Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Michael and Xochi Birch of The Battery Are Helping To Change Our World
…The importance of communicating your company vision and culture. When we launched our business early in our careers, we had a clear vision and culture in mind, but we failed to articulate it to others. Our primary focus was on “what” we were building, rather than “why.” As we began to hire employees, we didn’t fully grasp that we were shaping a company culture. Initially, things went smoothly because our team was small, and the culture mirrored our own values. However, we failed to realize that as the company grew and more people were hired, the vision and culture could easily become diluted or misunderstood. It’s crucial to vocalize both these aspects from the very beginning of your business, as vision and culture should go hand in hand. This was a lesson we prioritized when launching The Battery and founding Battery Powered.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael and Xochi Birch.
Michael and Xochi Birch, Founders of The Battery, are a husband and wife duo who have woven a tapestry of ventures that celebrate community, innovation, and transformation. Inspired by a shared commitment to fostering creativity and connection, the Birches unveiled The Battery in 2013 — a unique city social club and boutique hotel, inspiring and engaging Members with unmatched experiences, conversations, and opportunities. Their enduring commitment to philanthropy found a home in Battery Powered, a non-profit entity affiliated with The Battery which activates generosity by empowering members to support projects that strengthen society.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
We embarked on our careers as computer programmers in large London-based companies. However, we both harbored an entrepreneurial spirit and aspired to establish our own company. Our vision was centered around creating a lifestyle business, and this aspiration coincided with the dawn of the internet boom. Given our shared skills, we made the bold decision to enter the realm of building internet sites. Michael resigned from his job while I was on maternity leave, and in 1999, we embarked on our inaugural project together. Initially planned as a six-month endeavor, we quickly found ourselves fully committed, setting the stage for an enduring partnership. Over the years, we worked collaboratively, crafting numerous websites, and eventually, we became the founders of multiple successful companies.
Our journey continued until we encountered an opportunity to sell our business, Bebo.com, in 2008. While our existing executive team remained in place to oversee operations under the new ownership, we found ourselves at a crossroads. For the first time in our lives, we were without a job, a project to immerse ourselves in, or an office to frequent. This pivotal moment prompted introspection, leading us to contemplate a different path.
Previously, all our ventures had been exclusively online, but the prospect of establishing an in-person social club resonated with us. Being British, Michael was very familiar with the new era of Social Clubs in London during the early 2000s. We decided San Francisco needed a City Social Club to foster connections and community. Additionally, we were committed to instilling a sense of purpose and positive impact within the community we served. To this end, we initiated philanthropic efforts and established Battery Powered, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Essentially, it operates as a sizable giving circle, enabling our Members to engage in philanthropy. Our Members actively participate in selecting themes to explore, identifying nonprofits to support, and ultimately funding various projects.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
The launch of The Battery represented a monumental undertaking and a significant act of faith. In 2010, we acquired the property and embarked on a painstaking three-year renovation process. The building itself is of substantial size, boasting a total area of 58,000 square feet.
We have vivid memories of the night just before our grand opening. We found ourselves in the House Bar, sitting together in quiet contemplation. In a spontaneous moment, we decided to pour ourselves a drink. As we savored our beverages, we engaged in a candid conversation. We discussed the possibility that should everything not go as planned, at the very least, we had created an exquisite bar for our personal enjoyment. It was akin to the feeling of hosting an extravagant party and then, on the eve of the event, entertaining doubts about whether anyone would attend.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Battery Powered provides Members with the opportunity to collaborate, give back, and move great ideas forward. Two times per year, the Battery Powered community tackles a new theme, representative of some of the biggest issues of our time. Over the course of the theme, Members hear from leading experts and organizations in the field to educate Members to make informed giving decisions. At the conclusion of each theme study, Battery Powered Members vote to fund a selection of nonprofit organizations. All current Battery Members are eligible to join Battery Powered, and in its 10-year history, it has raised and donated more than $30 million from Member contributions to nearly 250 organizations.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Battery Powered maintains regular communication with our nonprofit grantees, and we have received numerous stories highlighting how a well-timed and adaptable grant has positively impacted their work. One particularly memorable example dates back to our inaugural funding theme in 2014, which centered on the California Prison System. During this period, we awarded a grant of $256,000 to the A New Way of Life Re-entry Project (ANWOL), an organization based in Los Angeles. ANWOL is dedicated to offering supportive housing, facilitating family reunification, providing legal assistance, and fostering leadership development for women who are rebuilding their lives after incarceration. Our funding played a pivotal role in enabling ANWOL to break free from a city contract characterized by intrusive and punitive client monitoring, opting instead for a more supportive and ultimately effective program model. Today ANWOL has housed over 1500 people, helped 400+ people reunite with their children, and provided pro bono legal services to 3,400+ individuals.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Battery Powered was established nearly a decade ago, and we’re now approaching our 10-year milestone. Over the years, as we’ve delved into various themes and issues, one of the most significant lessons we’ve gleaned is that many of the concerns our members hold dear share common underlying causes. To illustrate, discussions about homelessness or a just legal system cannot ignore the pivotal role of mental health. Similarly, conversations about education must consider factors such as food deserts and access to technology.
Our hope is that everyone can identify a cause they are passionate about and actively engage with it. This entails gaining a deeper understanding of the issues, offering your time as a volunteer, and, if possible, contributing financially to organizations that are actively addressing and alleviating these challenges within the community on a daily basis.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
To us, leadership means creating a space for individuals to unleash their creativity, explore new ideas, and showcase their talents. Leadership is about fostering an environment where others can thrive and reach their full potential.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- The importance of communicating your company vision and culture. When we launched our business early in our careers, we had a clear vision and culture in mind, but we failed to articulate it to others. Our primary focus was on “what” we were building, rather than “why.” As we began to hire employees, we didn’t fully grasp that we were shaping a company culture. Initially, things went smoothly because our team was small, and the culture mirrored our own values. However, we failed to realize that as the company grew and more people were hired, the vision and culture could easily become diluted or misunderstood. It’s crucial to vocalize both these aspects from the very beginning of your business, as vision and culture should go hand in hand. This was a lesson we prioritized when launching The Battery and founding Battery Powered.
- The power of saying ‘no’ most of the time. It can be challenging to say ‘no,’ especially when you’re starting your career or a business and want to explore every opportunity. However, this approach can quickly lead to burnout. Ultimately, you must understand the “why” behind your actions. If an opportunity doesn’t align with your core “why,” it’s essential to decline it.
- Build your inner circle. Launching a business or leading an organization can be isolating. It’s crucial to establish a network of peers, mentors, and friends with whom you can brainstorm or simply vent. Having a support system, even if it’s as simple as grabbing a drink after work or going for a short walk during the day, is essential.
- Outsourcing for efficiency. Starting a business often tempts you to handle everything yourself. However, a valuable piece of advice we received early in our careers was to outsource as much as possible. This includes outsourcing tasks you don’t enjoy. In our case, when we founded our first company while raising children, outsourcing chores like housekeeping and laundry, though seemingly simple, significantly improved our quality time with our children.
- The importance of people in business. We once read that every business is fundamentally a people business. This was a concept we didn’t fully grasp when we began our careers, especially in the tech industry, where we initially believed the product was the core focus. Over time, we’ve come to understand that it’s all about the people. They are the ones who collaborate to build the product or deliver an experience, and they are also the ones who receive that product or experience. In the end, every business ultimately revolves around people.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We would like to see more giving circles emerge, particularly within communities an private member clubs Our tagline for Battery Powered is “Activating Generosity,” and we believe it accurately describes the actions of our Members. Collectively, our members identify and support individuals and projects with a substantial potential to strengthen society. Engaging in philanthropy within a community context not only fosters generosity but also unlocks a realm of possibilities.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Our favorite life lesson quote is “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” With numerous tasks and decisions to manage, it’s essential to prioritize significant, needle-moving items. When building a business, it’s easy to become entrenched in the minutiae. In the early stages, especially with a small team, founders often find themselves involved in all aspects of the operation. However, as the business expands and new team members join, it becomes vital to distribute the workload. This sharing of responsibilities extends to decision-making as well. Empowering your team to make decisions on behalf of the company is essential for realizing the company’s vision.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
We would be thrilled to have lunch with Michael Caine, who happens to be one of Michael’s childhood heroes and a genuine British cultural icon. Michael Caine boasts a remarkable career spanning over eight decades, with appearances in more than 160 films. What we find truly inspiring is not only his body of work but also the enduring relevance he has maintained in an ever-evolving culture and society. We believe he must have a wealth of fascinating stories to share, along with valuable life advice.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Michael and Xochi Birch of The Battery Are Helping To Change Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.