Social Change Nation's Podcast | Make a dollar AND a difference

I hope you're having a stellar Friday.  On my end, I'm deep in wedding planning and ready for some cooler fall weather! Football season is also kicking into high gear, so I'm pretty jazzed about that. Anyway, for our next installment of social entrepreneurship 101 I want us to move into the nuts and bolts of social entrepreneurship.  These are the things like legal structure, funding, product creation, etc that make this whole world tick. Ready to rock? Good. Let's do this:

You’re entering the world of cause-based business at a very exciting time. Millenials are using their enormous influence and buying power to shift the course of business forever. Today’s consumer is no longer content with a business that drives toward the single bottom line of profit.  Instead, shoppers are demanding that companies adhere to the triple bottom line: people (or purpose), planet, and profit. 
In the next few emails, we’ll cover the nitty gritty: building your team, funding your cause-based startup, and some special legal structures you can take advantage of as a social entrepreneur. As a start, let's talk about how to create a product that is driven by social good.

The way you produce your product will be just as important as your purpose to a cause minded consumer.  In the minds of today’s millenials, too many businesses are guilty of processes that exploit workers, the environment, and consumers.  Because of this, you will need to develop a production process that demonstrates your commitment to the people and planet components of the triple bottom line. 
Let’s explore what other companies are doing:

  • LSTN Headphones – Take a look at the picture below, and you’ll see the result of a beautiful process:


Photo Credit: LSTN Headphones

These headphones are constructed from repurposed wood that would otherwise go to landfills.  The wood design also creates a unique sound that is more pure and crisp than the unsustainable plastics used in other headphones.

  • Sword & Plough – I love their motto about the materials they use: “if it doesn’t have a great story, it doesn’t make it [into our manufacturing process].”  The main fabrics for S&P’s line of bags come from surplus military material that was otherwise headed to the trash.  They’re also dedicated to hiring vets at every stage of their process, something that puts S&P in a class of its own.
  • Modavanti – Modavanti is an example of a company where process = purpose. Fed up with worker abuses by the fashion industry, Modavanti developed a system to create transparency for all the products it offers.  Each item of clothing on its site must come from companies that respect worker rights, worker safety, and pay a fair wage. Additionally, Modavanti uses a ‘badge system’ that ranks its products in such areas as: ‘eco-friendliness’ and ‘US sourced materials’.  
  • Indosole – Talk about a unique process, Indosole transforms old tires into beautiful sandals. Indonesia, where Indosole is based, has a massive problem with tire waste.  So, Indosole uses its process to tackle the mountains of discarded tires and employs lots of Indonesian craftsmen in product creation.  

The soles of these flip flops used to be tires!

I hope you now see how your process becomes part of your story.  Your customers will expect that you’ve created a sustainable process from day one, so this is not something you can delay.  Build it into your business at the beginning and then make it part of the story you share with the world.    



Direct download: Intro_Nuts_and_Bolts.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am CST

Welcome to this latest installment in Social Entrepreneurship 101. If you missed the other lessons, check out the audio versions here. Today, let’s chat about your partners who’ll help you build your venture.

The fundamental truth of social entrepreneurship is this: we’re all in it together. Social entrepreneurs are the most generous, caring, and helpful people on the planet.  But we’re also business minded.  So, as you create your movement, come up with ways to create synergies that result in a win for all parties involved.

As I’ve built Social Change Nation, I have been humbled by the extent to which cause based leaders have supported my work.  They’ve connected me with other social entrepreneurs and offered incredible guidance as I’ve built my own cause based business.  In return, I interview them on my podcast, promote them, share their story, advertise for them, and provide tools to help them grow.  In the process, I build my credibility as a connector and as someone who always has the right resource for any challenge in the cause based space.

You will need to create similar partnerships to grow your business. Here are the three keys I’ve found to ‘partner up’:

1.) Partner with a non-profit to carry out your social mission.  One thing I know is this: building and running your cause based business will take everything you’ve got. Don’t try to start your own non-profit on top of that.  Instead, partner with an existing non-profit.  For example, LSTN headphones partners with the Starkey Foundation.  Starkey has the distribution channels, manpower, and a long history of giving the gift of hearing to the remotest places on the planet. Considering LSTN’s mission is to use its headphones to help the world hear, this is a very natural partnership. But don’t think that delegating social mission to a non-profit means you don’t have to be involved.  LSTN’s founder, Bridget, manages a highly successful headphone company, but still makes time to travel with Starkey and personally give the gift of hearing to people around the world.

2.) Partner with other cause based businesses.   My strongest partnership has been with Cause Artist.  While I focus on empowering social entrepreneurs, Cause Artist is devoted to cause minded shoppers. This created a beautiful synergy as we partnered to create the social good shopping guide, a directory and coupon package of cause based businesses. Partnerships power your movement.  Social Change Nation has grown exponentially because I took the time to develop partnerships with like-minded businesses.  You must do the same if you hope to succeed. 

3.) Partner with your customer.  One of my favorite examples of this is Life Equals. For each vitamin sold, Life Equals gives a nutritional supplement through its non-profit partner Vitamin Angels.  Life Equals customers typically join a subscription plan, meaning they provide ongoing support to Vitamin Angels.  As a result, Life Equals treats its customers as partners: they receive regular updates on their donation, tools to share their cause with friends, and sample vitamins attached to a sharable card.

What are some other ways you could partner with your customer?  Here are a few other ides to get you started:

-For each purchase, send your customer a story of someone your cause has helped.  Put it in a format, like a small postcard, that they can easily take a picture of and share via social media.

-You could follow the lead of a company like Sevenly and engage your customer base to vote on the cause you support for that particular month.

-You could offer your customers volunteer opportunities with your partner non-profit.

-When you are in the field serving your partner non-profit, grab a video of it, make it short and sharable, and send it to your customer base. They’ll love seeing this side of you and they’ll love sharing the video with their friends.  Check out LSTN’s video page for some great examples of this.

Bottom line is treating your customer as a partner in your cause will make your work all the more rich and will fulfill your central charge as a cause based entrepreneur: to involve people in social justice. Partner early. Partner often. Partner synergistically.

Peace out,


Direct download: Profitable_partners.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am CST

Welcome back to our series on social entrepreneurship!  I’m working to get you the basic foundation you’d need to get rolling as a social entrepreneur.  Oh, and btw, if you didn’t catch the first parts of the series, I’ll be posting it all on the podblog. Click here if you missed out.

Today will be a longer one, but we’re going to be covering a really important topic: how to create a product or service that will be your business and drive your social good efforts.  Let’s start things off with a quote from a social entrepreneurship rockstar:

“Think of your product as the first date, it’s your first chance to win over and impress your customer.  It’s gotta be right and it’s gotta be the thing that stands on its own and draws them in.  Once you’ve taken your customer on a great first date, only then can you move to the second date: your cause.”
-Tyler Merrick, Project 7

One of the biggest mistakes I see cause based startups make is leading with the cause rather than leading with the product or service.  I know that for you and for me, our causes are the major reason we got into this business.  But for our customers’ sake, we’re going to need to weave that cause into product lines that are second to none.  Remember that for us to build a movement, we have to build a following of loyal and dedicated change agents.  In order to do this, your customers will have to be just as sold out on the features and benefits of your product as they are on your cause.

Tyler of Project 7 taught me a ton about this.  Project 7 has evolved into a highly successful cause based company that sells a very unique line of mints and gums.  Each product line is tied to a donation in 1 of 7 cause areas, from education to health. Their gums and mints are really unique and they even have a large partnership with 7Up that will take them to new heights.  But Project 7 could have crashed in its early days had Tyler not refocused his efforts on his products.  At that time, Project 7’s products were essentially no different from others on the shelves, except for the cause.  As a result, people would make “pity purchases” of Project 7’s cause based gum, and then switch right back to Wrigley’s or whatever else they were chewing.  So, the stores carrying Tyler’s products stopped buying more because customers were not making repeat purchases.

It was a moment of truth for Tyler.  He realized that he had two options: either make his product stand out, or risk going under.  Thankfully for us, Tyler chose to double down on re-launching his product.  The new and improved Project 7 saw the creation of such unique gum flavors as: birthday cake, coconut lime, front porch lemonade, and a host of other jazzy options (you can check them all out here). Tyler also rebranded his packaging.  Originally his gum packages led with the cause and followed with the features and benefits of the product.  His new packaging flipped that: unique branding, tasty flavors, and creative design drew in customers.  Once they were loving the features and benefits of Project 7’s gum, they’d read about Project 7’s work on the back of the packaging and be even more sold out on the company. Take a page from Tyler’s book and avoid a similar challenge in your business.  You must create a second to none product so that you can drive social change.  

Here are some tips for you to think about as you think about what you’d like your venture to offer the world:

How well suited is your product to your cause?

This is an important question to ask from the beginning because making fundamental changes to your product along the way will be really challenging. Ideally, you will want to develop a product that weaves your cause naturally into it.  Some examples:LSTN sells headphones and helps the world hear, Panda sells sunglasses and gives the gift of vision, and MADI sells intimate apparel and donates women’s underwear, one of the most under donated items at women’s shelters. Remember that your product is the star of the show.  If you’re going to sell it well, you need to be just as dedicated to your product as you are to your cause.  It’s worth devoting a great deal of time and resources to getting this right on the front end.

A quick note: I’ve seen cause based companies, like Project 7, have success when their product is not as tightly tied to their cause, but I think this is a very difficult road to go down. Tyler benefitted from the fact that he had formerly run a business that created boutique food products, so he brought a natural understanding of that world to Project 7. Unless you have a similarly compelling reason to pursue a product unrelated to your cause, I would advise against it.

Here are the types of products that are best suited for cause-based businesses:

1.) High margin items. These are items for which you can charge a premium price so that you generate the kinds of profits needed to fund your purpose mission. Oliberteis able to commit itself to providing decent employment to Ethiopians because its unique and high quality shoes create enough margin to support fair wages.

2.) Cutting edge or proprietary technology.  This is true for any business: if you have a patented technology or one that is tough to duplicate, you’ll have a competitive edge. Mission Belt has a patented ‘no holes’ belt.  Instead of holes, its belts always fit the wearer perfectly because a unique zip technology replaces the standard belt buckle.  Mission holds the patent on this technology, thereby ensuring ongoing support for Kiva, their cause partner.

3.) Products that literally weave the story right in. Indosole’s founder Kyle Parsons was your typical surfer dude until a trip to Bali transformed him forever. Shocked by the level of pollution in that country, Kyle set out to create a movement that repurposed junk, reimagined the lives of Indonesians, and gave re-birth to ‘trash’. Kyle and his team employed Indonesians to create some of the awesomest shoes and sandals I’ve ever seen.  They’re made from repurposed tires, one of the biggest contributors to Indonesia’s pollution problem. The result is a one-of a kind product with a built in cause.

4.) Services that employ marginalized populations.  Until now, I’ve talked a lot about products, but services can be an excellent match for cause-based companies. Samasource employs marginalized populations around the world in micro-work projects for businesses. The fact that Samasource provides a service allows them to link up with virtual employees in regions where unemployment is staggeringly high.  Central to Samasource’s mission is a training program that gets neglected populations the skills they need to succeed in virtual business. In this way, Samasource is using its core service to solve the social problem it is addressing: high unemployment among marginalized groups.

5.) Products with multiple causes.  My favorite example of this is Sword and Plough. Sword and Plough calls itself a ‘quadruple bottom line company’ because it weaves several missions into one product.  A fashion company, Sword and Plough is currently focused on a line of high quality bags and totes.  Their products are made from repurposed military fabrics and product sales support military families.  But that’s not all, the company is dedicated to hiring military veterans.  The result is a cause-based company that has social purpose flowing through every bit of it, and that makes for a pretty cool story that customers are sharing like mad.

Your product is the star of the show, your cause the supporting actor. Devote yourself to building a product that is worthy of star-level treatment, and your supporting actor will shine as well.

As always, if you have questions, or need help walking through this, hit reply and I’ll hit you back with a crazy witty response :)

Peace and love change nation,


Direct download: What_will_you_offer_for_social_good_product.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am CST

What’s krackin’?  I hope you’ve been having a swell day, and are ready to rock your Friday with some words of wisdom about social change. Before we break into today's lesson on social entrepreneurship, I wanted to apologize that I haven't put out a 'best of' episode of the podcast here in a bit.  That's my bad, and I'll work to get it rolling again soon.  The reason is exciting - our new podcast has been a blast and taking up good chunks of our time, but still, no reason we can't get some best of episodes in your earbuds.  I'll work on that this weekend and get those rolling again.  

Alright, 'nuff said on that...You’ll remember last week in social entre 101 we chatted about crafting your why (remember, if you’re still having trouble on that, hit ‘reply’ and I’ll help you).  So, I’m assuming you’ve started that up (don’t worry if it’s far from perfect - the key is, you’ve started!). Anyway, today, let’s build off your why and start talking about your people...

Any cause based movement must start with people at its core.  There are the people you will serve through your social mission, the people you draw into your movement who will become your customers, and the people you’ll build partnerships with along the way. In my upcoming book I’ll chat more about all of this, but for the purposes of social entre 101, let’s just chat about the people you serve:

The story of the people you serve needs to define everything you do. The people you serve are your ‘why’ and they are what makes your whole movement tick.  The people you serve will help you build every other piece of your business: they will define your brand, they will draw in your customers, and they will become woven into the story of your products and services.  This is why you must get clear about the people you are called to serve.  I say this because it is only a highly personified ‘why’ that will keep you engaged through the trials and tribulations that will inevitably come.  A deeply personalized ‘why’ is also the only way I’ve found to truly galvanize a movement and bring people into your cause.

Let’s look to an example of this.

Bridget and Joe of LSTN on a service trip. Photo credit: LSTN Headphones

LSTN Headphones is a cause based business that is devoted to helping the world hear.  LSTN’s founder, Bridget Hilton (in above pic, on right), has a deeply genuine and personal reason for serving people who are hard of hearing.  Bridget is a lover of music. She was born into it and it has been what she’s lived and breathed ever since.  From record companies, to bands, to musical instruments, she’s been in on it all. So, you can imagine how dramatically Bridget was impacted by a YouTube video of a 39 year old woman who was hearing for the first time. Bridget was deeply moved by the video, and it caused her to ask uncomfortable questions of herself.  Where would her life be without beautiful music?  Why did so many people lack access to technology that would give them the gift of hearing?  How was it fair that she could hear and build a career around music when so many could not?

It was at this moment of deep personal reflection that Bridget created LSTN Headphones.  The company’s mission is a beautiful blending of Bridget’s passions with her desire to serve others.  LSTN Headphones are premium headphones constructed from repurposed wood.  The sound quality is as beautiful as the headphones themselves.  But it is their purpose that makes them truly stand out: for each pair of headphones sold, LSTN donates a hearing exam and hearing aids via the Starkey Foundation.  I want you to focus on the way that Bridget defined her why: She was impacted by a deep emotional moment, a moment that struck Bridget to the very core of who she is.  Bridget was so deeply moved by the woman in the YouTube video that she had no choice but to act.  If you want to be a social entrepreneur you have to have Bridget’s passion for the people you will serve.  You have to be so moved by a social problem that you have no choice but to act.

Remember that the people you serve are your why. They are the story you need to tell everyone as you build your cause based movement.  As you grow, the people you serve will come to define your brand.  LSTN’s retail website is filled with videos and pictures of people receiving the gift of hearing.  The packaging for each pair of headphones sold features the story of LSTN’s people and cause.  And finally, LSTN’s customers literally wear LSTN’s story, creating conversations that grow LSTNs movement and impact exponentially.

I hope you now see why finding clarity about the people you serve will be a critical first step you take in creating your cause based business.  It is their story that will weave into everything else you do.  And it is their story that we will use to help you do all the things you will need to do to build, brand, structure, and grow your business.

Take it easy out there change nation, catch you on the flipside.

Direct download: People_you_serve.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:46pm CST