he describes, between how much we want to give and how much we actually give.

The challenge, of course: How to bridge the gap. Mars’ answer: Just like a business.

He gathered specialists in international development, social impact, open innovation, design thinking and technology to develop an industry-leading due diligence process to build and manage a portfolio of high impact social organizations.

Beyond the intense due diligence, Epic also leverages startup and business thinking into its fundraising and donor relations, from integrating into corporations’ payroll systems to enable voluntary and automated employee giving to using virtual reality technology to bring the on-site philanthropy experiences to life.

The result is Epic, a global non-profit investing in nearly 30 organizations in more than 10 countries, including groups that provide free legal and social support advocacy to abused and neglected children in New York, intervene in Mumbai’s red light areas to end intergenerational trafficking, run children’s hospice in the UK, and others.

More about Epic’s CEO and Founder Alexandre Mars, who over the past 20 years has launched and sold multiple companies in the internet, mobile marketing and social media industries, as well as founding blisce/, a venture firm focused on helping entrepreneurs build mission-driven global consumer brands and technology companies.

In what appears to be his spare time, the French native was named among Town & Country’s Top 50 philanthropists, and among “the 50 most influential French people” by Vanity Fair. In 2019, he was named a knight of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian award order.

Transcript: Alexandre Mars, How Epic Foundation Innovates Philanthropy

Chris Riback: Alexandre, thanks for joining me. I appreciate your time.

Alexandre Mars: Thank you for having me.

Chris Riback: So Epic is described as a global nonprofit startup that fights to change the lives of disadvantaged youth. So you had to start small, huh? You couldn’t find a big bodacious, you couldn’t set the bar high. You had to really start small?

Alexandre Mars Giving: Purpose is the New CurrencyAlexandre Mars: I think that’s being an entrepreneur, it’s at least for me, it’s you take something and you say, how can I have this impact? When I was an entrepreneur, a tech entrepreneur before, it was the same. I started as something small but my goal was very clear. How can I become big? And in that case is even just better because if we can become big, if we can become successful, we’ll change lives. And it’s not a new app, it’s not a new website. It’s changing real life. So we have to be successful and we have to be big.

Chris Riback: Do people find it inspiring, the people that you need bring along? Or is it intimidating, they say, “Alex, it’s all right, you’re a little naïve.”

People want something different. It’s not only this, no one cares about the number of zeros in your bank account. That was the “Me Generation.” But now it’s different. When we say purpose is the new currency, [it’s] the millennials and you, we know them. They have different aspirations, they want something different. But that at the core of what they are, they are the “We Generation.” They want to share. They want to structure something different, and they are pushing us.

Alexandre Mars: I think it’s a mix. Being naïve is fine I do think, but there’s no other way. What is the way out, Chris? What else we can do? Do we have to sit and wait for someone else to do the work? Or are we doing the work? And when I see outside the window what’s happening, we have to do the work, and we have to push hard.

The truth is we started with the market research. When I started Epic, I wasn’t just saying, let’s change the world and let’s be happy and friends. It was something different, Chris. I want to see people like you, like the people who are listening today saying, “What’s happening, what are you doing?” And I always ask two questions. Was the market research a real one? I want to see people. I said, two questions.

One, have you given time or money to any social organizations last year? Answer, yes, all the time, 100%. Then I start asking a different question. Chris, do you think you have given enough? And you know what? 95% of the people will answer, no. And for me it was as an entrepreneur, the start of everything. When you’re an entrepreneur, you know this, you’re always looking for two points. Point A, where people are. Point B, where people want to be. If the gap between those two points is pretty wide, then maybe you can build something. Again, the gap, the two points we are there, we are doing, but everyone, everyone, Chris, knows that we are not doing enough. So let’s bring solutions. Let’s do the work. Let’s try to understand why and let’s fix this.

Chris Riback:Purpose is the new currency.” What does that mean?

Alexandre Mars: It’s very true.

Chris Riback: What does it mean?

Alexandre Mars: I think 20 years ago when we were in college or high school, the world was maybe different, and the currency was the money, dollars.

Chris Riback: Currency was currency.

Alexandre Mars: What’s happening? What happened the last two years? People want something different. It’s not only this, no one cares about the number of zeros in your bank account. That was the “Me Generation.” That was the generation from before. I want you to have this office by myself, I want you have this big car. But now it’s different. We are looking for purpose and if I want to hire you, if I want to retain you, if I want to sell product to you, Chris, I need to give something different. I need to provide purpose.

It’s an interesting thing, when we say purpose is the new currency and that’s the title my book, it came, where’s the millennials and you, we know them. They have different aspirations, they want something different. But that at the core of what they are, they are the “We Generation.” They want to share. They want to structure something different and they are pushing us.

Chris Riback: I want to ask you about Epic and the mission and how you put that, how you take that vision, the vision of helping, that audacious, crazy vision that you had that should have intimidated everyone but instead inspired them? And how do you operationalize that in everything you’ve done?

But to follow up on this one point that you just made, I was really struck. You tell the story in your book and I’m wondering if for you, was this the aha moment realization about that generation, about the generational change, about the change from the me generation to the we generation, as you put it, was when you interviewed, there was the young man that you interviewed for a role at your tech holding company. And was he Dominican born, I believe, and he had served in the U.S. Army. But that interview really made you see things, I don’t know if it made you see things differently or if it brought home what you already were seeing, but that was a quite a telling interview, wasn’t it?

Alexandre Mars: Yes, it was. He was 25 and the conversation was pretty amazing. 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, even five years ago, the same conversation with someone was looking for a job in the tech or in the P industry, the finance industry was about money, about just power, about just the car, something different. And now the point for him is, yes, I will get there, maybe I will make more money, but I will use this money for good reasons. And the thing is, but just you mentioned that we in the me generation, the me generation, a goal or making money was the ends, for the me generation is more a mean to an end. It’s a totally different conversation and then it’s a totally different ballgame.

Chris Riback: Which is what his answer was to you. So your question to him was, why do you want to work here? And instead of getting the usual, you got, because I want to be able to, I forget his exact, his exact phrasing was really elegant. But it was something like, “I want to be successful,” maybe that might not have been his word, “So that I can help others.”

Alexandre Mars: But that, even if I’m just spending most of my time on Epic, I see I have an investment fund.

Chris Riback:  A day job.

Alexandre Mars: Now it’s overnight job, because maybe it’s a…

Chris Riback: A night job, yes.


Alexandre Mars: But it’s, the thing is, and we are investors’ shoulders of the Pinterest and Spotify and Bird, and in many great startups, but very similarly, we don’t do this just to make more money or to buy a new car or two more boats. It’s what kind of power this can bring us. And I realized very early on in my life that power will come with money. The thing is, who are you? What’s your mission, Chris? Why are you doing what you are doing? Why are you interviewing me? Why you are building what you’re building? If you don’t have this mission. So for years, even decades, my generation, we were blind, we were half blind. We were just, okay, we do this because we have to do it. But why?

And the good thing is, we have changed. Not only the millennials were talking about them, but everyone, everyone. Everyone is asking, why? And it’s a good question. Now, how can you answer this about the start of Epic. When I started Epic a few years back was, we know that we need to change the lives of those underserved. The underprivileged that you mentioned at the very start, the unlucky from day one, that’s how I call them. If we don’t help them, their life will be hard if it’s not miserable. To change this, we need to change the mindset.

So A, when to give the trust back. That’s the first conversations I had when I started Epic, during the market research. People were telling me, Alex, I will love doing more, but I don’t trust social organizations. I don’t trust NGOs. I don’t know what they will be doing with my money. B, I have no time. C, I have, I don’t have the knowledge. So you know what? I will do stuff, I will understand more. So I will give to my school, to my kids’ school. I will give to my church, synagogue, just temple. I will give to my hospital when I will get older. Because it’s when you give it, there’s always a counter giving. It’s normal. Humans are humans, sometimes selfish, and it’s normal.

And then we said, okay, but if you want to go broader than this, what would be missing? And people always answered, trust. How can I trust that the money I will give, I would donate, will have the impact? And that’s the start of Epic. We need to fix this. And was the tools of 2019, 2020, 2021, that’s pretty easy. So that’s the start of Epic.

Last year we have analyzed for more than 4,000 applications from social organizations and NGOs. After eight months of work, 45 data points, impact, governance, leadership, everything you would look at if you were just close to you in there somewhere, we do the same. Why should it be different in the nonprofit world than in the for profit world? And after eight months of work we had selected five. So it’s very hard to become part of the Epic portfolio.

Chris Riback: We can have a full conversation I think on trust and the evolution, and perhaps even in a way, devolution of trust, and some of the very tools that you’re talking about that can help connect us, can help engage trust, can help us in the way that you at Epic use digital tools like VR to help donors realize the impact that they’re making.

At the same time, you face perhaps, and I’m wondering how you think about this, a bit of a challenge because those very same tools are sowing distrust in societies and there’s a tension there. I guess your job is to wrestle them as a force for good, and work against the negative side.

Alexandre Mars: So is that the question or just-

Chris Riback: An observation? It’s whatever you would like it to be. It’s definitely an observation. I mean, I think that that tension exists.

Alexandre Mars: Yes, but still, when you are asking people, why you don’t trust social organizations and answers across the world were always the same, because you remember this scandal two years ago, even 20 years ago. I had meetings with people, they were saying, “You remember 20 years ago, remember they did something wrong.” I said, yes, I understand this, but we needed to understand if it was more excuses or new reasons not to give.

And then at the time I said, maybe we should find a notation agency like, and I was looking at this at the very start of Epic. If you want to trust, would you trust in your business life and notation agencies and maybe some PE firms like Sequoia. So I would connect Sequoia like a good example. If you want to invest money in the tech world, you will just pick Sequoia, and you’re pretty sure that you will see your money back. The money will be well used and well invested. Then I was looking at this Sequoia for philanthropists, and it should exist. And as you know, it doesn’t exist. So that’s why I said to myself, let’s build one, if it should exist, it doesn’t exist, I will build it.

That’s barely Epic, Epic would build. This was this vision of trust and of selection. So the way it works, every year we start at the very start of the year looking at amazing NGOs across the world, tackling youth issues, education, protection, economic empowerment, all of. And we do this in five regions around the world. The U.S. for sure, but we are in other regions. I’ll give you an example. Last year we have analyzed for more than 4,000 applications from social organizations and NGOs. After eight months of work, 45 data points, impact, governance, leadership, everything you would look at if you were just close to you in there somewhere, we do the same. Why should it be different in the nonprofit world than in the for profit world? And after eight months of work we had selected five. So it’s very hard to become part of the Epic portfolio.

But doing this and after I can come to see you as a donor and say, we have done the work. The organizations we’re selecting are top notch in term of important things impact in terms of governance, in term of leadership.

Chris Riback: What are impact solutions versus giving solutions?

Alexandre Mars: So the impact solutions, in a way, it’s when you give money somewhere, you are sure that your money will have such a big impact. So it’s really just finding the right organizations and funneling the money to these organizations. The giving solutions are I’d say more for businesses, for corporate America, for those big organizations saying, we’re a bit lost. Because people are asking something different. When I have these conversations with this from this big organizations, they are telling me, “We have three issues, Alex. The first one, recruiting.” It’s harder and harder to go after any schools and say come join us because they want something different. It’s hard to retain them, even if you are able to get them, retaining them is super hard. That’s on one hand.

Second part, selling products. You still want to have customers, but customers now, they want something different. Again, 10 or 15 years ago, we were different. It’s hard because people can go deep in who you are. And the third issue they are facing is at home with your kids, with their kids, because whoever was listening to us as a kid between 15 and 25, 15 and 30, what are you telling them during the dinner when the question is, “Mom, dad, tell me, Chris, how was your day today?” Do you think we still answer, “I did this, my business grow.”

Chris Riback: “I made a hundred widgets. We increased profit margin by 0.01%.”

Alexandre Mars: Yes, and it was barely just what we were saying for years and years, and the former generation was doing the same.

This generation, they want something different. I remember this conversation, it was in London, was huge corporation coming to see us after an event where I was talking and he came to see me and he said, “I came because of my daughter.” I said, what do you mean by this? “My daughter, she, I need to find an internship for her every year. So two years ago she went through this, last year to this firm and this year I came to see her.” I said, okay darling, where you want to go? And the daughter answers two things. One, “Dad, I will find my internship myself.” Good. But the second answer was even more interesting. “It will be for a nonprofit.” So what happened in that minutes? The dad, and that’s all the Darwin. Remember Darwin, people can adapt to, they have to adapt themselves if they want you to survive.

The dad realized two things. One, if he wants to keep having this deep connection with the daughter, you have to understand what this new world means. Secondly, the daughter is his next customer, and he can lose a daughter, it would be bad, but it will also maybe potentially lose ground if he doesn’t understand what the customers of tomorrow will want.

Chris Riback: Listening to you, it feels like you offer organizations, CEOs, leaders, not so much a path to philanthropy, but something of a path to survival, business survival, human survival, personal survival.

Alexandre Mars: I like this. I will tell you, I was offered to give the opening speech at the B7. You remember just the G7 every year?

Chris Riback: Yes.

Alexandre Mars: And the month before there is a B7. So business leaders, like government leaders, are just together. And it was last July, and I started with the opening speech, and what I told them was super direct but super clear. I said. you have two options, back to what you just said, two options. A, you become the next Nokia. Remember Nokia, Chris, like everyone else, in ’07, Nokia had 50% market share.

Chris Riback: Yes, crazy, yes, yes.

Alexandre Mars: It’s not crazy, it’s insane, 50%. Now, 0.1. Why? Because it didn’t see coming. It was on the technology side, the iPhone and many other things. What I was telling them, I said, you can become the next Nokia, not because of the new tech disruptor. No, it’s the social disruption coming. And the day you are not able to recruit the right people, the day they will stop buying your product, you are off market. And it’s interesting, because that’s exactly what you just said. The world has changed so much and you can take this, let’s take the banking industry, tech aspiration or good money to new banks in the U.S., it’s not like new banks, but with purpose.

So if you have to pick, you, if you are 25 or 20 or 28, if you have to pick a new bank, do you think you will find what we are doing together, “I want to find one with a branch close to my home.” Who is going to a branch these days? But plus, it’s all technology, but with purpose. So you are in trouble. And pretty sure it’s harder when you’re an old business because it’s more change.

Chris Riback: Starting to change your model. Everything, operationally, your whole model is built around the old way. Nokia’s model was built around what existed up to that point.

Alexandre Mars: So if for sure it’s easier if we start up still, you can lose a lot. So yes, so the truth is, people now start realizing that they need to do something. And it’s not CSR you know this industry so well. CSR is BS. How can you imagine that, your employees or your customers will connect with you just because you are signing a check at the end of the year? There’s no connection. So you need to connect social good within the core, within your business, your own business. That building what we are doing was many, many different businesses that we have labs in Europe and in the U.S. And what we’re doing with those labs is, okay, how can we make this the norm? How can we just build this sharing vision as the norm? And for sure, when we are able to do this, you are pushing not only the limit, but you’re pushing people to think maybe slightly differently.

Chris Riback: It’s truly a path to survival. It’s an opportunity to reinvent your business as usual, your standard operating procedure, without being a startup, kind of on the fly. It’s almost like a fresh opportunity that it offers in the areas where businesses really need to make a difference.

Two aspects of what you and Epic have done that I want to ask you about and then move to a different area, kind of operational components. One is, the sharing pledge. So what is, was the sharing pledge? How did you come to the concept? How has it worked? What reaction do you get? What’s the sharing pledge?

Alexandre Mars: Great question. Two years ago, yes, I think two years ago, we got entrepreneurs coming, said, “We love Epic and we’ll give. But we’ll give when we’ll go public. We’ll give when we’ll be acquired.” And that’s fair. But then we said, you know what, why not pledging the future? It costs nothing. But it’s systemic. At Epic, if on the one end, we’re trying to find, and we work so hard to find almost the most impactful social organizations across the world, when you have found those organizations, you need to fund them. You need to finance them. So that’s the other part.

And the other part of it, we need to change systems. I love if tomorrow, Chris, you say, “I love what you do at Epic. I will sign a check.” And yes, please sign a check. But this is not systemic. To make things systemic, we need to change systems. And I always said, a big system we can’t change is this industry of entrepreneurs of the tech industry. So don’t wait to make money to be part of the movement. So we started ringing up their entrepreneurs saying, “Join us. Sign something, it could be 1%, two, five, whatever you feel good about. And it’s always about this limit. When you give for us is very important. Don’t give above your pain point.”

So for me, every time I have conversations with someone, I’m always saying, when it’s painful is never almost never joyful. So trying to find this, when it’s still painless. So I’m asking entrepreneurs and one that I can ask you the same question, Chris, you should join us. And you should just give away something. And maybe you own the startup will be sold one day. And then a part of it will go to social good. And why doing this? Because we want every single entrepreneur in the U.S. but also across the world.

See, when I started my own business, when I run my business, I know maybe I will do good at some point. But in the meantime, you have something important to share with your employees, back to the employees, to your customers, to your partners, to your investors, to your family. We are not doing this just for the mission to make money, Chris. We do what we do as entrepreneurs because we have a mission. And this mission, if you don’t find a mission, you will be empty. You won’t be happy. Maybe it was working 10 or 15 or 25 years ago. This world is different because we know everything. 15 or 20 years ago for both of us, Chris, sometimes we didn’t see things. How can we sit here and say that we are not seeing the madness around us?

Chris Riback: It’s everywhere and we can have another conversation as well about inequality gaps, about changing economic models, about roles of government and where should responsibility come from. One interesting things that you were just talking about, the way that you seek to engage with these businesses, it was striking me that it’s sounding very, very, very much like the way any entrepreneur, any startup would want to be, meaning, yes, you welcome one time revenue, but what you’re really trying to build is recurring revenue. Which any, you talk about when you sell a company and the multiple will depend on recurring revenue, not on the one offs, and it sounds you’re applying that same principle.

Alexandre Mars: Yes. It’s everything has to become systemic. If you can become systemic you have, again, it will last. If you’re just, “Okay, I have Chris and Alex and it will be okay,” it won’t be okay. It could be okay for a year or a couple of years.

Something important also to mention when we discussed about the kind of cyclical philanthropist, the big difference for us is we have no, and you know this, but we have no business model. It means that tomorrow, when you will sign the check Chris to Epic, or when you will give a slice of your shares, 100% of this will go to social organizations. We have no business model. It means that; it’s a pure model. And that’s why I built my venture firm to keep funding everything. So whatever I’m making on one end, I know that it will just go up in Epic to be, just to pay for all the upping costs.

So I’m not, because back to the trust issue, if you say, “Alex, I want to give just $50,” the question always comes with, “But how much of the $50 will go to the causes? By the way, are you taking 10%, 20%, 30%, 50% of the money to fund the structure?” What we are saying is very clear. We take zero. 100% will go there. And it works well also for businesses when we are working with those big organizations, we don’t make money. We don’t charge them. We don’t invoice them. We are there only to say if we are able to work with you and to implement and to imbed social good at the core of the system, the system will change. And we don’t want to be paid for this. We want you to help us changing systems.

Chris Riback: Alexandre, as an entrepreneur, you also surely think innovatively about giving and about the ways that individuals or corporations can give. Give me some examples of some of the innovative approaches that you’re trying to implement.

Alexandre Mars: People need solutions. You cannot only go after people, give more is why and how. So we are bringing solutions to a lot of different people. I give you a couple of solutions. One, I will call the giving stand. Let’s say I will just bring you or invite you to watch Knicks basketball game or a baseball game, I will just pick two seats in this giving stand, where I know two dollars out of the ticket will go to social good. And for me, it’s natural, it’s easy. A goal is, no stadiums in the U.S. won’t propose this in the future. Same with theaters. And it’s an easy, easy solution.

Another one, we call the “Edge to Pledge,” when you just get some or change your currencies from dollars to Euros, you have five digits after the dot. What we’re doing now with some banks, you can trade or you can give away the fourth digit or whatever is after. So small change. But you have millions of transactions, and this time is not someone will impose you something, you will decide it.

I’ll give you again so many social, last one, what we did a few months back was Christian Dior, what he did in the U.S., he decided to do the Epic Day. What is the Epic Day? Decided to give away 10% of their top line of their revenues to Epic. And you know what, it worked so well for their employees, for their customers. So it’s not that hard to implement those solutions.

Chris Riback: You’ve also been able to integrate yourself into payroll systems.

Alexandre Mars: It’s very true. So when you receive your paycheck, it’s never rounded, never ever. So businesses are now saying, “Do you want to run down your paycheck?” You could be 20 cents, but collectively, you will decide a cause. And people love this, so after a year, it’s 20, 25, 30% of the employees who are deciding to give away a tiny slice of where they are. But they are part of something bigger that they can do themselves.

Chris Riback: And it’s automated.

Alexandre Mars: And it’s 100% are going to the causes. And that’s the way we did it. But we can do the same with so many other industries. So what we do at a bank, we take one industry after the others. In your industry, restaurants, hospitality, sports, you name them, banking, insurance, how can we imbed solutions at your level? And if you’re able to implement this, everyone will see this and it will be a big win.

Chris Riback: Round down for Epic.

Alexandre Mars: Round down or round up. So give an example, if you take your car tomorrow, you can round up your ride. It’s almost nothing. But this money will go to good social organizations.

Chris Riback: So as we start to close down the conversation, there are two areas that I want to make sure that I get to ask you about. The first one is, public policy and philanthropy. Is this the right way to address global public policy issues? Just because someone like you or a Bill Gates or a Jeff Bezos, you were really excellent at delivering market solutions. Jeff Bezos is really good at delivering market solutions. But does that mean in a capitalist environment? Why is that the right way to address the outcomes of global poverty? And are you and the Gates and the Bezos, are you letting governments off the hook? Is it the role of government? Is it the role of people like you, corporations?

Alexandre Mars: Yes, such an important question. I think it’s everyone’s role. That’s what I think for years and years, for decades. People like us, Chris, we were thinking, “You know what, governments should do everything, we pay taxes.” So many times I had this conversation with people telling me, “Alex, I’m a philanthropist, what do you mean by this? I’m paying my taxes.” And that’s only being a good citizen.

Chris Riback: You have a great line in the book, “That’s the price of citizenry — or that’s being a citizen — that’s not being a philanthropist.”

Alexandre Mars: And that’s everything. So for years and for decades, we have lived in a world where we were just settling. You know what, let’s do the work, yes. Let’s do the work. We’re watching you doing the work. And yes, every four years, every three years, every two years, every five years, we’ll complain, “They haven’t done the work correctly.” It’s hard. You have been running a business. It’s so hard to run a business. Can you imagine running a business with 300 to 50 million people, or a city or a county? It’s so hard. So we need to help them.

So it’s not on one end, NGOs, on the other end, governments and other, no. It’s everyone together. So when we work, we see the value of scaling what we do. And with this value, if we can work, was public systems. I don’t see my world, we’re saying, “We’re better.” I don’t see my world because I’ve been successful in the past saying, “I will just bring this to this world where everyone is different.” No, I’m just saying, “I will listen to you,” and I will say, “How can I help you?” And I do think money, it’s always government, but you have so much means in the business area. And for so many years we’ve said, “No, that’s shareholder value. Let’s give this back to shareholders.” I don’t think is the right way to see the world now because, back to what we said earlier, there’s no way out, Chris. There is no way out. That’s why I’m sure.

So we can sit there, wait for better future, the better future will never come. So do you think I’m a dreamer? Yes, I’m a dreamer, but I do believe this world needs a dreamer like me. And I’ve devoted enough what I do. I knew this since I’m a kid. I knew that I would devote my life for others. And I started just first making money because I realized very quickly that, money would help me just really deciding what I want to do in my life. But the truth is, my life is only about this. I can only use my money, I can use my network, I can use my skills to change lives, one after the other, and bring in more and more people.

So yes, you mentioned the giving solutions, this is important because if we are able to implement on transactions, on when you go to, when you started business, when you go to restaurants, when you go to the theater, when you go to the stadium, there are so many different solutions. Let’s implement this. Let’s share a slice of what we have. And if we’re all able to share a slice, I can tell that the world will be better because again, there is no way out, and if we don’t work all together, I’m not sure about the future.

Chris Riback: Alexandre, you brought me to the subject that I wanted to close on, which is you. You used the word earlier in this conversation, and it struck me. So the phrase you said was, you’re looking to help folks who have been unlucky since birth. At the end of your book, you thank your parents, and you described yourself in a way that struck me as well when I read it. You described yourself as having been a lucky boy. That contrast, the people who have been unlucky since birth, but your self-awareness and recognition and belief that you’ve been a lucky boy. Did you always have that sense? And I get in some ways, you kind of answered this, but was a drive towards social justice something that was always part of who you are?

Alexandre Mars: Yes. And I think for all of us, everything, everything comes from childhood. You are the way your parents treated you, your siblings are not, where you were living, how you were living, it’s all about that. So, and for me it was very clear. I think my family and my mom, just I think I saw her helping everyone. And that’s kind of household where I was living. So I said to myself, “That’s normal.” Then I saw my mom just suffering sometimes, and I said to myself, “You know what, I will work harder than anyone else, but I will give everything she deserves.” And you need this booster, and my booster was, I knew and I did understand this very early on, on one end, it’s normal to me, so many people are suffering.

And when I was 15 I was more the white knight just helping, just because I was taller than anyone else, the guys were always helping. So I became just-

Chris Riback: You had a cape.

Alexandre Mars: Almost but that’s being foolish because sometimes you are not strategic enough. So you go, you fight, you see this is not normal. But I got the sense I’m so young, and after I realized that if I want to protect mom, if I want to protect myself, if I really want to have that kind of power, I will need money. And that’s very important. And when you understand this, at least for me early on, your life is different. And for me, never change. It took me more, the truth is, it took me longer that I was expected, but when you are 17 or 18, I started my first business when I was 17, you were a bit foolish and said, it’s easy to become the next Gates. It’s not hard. And as we know, it’s super hard to succeed in anything you want to build. So that’s the story.

Chris Riback: Alexandre, to close, I certainly don’t mean to seem ungrateful for what you have been to date, but I’m sure as an entrepreneur, you understand, what’s next?

Alexandre Mars: It’s two answers. The first one is, it’s sometimes people become an entrepreneur, a tech entrepreneur, for years. When I started Epic as a social entrepreneur, I got this question less and less often, but that I started thinking, okay, scratch what you are doing, but what’s next? Meaning that, being a social entrepreneur is not real. Being a social entrepreneur is not entrepreneurship. It’s freaking wrong. I’m just running Epic the same way I was running other businesses before. It’s just as hard as anything else, is as exciting as everything else. So that’s one.

But what’s next I think is really, I can only keep scaling. And yes, I think at some point is pushing more and more people toward that just vision of the world would be better. Soon it’s everything we do could just have a glimpse of social good. And whatever I’m just building in my life, venture fund, when I worked for the Olympic games, whatever I’m doing  just so – my books – is really a tool. Is a tool to get to the end. And the end will never be reached, never will be reached because this goal is impossible to reach. How can I just change the world? But I know that every time I’m able to change lives of those underprivileged, of those underserved youth, I’m just happier.

And I can tell you Chris, it’s not easy. It’s not easy because it’s hard to convince people. It’s hard to make people understand that sometimes there’s some stuff that they don’t see. So I need you, I need everyone who is listening, to see that it’s everyone’s role. Back to your question, everyone. We can all do something to fight. And the good thing is we are fighters. You are, I am, everyone is a fighter. Even the tiniest spider. But that were the world we are living, we need to fight a bit more just for others.

Chris Riback: Alexandre, thank you. Thank you for your time and more importantly of course, thank you for the work that you do.

Alexandre Mars: Thank you, Chris.

Share This Post: