By J.H. WhiteTo start a new business is often to solve a problem or fulfil a need, to improve people’s lives. For serial tech entrepreneur Chris Kitze, it’s about helping people while also improving himself.
“I’ve learned that starting a business is like being on a [spiritual] cultivation path,” Kitze says. Church bells ring in the background as if to agree. “You’re on your path,” Kitze continues. “Steve Jobs said it’s not about the result, it’s about the journey. That’s exactly what it is. It’s about perfecting yourself.”
Kitze’s successful tech businesses are rooted in his feeling that if you do your best to help others, you will naturally succeed. For him, the best business model is somewhere between the nonprofit and the profit-driven.
Kitze’s journey has taken him through successes in many ventures — his popular online news platform, Before It’s News, and his fast-growing cryptocurrency, Flash Coin, to name a couple. His faith has directed him on his journey.
He practices Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, a meditation practice from China that teaches the three main principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. Those three principles have helped him succeed, he says. He has also taken the challenges of entrepreneurship as opportunities to strengthen these qualities in himself.
Forbearance includes self-discipline and perseverance. It takes a lot of strength to forge ahead in business, to take care of a budding venture, and to maintain it once it’s taken hold. “It’s like paddling a boat up the river,” Kitze says. “If you stop paddling, the river is going to push you downstream. It’s the same way with running a business.”
Often waking up at 4 a.m. to meditate before a busy day has helped Kitze strengthen the self-discipline so important to staying on top of his business affairs. This also gives him the calm mind needed to stay internally balanced and strong amidst the rapidly changing business landscape around him.
Kitze has cultivated truthfulness through his work; when you work for yourself, he says, you need to be completely honest with yourself. “You’re not hiding from your boss. You don’t have a boss.”
“I think the key is to be true to your heart,” he says. “Follow what you think is right.” When you’re self-employed, your motivation and direction come from within. They aren’t imposed on you externally by a manager. Falun Dafa has taught him that when you look inside yourself, “you unlock wisdom.”
In the Business of Liberation
Compassion has played a big role in Kitze’s entrepreneurial direction. He has sought to empower people through his businesses. In addition to his open-source digital news platform, he has established a digital communications platform that protects data privacy. These have helped provide free access to and sharing of information.
“When you think about freedom of speech, the freedom to tell people the truth, that is the most powerful thing,” Kitze says. He works especially hard to provide this freedom to those living under oppressive regimes.
Falun Dafa practitioners in China have been persecuted by the communist regime since 1999, with many practitioners being placed in forced-labour camps, tortured, and often killed for their organs.
The regime’s state-run media has silenced voices that would speak up for these practitioners in China, and has even influenced Western media coverage of the persecution. Giving a voice to oppressed Falun Dafa practitioners and others like them around the world has been a big part of Kitze’s mission.
From Paperboy to News Agency Owner
Kitze’s first foray into entrepreneurship and the news industry occurred when he was only 12 years old.
That’s when Kitze started his own newspaper route, trudging through snow and wind to deliver papers in Colorado, where he grew up.
“I enjoyed being outside, off on my own,” he says. “I just wanted to do my own thing, that was why I worked for myself.” He has been self-employed his whole life.
The strong will and determination he began to develop at an early age gave him a good start. As he grew up, he also developed a keen market insight, which urged him to jump on the wave of digital development as it began to swell in the 1980s.
When personal computers entered more people’s homes, he saw not only a business opportunity, but instruments of freedom.
“A lot of information wants to be free,” he says. He felt digital publishing could reach people who otherwise may not hear certain news stories, or it could help people find rare books by digitising them.
Kitze started several internet companies that he later sold, such as an online directory and web community that offered free clipart, an online word processor, and email and web hosting. While these services are ubiquitous today, Kitze had the foresight to be on the leading edge at the time.
A decade ago, he launched Before It’s News, an open-source news platform that allows people to write and discuss anything. “It’s a very powerful model which is basically the uncensored ability of someone to post,” he says.
A Life-Changing Stroll Through Times Square
Kitze had already begun practicing Falun Dafa two years before starting his news organisation. While in New York in 2006, he was walking through Times Square and saw a group of people dressed in yellow T-shirts doing exercises with slow, gentle movements. Attracted by the peacefulness of the scene, he approached them to ask what they were doing.
“I saw the exercises demonstrated and I thought, ‘Oh, this is something I would really like to do. I want to be like these people,’” Kitze says. They told him how Falun Dafa had helped them cultivate peace of mind and improve their physical health.
When Kitze learned a meditation and spiritual cultivation practice called Falun Dafa, he found a wellspring of strength, energy, and insight.
“I’m probably working between 10 and 16 hours a day right now, and I’m 58 years old,” Kitze says. “Now, most people who are 58 years old are slowing down, saying, ‘I can’t work that hard anymore. I don’t want to work that hard anymore.’” But Kitze is as energetic as ever.
Speaking with these practitioners in Times Square, the reality of the persecution really hit him. Many were people who had actually been in prison, who had been tortured, and who were now enjoying the freedom of the United States, where they could meditate in public without consequence.
“I had heard about the persecution that was going on in China,” he says. “But to actually talk to practitioners and hear their stories about it was really touching.”
Since the free flow of information was important to Kitze, so too was helping people to communicate and transmit data safely.
Many social media platforms and communications softwares do not protect users’ personal privacy, nor provide data security. Kitze created Unseen, a secure instant messaging platform with secure email and video chat. Unseen is based in Iceland, a country known for protecting privacy and freedom of speech.
Kitze said that the biggest difference between this software and the current popular communication softwares is that it will not retain any user’s data on the server terminal. Once users delete the chat history, no one can monitor and review their calls and chats.
“It is secure communications for people who are being suppressed,” he says. “[Falun Dafa practitioners] are not able to communicate freely. They’re not doing anything wrong. They’re going out and handing out fliers to tell people about the persecution in China. They’re doing meditation. These are good people who are improving society.”
No ‘Flash’ in the Pan
Kitze’s most recent venture helps liberate people in a different way. His fast-growing cryptocurrency, Flash Coin, is helping free people from factors that make their money unstable, he says. It’s hard to be free when your life savings could be wiped out at any moment.
He’s establishing this cryptocurrency in Venezuela, among other places, in the wake of the country’s financial collapse. Flash Coin has a permanent public record, called a “blockchain”. For every “block” of transactions, there’s a cryptographic key. It makes it impossible to counterfeit, double-spend, or do what banks do — loan out money many times over that doesn’t actually exist, via fractional-reserve banking.
Flash Coin also protects against inflation. If citizens’ hard-earned savings are in Flash Coins, they’ll be safe from devaluation if the government starts printing massive amounts of money.
While some cryptocurrencies have relatively expensive transaction fees, Kitze has made Flash Coin practically free to send and use. Eliminating transaction fees for both the consumer and merchant will put more money back into their pockets. There will be “lower prices; people are going to get more stuff for their money”, Kitze says. “The merchant is going to make more profits, hire more people. It’s a virtuous circle.”
Flash Coin gained international acclaim this past January when it broke into the world’s top 200 cryptocurrencies, with a 700 percent monetary value increase from its start a year before.
Kitze has realised there are more effective models than the strict revenue-driven, for-profit model on one side or the donation-based, nonprofit models on the other side. He has sought something in between.
“There are a lot of things that are now nonprofit that rely on some donations but also generate some amount of revenue,” he says. “I think that hybrid model is actually something for the future.”
The ancient understanding of karma, or what goes around comes around, guides Kitze. “A business that makes a lot of money, why does it do that?” he asks. “It does it because the people who are working there have a lot of virtue. It does it because the people who are working there have a great deal of care for the product that they provide their customers. That’s why it works.”
Kitze has made his products available for low prices, and even for free. “I’ve made all my money giving things away,” he says.
“I think that as people find that compassion and unlock it, they will find a way to help other people.”
Falun Dafa is a peaceful meditation practice rooted in the guiding principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance. However, it has been persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for over 20 years now. Millions have been fired, expelled, jailed, tortured, or killed by the Chinese government simply for practicing Falun Gong. To learn more, visit www.faluninfo.net.