White Mirror is a series that considers the positive human impact with the help of machines. In this second episode, you follow the life of Samantha Ryan – the mindful tech entrepreneur who’s working to re-divert an average of $461 million per year in payment processing fees back to New Zealand, with 50 percent of profits going to charity. Read how the overcoming of esteem issues gave her the confidence to ambitiously pursue a career in service of the greater good. And how despite her searching, everything she needed to change the world had been there all along.
Leave behind all of your expectations and preconceived ideas.
If while you’re reading this, you begin to judge the words or feelings that arise, try to suspend them… if only for a minute. You’re about to glimpse an alternate reality; one that’s available to you right now. Welcome to White Mirror.
Part one: Impossible expectations (In society & self)
Imagine you’re surrounded by an overwhelming sense of pressure to find your worth and share it with the world. On top of this – the sooner the better!
Tales of prodigal tennis players (15-year-old Coco Gauff), young hard-working property tycoons who scraped dollars and ate beans until they could climb the ladder (‘millionaire by the age of 21!’)… not to mention the Billie Eilishes, the Lordes, that kid who’s on track to become the world’s youngest university graduate at nine years old.
For Samantha Ryan, head of product at Choice, identifying with Generation ‘Y-ou gotta have it all figured out’ was crippling.
But after months of underlying gut nagging and late-night Googling “What should I do with my life?” or “How can I get paid to help the world?” Samantha eventually discovered that she could build her own version of happiness. Happiness that doesn’t come at the expense of common success narratives. One that she also hoped would make herself and those delivering impact more financially abundant.
Choice is a social enterprise payment platform that redirects 50 percent of payment processing fees to a New Zealand charity of your choosing.
Using it like you would paywave (except without the extra 1.2% merchant fees), Choice gives you the power to change where this money goes, rather than leaving it to line the pockets of “fat cats in stripy suits” (a suspicion noted on their website).
And the numbers are hefty. In 2015, electronic card transaction fees charged to Kiwi merchants totaled $461 million. The number of those transactions is increasing year-on-year, some estimating the merchant fees to be nearer to $800,000 in 2019.
Greek Food Truck co-owner George, using Choice at their pilot trial.
Part Two: Freedom in self worth
Samantha’s had a squiggly life path.
“I left high school with no self esteem and a horrific eating disorder. I thought I was unintelligent. I was good at sports and I hated being in classrooms, so I just pushed that story out to everyone – that I was two sandwiches short of a picnic.”
Soon after beginning university, Sam realised it was not the right place for her. She made the tough call to drop out. She threw herself into the startup world, where it felt a lot more acceptable not to ‘fit in with the status-quo’.
Hired part-time at a budding tech venture in Wellington, to look after the office fish, make juice for the seven-person team, get coffee, and keep people happy, Sam began to fall in love with the scene immediately.
“It’s still so vivid. On my first day I sat at the desk beside the (amazing) CEO. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I am the luckiest person in the world, and this is exactly where I want to be.’ I pretty much felt that way every day for five entire years. I worked hard, so I was lucky enough to wear a bunch of hats in marketing, growth, user experience, and product management. During the time I was there, we went from a team of 7 to a team of over 60 with quite literally the biggest design teams in the world as customers. Think Facebook, Google, BBC etc.”
But even though some things were falling into place, Sam was still battling a decade-long secret – her eating disorder. Something that wasn’t particularly acceptable to dig into, even in the sneaker-and-jean-wearing, daily-freshly-squeezed-juice-providing tech startup scene
Bit by bit, she felt okay enough to look at the problem head on and reach out for help. The realisation happened over time, but also in a lightning bolt ‘aha’ moment when she stumbled across Geneen Roth’s work at Unity Books in Wellington.
“It’s amazing how in denial you can be. For me, in that moment, it was like the clouds parted. That’s when the hard work of regular therapy, yoga, meditation and mindfulness started. I can’t tell you how free and transformative this work has been.
Six months into therapy an extraordinary thing happened… She made peace with everything she was previously burdened by.
“My body? Good enough. My intelligence? Good enough. My achievements? Good enough. It was like my whole relationship with life cracked open.”
Something in her changed, she could move forward, and life was hers for the taking.
“I had to come to complete peace with everything about myself before I could go out, question the status-quo, and do truly great work aligned with my purpose.”
Now, she feels robbed of those years. In fact, she feels like a lot of people are robbed of their underlying ambitions by what she describes as “forms of escapism” (which she says can manifest in compulsion with work, body image, Instagram followers or any number of other things).
“Now, I am driven to inspire young women to go after everything they want and to live big, bold, massive lives. I want to yell it at my younger self. If I had a billboard over a highway it’d say: GO! DO IT! ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!”
Part Three: It’s all right here
Sam’s journey is a discovery of self-worth, but it is also equally a story of trusting that each step will eventually lead you to where you need to go.
Sam lived and breathed startup for seven years before she made another life-altering decision. She wanted to do the same thing again – but do it with the intent of making the world a better place.
“It was like a lightbulb went off and I knew that I had to go and work on something that would help people and the planet. Leaving that job was a really hard thing to do, as I had nowhere to step into,” she says.
“I felt completely lost and stuck with where to go next. It was an exhausting process of turning up to every single meetup, event, and conference and seeing what tugged at my curiosity… as well as the late night googling!”
At the 2017 Social Enterprise World Forum in Christchurch, Sam met three people who would change the course of her life – Fraser, Alex and Ossie. They clicked instantly, and soon became fast friends.
“They had the idea for Choice, and I started giving them product advice and getting really excited about their idea… one thing led to another!”
Now, Samantha is head of product at Choice, and it’s exactly where she wants to be.
Her main takeaway, and what she’d pass onto anyone looking for the secret to ‘finding paid work you love’, is to just start.
“Now I think back on me googling ‘what should I do with my life?’ and if I’m honest, I already knew, but I was just scared shitless of the answer. If you have a little voice in the back of your head telling you that you’re a writer, go write. If you’re an actress, go act. Expect to be really bad in the beginning but be dedicated to mastering the craft.”
“I was so worried that I just needed to buy this ‘thing’ that would make me look better, or take this course that would give me this new skill that I needed to succeed, when everything I needed to follow my dreams was already inside me. First, I needed to accept who I was.”
Part Four: A vision for purpose alongside profit
The technology we have today gives us greater access to almost anything or anyone in the world, faster than ever before. We can learn virtually anything and share ideas for solving our local, national or even global problems.
But the noise we’re operating in is also crippling us. And it’s not just our comparisons and our shortcomings. Instead of acting from a place of ‘good enough’ we’re constantly seeking out people who we think are doing things ‘better’ and feeling inadequate, or people who are doing things differently and feeling offended.
“The biggest challenge current and next generations face is this extinction crisis due to the deterioration and exploitation of our natural resources. And I think… I have this life ahead of me, and life is short, so I’d better get on with it myself and make it worthwhile. If other people are inspired to come along for the ride too, that’s awesome.”
This is the attraction of impact business for her. In this style of organisation, there are no competitors – only other people trying to effect change.4
If you take it from people like Sam, this kind of business should always be predominantly selfless. If you’re only trying to compete for money or attention or market share, then you’re definitely not in it for the right reasons.
“If a thousand other companies start up with the intention of protecting ocean life, planting trees, helping people, and solving climate change, I just think, ‘Fantastic! That’s wonderful! And let’s help one another.’ And if they happen to do it better than us so that our product is no longer useful then that’s great, we can go fix other problems. Choice wants to put purpose alongside profit.”
Her future is a world where social entrepreneurs and businesses models like Choice become the new norm – showing that it’s possible, and wholly necessary, to make a living while doing your life’s work at the same time. She believes New Zealand has all the talent and every potential to become a ‘tech for good’ capital of the world.
Sam’s thoughts about her own future? Why not become New Zealand’s youngest female billionaire, so she can use every dollar to restore land to native bush with bird sanctuaries and beehives?
For the woman that is dedicated to questioning the status-quo, and believes that anything is possible, It’d be out of character to dream up anything less.
Choice will be launching in New Zealand in the next few months to a select group of early waitlist users. Request early access here.
If you’re inspired by Sam or want to create a business that helps the planet AND pays the bills, check out her podcast, ‘Save Planet, Get Rich’ available on the Apple podcast app, Spotify, Stitcher and anywhere else good podcasts can be found.
This story was brought to you by five and dime, an ethical creative agency that shifts mindsets, changes behaviour and creates a better world through the power of storytelling. Changemakers they have worked with include the Ākina Foundation, Creative HQ, the Shift Foundation and the Zero Carbon Challenge. Have you got a story we can help you tell? Or know someone who’d make a good White Mirror story? Visit fiveanddime.co.nz or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 04 382 0510.
If you’d like information about mental health support for your own betterment or those close to you please visit https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/.