Relevance Becomes a B Corporation

<p style="padding: 5px 0 30px 100px;">As of March, 2009, Relevance is officially a B Corporation. Most people reading this are probably asking something like "What, you couldn't get an A?" Or, "weren't S and C good enough?" The answers are: in this case, a B is better than an A, and no, they weren't. Read on to find out what this all means, and what we're up to.</p>

A Bit of History

Relevance was founded in 2003 by a couple of guys. We've been steadily building the company around some core principles, some of which are obvious to anybody who knows us or surfs our site: agile is better than not-agile, sharp tools are better than dull ones, communication is better than documentation and/or confrontation, and that a small team of dedicated people with passion about their work can create more value faster than 20 bored ones.

There are other principles that aren't so obvious, though. For example, Relevance only succeeds if we challenge our team, and we can only challenge them if we support them through the challenges. So Relevance believes strongly in shared ownership and a good work/life balance. We believe that open source is a vital cog in the machinery of the modern economy; cooperation around core ideas can lead to more innovation and better competition. We donate 20% of our time to open source or pro bono work, both to benefit our team and our various communities.

Delve deeper, and there are even less obvious principles: businesses should be about the task of generating wealth, sustainably. That means that the business shouldn't exhaust its resources – long-term success depends on cultivating them instead. Further, it shouldn't externalize its costs, but account for them. We want to be intimately tied in to our local community, and we want to be responsible citizens.


Over the course of 2008 and early 2009, we began seeking out customers and projects that would allow us to express our values more directly. We built RunCodeRun not only because we love testing so much, but because we love open source, too. RunCodeRun provides free continuous integration to open source Ruby projects. That's because we think they deserve this kind of support, too, and we know they can't pay for it. We sought out customers who share our values and who like open, transparent communication as much as we do. We built a team that cares deeply about these things.

In early 2009, though, things really began to pick up. We added a focus on sustainability and, for lack of a better word, "green" technologies. As an Environmental Science and Policy major at Duke, I always thought I'd end up working at the EPA. I ended up in the private sector, though, and I've come to realize that you can achieve sustainable value working in a for-profit organization. Profit is the fuel that keeps the engine revving. I'd love to find a way to bring the way we work back to organizations like the EPA, though (anybody at the EPA listening?).

After deciding internally on that direction, stuff started happening. We met Danvers Fleury of Converdant, a consultancy helping companies achieve sustainability and community involvement goals while ensuring sound business practices. We also began to work with a customer (who shall remain anonymous for now) whose entire business is built on these principles. Both of them, simultaneously, recommended we check out B Lab and the B Corporation site. A few short weeks later, we were certified.

B Lab and Our Customers

The "B" in B Corporation stands for "beneficial" (or "benefit", depending on context). Certified B Corporations:

  • meet transparent and comprehensive standards of social and environmental performance;
  • legally expand their corporate responsibilities to include consideration of stakeholder interests; and
  • amplify the voice of sustainable business and for-profit social enterprise through the power of the unifying B Corporation brand.

The goal of B Lab (the non-profit behind the certification) is to one day create a nationwide legal designation to go along with the existing S and C Corporations. In the meantime, certified B Corps have to amend their articles of incorporation to "redefine the best interests of the corporation to include the consideration of employees, consumers, the community and the environment."

When I first started to look into B, I didn't think we had what it took to get certified. The survey is very broad, and the scoring is unforgiving. Without a processing or manufacturing arm, would we have enough to score well on the environmenal and sustainability scale? Since we don't have a supply chain, could we do well enough on local sourcing? How would our software company compare to a community organizer, or financial institution, or organic soap manufacturer?

As it turns out, pretty well. Our focus on the well-being of our team, coupled with initiatives and partnerships we've entered into locally, combined to get us over the survey hurdle. Then, in conversation with our customers and B Lab, it turns out that we are not only a match for the community based on our survey score, but that we also help fill an underserved niche in the B Community: software services.

We believe strongly that software professionals have the most leverage to effect change in today's economy. What industry do you know that doesn't use software? What other services organizations can touch as many varied business processes and practices as software? Knowing that technologists have such wide reach, it felt really good to see how we might begin to use that reach in conjunction with a community of like-minded organizations.

What Next?

So what does it mean going forward?

We are the same company we have always been. We chose to become a B Corporation because it represents the values we already hold. For those of you with whom we have worked in the past, nothing has changed. We build and audit applications for people and train developers; that's what we do, and if you need a kick-ass team who delivers value and believes in transparent business relationships, give us a call.

We are going to continue to make Relevance the best company we can make it. That means acting on our values and using our success to provide value back to the community. It means working with our customers to find hidden value in their data, or their processes, that might be being overlooked. It means challenging ourselves to uphold our core principles, and seeking to apply them in each of our partnerships.

And it means challenging our friends and colleagues to think about whether they should be exploring what it means to be B.

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