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Start-up and Start-good


Cristina M. Gallegos By on January 20, 2017

A quick search on “What’s the percentage of Millennials starting companies?” brings a slew of results ranging from “62% have considered starting their own business” to Bloomberg’s wet-blanket advice of “Millennials, you can’t afford a startup; it’s time to get a job!”

That’s the full spectrum between idealist energy and conservative cynicism. Where should you be? Somewhere in the middle, where the juiciness of what’s possible is empowered by the harshness of reality in a way that augments not diminishes, and where the boldness of your ideas and your inherent courage is fueled by other people’s decades of experience. Because, hey, falling flat on your face is funnier when it happens to complete strangers…

And here is where this column comes into play. I am writing this – and plan to do so regularly – to give you some of that fuel, to show you a few tactical shortcuts, and to provide you with the defensive and offensive combinations of a Black Belt master in entrepreneurship and the social good (yes, that would be me). All this, without you having to go through the inherent bruises and broken ribs that might come with the traditional acquisition of a Black Belt-level of expertise.

In 2017, I will focus my writings on the intersection between start-up and the social good, and I will write about the mechanics of building a social impact component into your business model, to help you develop a double (or triple) bottom line for your startup.

First insight, in case you have not heard of the concepts of double and triple bottom line, “double bottom line (DBL) is an approach that measures financial profit/loss in conjunction with performance in terms of positive social impact.”

If you are an entrepreneur that is looking to build a business with a double bottom line, you would want to build profit/returns while creating something tangible and positive in certain communities or for certain populations. An example? TOMS (www.Toms.com) with their, by now ubiquitous, model of “one for one” where every product you purchase enables TOMS to help a person in need. You buy a pair of shoes, and somewhere in the world, a child in need gets a pair of shoes because of you; you buy a bag, and somewhere in the world, a new mother is provided with a safe birth because of you. Nifty, huh? And more relevant, also kind while profitable.

Other models for impact that an entrepreneur can incorporate in their business model:

·       Donate a percentage of the business’s profit to an area of focus or a particular cause (example: anything from 1% to the planet, to giving away half or, in the case of Newman’s Own, 100% of the after-tax profits)

·       Build jobs to empower a specific community or country (example: build your factory or shop in a small town, remote village, or a poor country; or in the case of Subaru’s “Zero Landfill Waste” Auto Plant in Indiana, our country!)

·       Bring to market a product with the specific purpose to alleviate a problem the user is facing (example: Soapen,  a pen-like soap that promotes handwashing for children in developing countries, reducing the changes of diarrhea and dysentery)

·       Build a business model that sources the raw material from the local community (example: a restaurant that has a farm-to-table approach)

·       Build an awareness platform integrated into your services or products in a way that is tied to a cause (example: think of the RED campaign, the NFL use of pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, etc.)

·       Donate a percentage of your inventory to a community in need (example: you make water filters, and you give x% of what you make to the homeowners of Flint, Michigan)

·       Share your space, resources, personnel with others toward the creation of some good (example: make your underused meeting room available to nonprofits or a specific group)

·       Celebrate your business successes by championing events that raise funds for causes (example: maybe your next holiday bash can be a 5K race benefiting your local counseling center)

·       Make some of your products open source to all, or free to nonprofit organizations (example: software, bikes, etc.)

·       Provide significant discounts to nonprofits (I probably don’t need to unpack this one).

Triple Bottom Line (TBL) is – to put it simply – the Double Bottom Line approach with an environmental and ecological component. In essence, if you want your business to pursue a Triple Bottom Line, you make a profit while doing good in the world, and you maintain environmentally friendly practices.

For example, at Sky(lark) Strategies, my firm, we make a good living by providing 100% of our strategy services to enhance the capacity of the social sector + we donate a sizable percentage of our profits + we volunteer a significant amount of time in the community. That is our 3-prong Double Bottom Line approach. To that, we add our Triple Bottom Line strategy:  we have created a paper-free work environment and we aim to minimize the amount of CO2 we generate while driving by driving less and less often, and by having our staff telecommute almost 100% of the time.

For me is about what feels right mixed with a practical attitude. I didn’t start with a Double/Triple Bottom Line idea in mind. It just sort of happened because that’s how my brain works and how I look at life. It is also SOLID business. A paper-free work environment means that I never have to buy paper, paperclips, printers, toner, binders, files, and mercifully, bulky, expensive, space invading filing cabinets with fixed capacity. Less work is spent on filing, maintaining printers and copiers, mailing stuff, and so on, and that means that more billable hours can be accounted for. Also, having no paper files is critical to having a team that is 100% remote. Can you imagine dealing with paper files across state lines or, sometimes, across continents? Yeah, no…

Our filing needs are covered by the use of a Network-attached storage (NAS) which is a data storage server connected to a computer network providing data access on site and off site. To that we add cloud backup (because redundant redundancy makes for a good nice sleep) and productivity repositories for all our projects.

Driving less is again, more practical. Less CO2 in the environment also means less gasoline purchases, less miles, and less wear and tear on the cars, thus, lower maintenance and insurance costs.

Our office is a shared space at the Impact Hub Los Angeles. It is a hip place with more square feet than I could ever rent outright, and we only pay for what we need, only when we need it. Besides tremendous flexibility, I never have to worry about insurance, cleaning, and again, maintenance. There is even a full kitchen and always hot coffee, tea, and… still and bubbly water on tap (my personal favorite).

Your approach could be totally different and on a very different scale. All that matters is that you are working towards building a wealth engine that makes the world a better place at micro and/or macro scale. Either way, I am here to help you figure out the “how” of this dual business model. And perhaps, at time, I can help you clarify some of the “what” and the “why”.

If that’s what you are looking for, send me your questions and I will answer them in the next post because there’s nothing quite like specific answers to real world questions.

In writing this column, I am inherently making assumptions: that you are hungry to build your sector-busting enterprise and change the world in the process. That you are willing to put what it takes, that you have a vision for economic success and a vision for making a difference even if you can’t just yet articulate what that difference might be, and how might you measure it.

Or perhaps you don’t care to even measure it, because ultimately, the bottom line is the only indicator that matters and doing well while doing good is nothing but a marketing strategy because your market demands it. That’s cool too, because honestly, the ocean does not care about your motivation for keeping trash out of the water; the ocean only cares that you do.

So, there you have it. The kickoff for a column on the creation of a profitable impact model to merge with a profitable business model, a column to help you preserve some of your sanity while, you know, going and getting them!

And now, go get them! Start-up and start-good!


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