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Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Overstock’s Byrne Offers Advice To Social Entrepreneurs

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Overstock’s founder and CEO, Patrick Byrne, is himself an accomplished social entrepreneur. Overstock’s lesser known affiliate Worldstock was an early entrant in the social enterprise space.

Worldstock sources artisinal products from around the world, largely from underprivileged women, and makes them available to people in the U.S. and elsewhere in the developed world at prices that provides fair earnings to the artisans. All Worldstock orders ship “carbon neutral” to the customer.

Byrne offers three key observations to help social entrepreneurs.

  1. Entrepreneurship is key: “The key to elevating the standard of living in developing countries is not through foreign aid, but through encouraging entrepreneurship. Part of that calls for engaging in fair trade with the actual producers in these nations. Overstock’s fair trade division, called Worldstock, began doing this before fair trade was even a popular concept.”
  2. Free enterprise must be defended: “Our nation’s future growth depends on fair and robust capital markets, without which, free enterprise is condemned to stagnate and wither. To that end, we must strive for an economic meritocracy, where the best ideas are rewarded and regulators act to protect all market participants, not just the biggest players.”
  3. School choice is key: “Our nation’s future growth also depends on access to intellectual capital, which in turn requires a strong education system. When schools are failing their students, it’s our moral obligation to give those students options, including the ability to attend better performing schools. School choice is of paramount importance.”

On Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 6:00 PM Eastern, Byrne will join me for a live discussion about his insights for social entrepreneurs and change agents. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Overstock:

Twitter: @overstock

We are an online retailer. Founded in 1999, gone public in 2002. First year revenues of just under $2-million, today revenues approach $2-billion. Over 1,500 employees. We were initially created as a liquidation channel for the first waves of failed dotcoms. Today we’ve evolved into a first run retailer selling everything from toasters to patio furniture.

Patrick Byrne, courtesy of Overstock

Patrick Byrne, courtesy of Overstock

Byrne’s bio:

Twitter: @OverstockCEO

Patrick M. Byrne, CEO, launched Overstock.com in 1999 with revenues of $1.8 million. In 2014 Overstock.com had revenues of $1.5 billion and net income of $8.8 million. Forbes magazine named Overstock.com the No. 9 Best Company to Work for in the Country for 2010, and Byrne the CEO with the highest employee approval rating (92%). Byrne received the 2011 Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

In 2001, Byrne began Worldstock Fair Trade, an Overstock.com division selling handcrafted products from artisans in developing nations. The department distinguishes itself by returning 60-70% of the sale price to artisans (over $100 million has been paid to Worldstock’s artisan suppliers). In addition, Worldstock net profits have been donated to fund philanthropic projects in several countries. Worldstock and Byrne have funded the building of 26 self-sustaining schools internationally that currently educate thousands of students.

A “classical liberal,” Byrne believes that our nation’s success depends on a sound educational system and healthy capital markets. Since Milton Friedman’s passing in 2006, Byrne has served as chairman of The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, an organization leading the national debate for school vouchers.

Towards the goal of clean capital markets, in 2004 Byrne (as a citizen-journalist) began a vigorous campaign against abusive Wall Street practices, focusing on regulatory capture, hedge fund “expert network” (insider trading) schemes, settlement system failures, systemic risk, and the possibility of economic warfare against the US by organized crime and foreign governments. His stance quickly caught the attention of Wall Street analysts and reporters, becoming a point of high controversy and ridicule until the economic crash of 2008, occasioned by the very things Byrne had warned of. Byrne’s website DeepCapture.com has received much recognition, such as Weblogs Award “Best Business Blog” (2008), Business Pundit’s “Best Business Investigative Journalism” (2009), and Xmark’s “Top Site on Corruption in the USA” (2010).

Before founding Overstock.com and serving as chairman, CEO, and president, Byrne held the same three positions at Centricut, LLC, a manufacturer of consumables for industrial plasma torches, and held the same three positions at Fechheimer Brothers, Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway company, manufacturing police, firefighter and military uniforms.

Byrne received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and Asian studies from Dartmouth College, a master’s in philosophy from Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar, and a doctorate in philosophy from Stanford University. He has taught at the university level and is a frequent guest lecturer discussing internet commerce, capital markets, Wall Street practices, education, leadership and ethics.

In 2014, Byrne’s political philosophy, mathematical training and concern over corruption on Wall Street combined to move him to create Medici, Overstock.com’s financial technology subsidiary building platforms for digital asset exchange on the same technology that powers bitcoin. In 2015, Byrne became the first person in history to purchase a digital bond, using Medici’s t0.com private debt equity trading platform.

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