Friday, April 30, 2010

Pink Buckets or Buckets of Paint, the Real Losers in the Buckets For Cure Campaign

There has been a whole lot of uproar lately with announcement of the Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Buckets for The Cure Campaign. A multitude of cause marketing organizations and people and organizations have weighed in on this.  Some of the uproar stems from the disconnect of a fast food chain that sells a product laden with fat, promoting a cause such as breast cancer research. Blame is being hurdled on both sides, it seems more so at the Susan B. Komen organization, for “selling out”  to the potential 8 million dollar contribution that KFC hopes to raise. KFC has offered the explanation that they can really make an impact on breast cancer awareness to the communities where they are located
Finding a cure for breast cancer is a noble cause, truly worthy of partnering with a suitable corporate sponsor that can have impact on beating this disease.  However, when a sponsor chooses one cause over another, it should be based on a well thought out strategy that aligns with the corporate values and citizenship objectives.

Whether KFC or Komen win or lose in this deal, there are, for certain, other “big losers,” (and we are definitely not talking about weight), in this whole scenario. The money that KFC is spending, or donating, could have gone to causes that are quite literally closer to home and where it could have had more direct impact.  And the partnerships that KFC could have forged with these more needy causes in their own backyards could have the potential of eliciting  positive publicity and an increase in consumer participation.  

Take for example my closest KFC - I can identify more than a handful of causes that are experiencing major shortfalls of funding and support, that are within a five mile radius: a homeless shelter, a food bank, conservation/environmental non-profits, a bankrupt K thru college educational system, a scholarship/mentor program for low income students, a local community hospital (which, by the way, has a major breast cancer treatment center), programs for the aging,  programs for immigrant day-workers, and many more.

Supporting programs such as these at the local level, or finding an umbrella organization that serves individual communities, won’t end up with a cute pink bucket. But it could provide buckets of paint of any color and other critical items for schools, hospitals, homeless shelters. That’s the choice KFC has made, and the real losers are the communities around them.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vistaprint Looks to the Horizon

 For the small business owner, the dynamic online printing and marketing service Vistaprint remains one of the web’s best-kept secrets. This fifteen year-old company operates facilities in six different countries and processes an estimated 57,000 orders per day.

They specialize in printed marketing materials – business cards, banners, postcards, letterhead – at incredibly low prices. They also offer affordable web-hosting, plus a variety of additional services, ranging from business consulting to copywriting and company logo design.

I first heard about this Internet innovator - shall we call them an Intervator? - from my fiance, who recently relied on their products and services to launch (shameless plug!) her own small business, Enchanted Party Tales, specializing in creative and fun high-end children's entertainment. She used Vistaprint software to personally design her site. She also affordably purchased a bevy of elegant, glossy postcards, business cards and promotional materials.

But if Vistaprint is a best-kept secret of successful small businesses like hers, so too are their philanthropic endeavors proving a burgeoning success. The company has spearheaded a wide range of charitable initiatives, most recently organizing an employee volunteer day just last week for workers at their Lexington, Massachusetts, offices.

Their employees teamed up with Boston Cares to plant trees, shrubs and greenery around the Charles River Walkway, while another group of workers joined Lexington Conservation to build boardwalks and other preservation infrastructure in a nearby seventy-eight acre protected wooded region; yet a third group coupled with Community Servings to prepare meals for the ill and homebound of Boston.

That’s only a fraction of the efforts Vistaprint supports. They also have a long history of work with Toys for Tots. In addition, each holiday season, the company sponsers a program in which employees choose organizations to assist, designing and executing their own projects.

Vistaprint’s most commonsense breed of philanthropy, though, comes through their online outreach to charitable groups around the world. As detailed on the company’s site, Vistaprint offers their marketing and promotional supplies and services at very deep discount to philanthropic groups, slashing their already low prices, lending a hand to those that lend a hand. They similarly offer a variety of free services, helping to build stronger charities through services like email marketing and online search profile development.

Vistaprint realizes the nature of their true expertise – promotion - and they utilize their knowledge and resources to equip charities for the best kind of success.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Socks For Happy People,Providing Inspiration,Education,Happiness With Socks

Socks for Happy People has a mission, that of providing inspiration and education to entrepreneurs and consumers, and the additional purpose of promoting well being, happiness and more positivity in the world. Here Tom Minter told me more about this.
A. We also have a wider social mission, myself and Richard, we have a plan and schedule for doing talks at universities, schools, doing courses and seminars where we are going to be doing a lot of talks on social enterprise, what it takes to be a social entrepreneur. We feel we have a great responsibility to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Q. I hear that over and over with the businesses that I have been meeting with.
A. Inspiration is the key, education is the second part. We can’t go out and say you have to care, you have to change. We want to be a shining example of how a global business can be caring of the world. You can be sustainable and abundantly profitable.
So when I say inspiring the next generation of social entrepreneurs, what I mean is inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs who want to be making more money. I want to tell them: “It’s not that you can either do well, or do good. You can absolutely do both. And if you do both, you can actually be successful in both areas. But, if you need to make a difference you can’t do great in the world unless you make enough money to do great in the world with. You can only give once you have what you need yourself. That is the reality. In order to create great stuff in the world, we need to take care of ourselves. Being a martyr is not sustainable.
Q. I’m finding that a lot of social entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs by nature. It seems to be in their blood. I am interested in the area of social enterprise, where people are doing, socks, books, office products, whatever, where the social mission is baked into the business.
A. It is an interesting area. And as you probably read on the website, we are not into the sock business; we are into the happiness business which just happens to be in socks. It could be anything. The most inspiring thing is that at the moment there are so many businesses that are trying to do good, and it is only a matter of time that we all come together and there will be a tipping point.
We are attracting cool people who want cool socks, once they are on a journey, and then maybe through osmosis and association they change. The first step of influence and transformation is to meet people in their own world and then raise awareness, and then through awareness comes action. We are bridging the gap between consumerism and contribution.
Tom sat there with me holding a copy of  Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out, by Marci Shimoff, in his hands as though it were his bible. Marci Shimoff writes about the many ways that individuals can create happiness in their lives and cites many of the leading psychological studies on the role happiness of in various sectors of society as an important component of societal well-being. These studies have shown that happiness contributes to more success, better health, better relationships and to charitable behavior. I couldn’t help but probe more on how this fits in with their mission and purpose.

Q. Tell me about your goals to promote happiness and wellbeing.
A. As I understand it, everything comes back to happiness. If it doesn’t make you happy why do you do it really? From a wider perspective the happier we feel the more we are in alignment with a universal force, I think that is the evolution of us as a species and as a consciousness.
Q. Tell me about how your socks do that.
A. We are launching three designs; first one is stripes of varied colors. Stripy socks go one step further. So behind everything we do, we ask well what the meaning is, what’s the deeper purpose? Do you know, Penny On? They have a global mission. For every single pair of socks you buy have the option to add a penny on. The tissue inside the socks tells you where the pennies have gone missing. So each stripe is like a piece of a pie chart. This big stripe, represents the 26 million pounds of pennies that are lost in the street. Another stripe represents the 7.8 million pins of pennies missing in the car.
The second design is called: “what lies beneath.” Not everyone wants to show their bright socks. Above the shoe line, it’s normal, when you take your shoes off you see the design with different animals.Then we have the affirmation socks with the inspirational saying: “Today I will smile and feel good.” There is a message on the inside as well.
Not everyone in the world responds well to the idea of promoting happiness, after all with the reality of all the problems in the world, promoting happiness may seem stupid. And yet,their latest blog post, along with an explanation of the situation between Tibet and China, they boldly announced their goal to have the Dalia Lama’s picture wearing their socks on the cover of Time Magazine.

In an interview with Ed Diener, one of the leading researcher in the field of positive psychology and happiness, and author of: Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, the Dalai Lama has said that there is such a thing as “stupid happiness”. 

Socks for Happy People is not about promoting “stupid happiness” for they have a keen sense of responsibility to raise people’s awareness of problems in the world. And Socks for Happy People strives to make people’s lives a little better, either by improving some aspect of the  quality of their life, or by simply giving people a brighter and happier day with a smile.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

So What's Really The Point of a Social Enterprise? Socks For Happy People, Part II

Creating a new business is difficult enough, but creating an ethical and social one and living the principles that one believes in, as Tom , the co-founder said, it means choosing a path that is even harder.

In Part II, we learn more of the story of Socks For Happy People and the ways in which they seek to be an ethical and social business; one that focuses on the triple bottom line; or-as they wrote in their blog post: What's the Point Of This Sock Business, Really?
"Be a shining example of how a business with the well-being of humanity and nature at its core can be inherently sustainable and abundantly profitable."
Q. Tell me more about the social part, giving a proportion of your profits to a cause, and then you have this component of your mission, that of promoting happiness, which I want to talk about later.
A. We are working on a couple different social projects, as Socks For Happy People, as an enterprise, we are a triple bottom line company, social, environmental, economic. So yes, with regards to the social side, we actually are giving a portion of our profits away.We are starting with contributing 10%, or 1% of revenue, but we consider that to be very low, we want to be contributing 30% or more within three years and then ultimately 50%. We want to become sustainable as a business first, because there is no sense in giving away 50% of our profit and then in two years we are out of business. It’s a solid start, we are not really happy with it, but it’s a good start.

And then you may or may not know, on the website we describe a concept, Buy One Give One Free. For every pair of socks that you buy a pair of socks goes to someone else in the world that really needs them. Our first partnership is with the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation. I don’t know if you know, in Mongolia it gets really cold, it gets to -40 degrees below. A lot of kids, especially street kids that have nowhere to live, they lose their toes to frostbite so there is a real need for good quality, thick socks. So we’ve partnered with the only sock manufacturer in Mongolia and we’ve created locally made camel wool socks that work for under minus 80 degrees below zero. Anytime anyone buys a pair of socks from us, they are immediately buying a pair of socks for the Mongolian street children.

Q. What are the other ways you are social venture?

A. With regards to our environmental side, we are partnering with this organization called Weforest, who has a goal of reforestation of 20 million kilometers of rain forest. So one of things we have taken responsibility for raising funds for their project in Thailand. We will be raising funds for them. We will be releasing more details about this.We really want do everything, so we do not want to do much so we end up not helping anyone.

Q. Are your socks being made sustainably?

They are being made with organic cotton. It’s much better for the soil, for the workers, for the customers wearing them. We also have in research and development more sustainable materials, because our socks are mainstream socks, they have nylon in them, because it keeps the shape. Socks For Happy People is about more than that. We have been very conscious and aware that we are about inspiration and transformation.

Now the fact of the matter is that we could have made a sock that was all sustainable but then we would be only selling to people that really liked that type of sock and the others, people wouldn’t buy a sock like that. We would be preaching to the choir in a sense. We decided to create a mainstream sock that appeals to people who are into great socks and to make it as sustainable as possible. They are about 65% sustainable now. We are also in research and development on finding materials that are biodegradeable.

We have people in India who are researching biodegradable nylon. And we use azo free dyes, which mean they can break down naturally, whereas a traditional dye won’t do that. When they get thrown away the azo free dyes means that when they can break down naturally. We are launching with a mainstream sock and we are attracting people that really love great socks and we are creating wider conversations about what it means to be organic and such.

We are getting people on a journey and once they are long the journey, to live our lives as sustainable as we can, and we can educate people on these issues.

In Part III we will hear about how Socks For Happy People truly seeks to be a shining example.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Makings of a Social Venture: Socks For Happy People, Part I

Two weeks ago, Socks for Happy People, a philanthropic social venture launched their line of socks-not just socks, but a fun, inspired, joyful product. I had the opportunity of meeting Tom Minter, the co-founder with Richard Taylor, in London, days before their launch. As I sat in the Paddington Station Starbucks recording my interview with Tom amidst blaring music in the background, I was amazed at the unbelievable passion, enthusiasm , visionary and innovative thinking of the co-founder of the brilliant social venture, Socks for Happy People. Socks for Happy People is a business that was created out of inspiration and love of socks, (no less,) and from the insight into the opportunity to create a brand in a market where no one brand stands out.

Socks for Happy People has finally launched its online business selling bright, colorful and inspirational socks after a long journey of ups and downs. In this three part interview we get to hear about the hopes of creating the best sock brand ever; the struggles of starting a social business; and the inspiration and vision for fulfilling a mission of creating good for the world with a successful and thriving enterprise.

In earlier posts we have written about the essential characteristics of a social entrepreneur, those of grit, passion, perseverance and business smarts. Tom and Richard have all those qualities, plus they have happy feet.

Q.Tell me about how you started Socks for Happy People.

I’ve been a sock fan for quite awhile. I love interesting socks and people would comment on my socks. Where did you get those? A lot of people love great socks but very few wore them. Not very many people wake up in the morning and say, I got to go and buy myself some great socks today. If they are faced in front of them, well yeh, I’ll buy them. So, I thought it would be fun to make a really cool sock brand.

Q. I am really interested in the social aspect. Tell me how this began, what was the inspiration.

A. When I finished with my other business. I thought, what is it I really want to do next? and I’m a sock guy. And I believe that you want to something that you are really passionate about and when you get out of bed on the morning. You say, you really want to do this thing. Despite that you can’t think of a single sock brand. So we thought we would try to position ourselves as the most brilliant and magnificent sock company in the history of the world and also with a social aspect in mind. I feel that my personal mission is to help support the universal consciousness. I feel that that an organization for an entrepreneur is no more than a vehicle to magnify your personal mission. There are a lot of people that really feel they have a personal mission to do some great stuff, but as inspiring as our personal missions are, as one person we can only meet a few people a day, so it’s quite limited. But when you have an organization you have the potential of affecting millions of people because you can imbue your mission your passion and purpose and then magnify it to the world. I met Richard when he was in a university and I taught a class there. I gave him a call and we met for coffee. At first he asked: so what, it’s just sock? Well, as we explored it more, he came to understand the power of creating a business they way we would want a business to run.

It’s been an interesting journey. Two and half year-long journey, very frustrating at times. Longer than we had really planned. One of the things when you are creating a social business and an ethical business, you are faced with the choice, do you take the quick and easy path or do we stick with what we believe in. Here’s the thing, do we really believe and do we really live the principles that this company was created on?

We traveled around the world because we wanted find the right place where our socks would be made and that it was congruent with our values. Originally we went to India and our director of sustainability, he has a team in India, that do all his research and development in sustainable materials, was originally working with his team, exploring different avenues for us, but that didn’t work out. Because our socks are not traditional socks, some of the designs are non traditional, they are quite intricate-and later we went to China and we were trying things out in China as well, we found that our standards were higher than they were dealing with. In China they do 50,000 orders. All the companies weren’t set up to work with us, and they really needed to believe in the company and recognize that we were doing something more than just socks.

So even though we were working with companies in India and China what became apparent was that, they were not great innovators. We would say let’s do this, and they would go away and make changes, and it was lost in translation and the bits weren’t right. Every round would take weeks, and it was weeks go by and all of the sudden a year later we didn’t have what we wanted.

Q. I thought I saw on your blog that you were working with a factory in England, looking at the color samples and dyes.

That was the next phase. This wasn’t as simple as we thought. We thought, these companies make hundreds of thousands of socks, it should be easy. So let’s bring it back to UK, it would probably be a little bit more. It became apparent that there is only one manufacturer in the UK left. His operations are so small that it wasn’t right for us. We now have a factory that we work with, they own shares in the factory in India. So we can go to the team and we can discuss exactly what we want and we can make the samples in the UK and then it all gets stored on a computer chip, they e-mail it over, the factory in India has exactly the same machine, and they make the socks exactly how they are designed.

Socks For Happy People is no different than other startups in the uphill battles they have had to face of finding the right manufacturer, getting funding, structuring the pricing and tapping into the personal qualities of perseverance and grit.

After all, like Richard said: "it is, just socks." The story continues in part II of how this startup incorporated a vision to be a triple bottom line company, doing good for the world while doing well with just socks.