In the pursuit for unicorns and million dollar bonuses, things can often get forgotten.
The environment, labour rights, natural resources are just a few big ticket items that companies can forget when building a business or a product.
However, a change is on the horizon. Many entrepreneurs are asking themselves how to build sustainable business from the ground up, and look at how the money they make can be channeled back into the community.
At the recent Purpose Conference, UTS Hatchery’s own Tida Tippapart was joined by four individuals who see that social impact isn’t just ‘a nice to have’ anymore. Read on to find out how these entrepreneurs are rewriting what it means to be in business.
If we can start by introducing yourselves:
JOEL HANNA: I started a company about a year ago called Big Little Brush. We sell biodegradable toothbrushes and use the profits to fund primary health schemes in communities across Australia.
ANNE ASCHARSOBI: I currently look after Google’s philanthropic arm (Google.org) in the Asia Pacific.
CHRIS RAINE: I founded Hello Sunday Morning about 8 years ago. I took a year off drinking to explore my own relationship with alcohol, which was excessive as a nightclub promoter. Through that I wrote a weekly blog called Hello Sunday Morning, and all these people wrote saying we need help. We ended up building an NGO (non-government organisation) that supports the largest
online community in the world.
MITCHELL TAYLOR: I’m the co-founder of online furniture company Koala. The status-quo of the furniture industry is find a natural resource and exploit it’s labour, so we felt strongly that Koala should turn this on it’s head.
What were your early stages of prototyping like?
MITCH: We started business off a single $100,000 investment and from that we made 13 million in revenue. It was just about making our customers advocates and learning quickly from our failures.
JOEL: We embrace the idea of failing fast, and went through a user-led design process. We realised quickly that our opinions are interesting, but useless. For example, we thought we’d sorted shape and design. My friend John said ‘How do you know whose is whose is in the bathroom?’ and I said ‘Oh wow, I hadn’t even thought about’. The problem of a minimalist bamboo thing is that they look exactly the same!
How do you leverage the right partnerships?
MITCH: Partnerships as a small start-up allowed us to protect and preserve the habitats of endangered species, which is a key goal of our business. We’ve donated about $700,000 so far.
And we’re working with cattle farmers to put koala corridors on their farms.
JOEL: We have two key partners that we help to fund, and it’s a co-design relationship. The first organisation we engaged with was transactional. It’s a little program out of a health service by Stu. He educates primary school kids in the Indigenous community in West Victoria to brush their teeth.
The other partner is Red Dust, they run healthcare education in the Northern Territory.
ANNE: Firstly, natural allies. People who are naturally fit to help you and will be more successful if they worked with you. Secondly, amplifiers and compliments – look for people who could help you do more or have a complimentary skill set.
CHRIS: It’s like Tinder. You need to know the person. It might look good on paper but you have to date and experiment. It’s impossible to know whether its going to work without meeting them and working together.
Are we valuing the wrong type of entrepreneurship?
JOEL: The world’s been really concerned with profit but there’s definitely a generational shift. The social and human and environmental capital that an organisation is a steward of is part of the conversation now. Entrepreneurs are focused on building businesses that are healthy.
ANNE: If I look at the portfolio of nonprofits, more of them share two key traits. First is a tech solution, and that’s where we, as Google, can help. Brilliant ideas come from that shared expertise that comes up with the most creative way to solve an existing problem. Second is scalability. A nonprofit we funded in the Philippines is looking to upscale a million Filipinos in digital literacy. They’re a ten person organisation, but with their network of 20 nonprofits, with their hundreds of teachers, can achieve one million numbers in two years. Folks are moving away from sole person with a brilliant idea, more to who’s going to achieve the most impact.
How do you drive vision?
ANNE: Make sure that vision is clear, inspiring and long term so that failure doesn’t kill the idea or the organisation itself. But then you want to get productive energy out of each person. Finding people who don’t just have technical ability but have passion as well. It’s also about getting management that echoes that culture and reinforces it. You have to embed that vision and that culture in all of the organisation’s processes.
To finish, what is the one thing you wish you had known before?
JOEL: If you’ve got an idea, if you’ve got that little fire in your belly and you are losing sleep about it just do something. You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve with a little bit of patience and a couple of late nights.
ANNE: Move beyond doubts and expectations by asking ‘why’. Show in small pilots you have the model to fight their scepticism with real data. And bring your team to the table. With my small team of five everyone listed their skills, connections, things they were good at and what they weren’t good at. It was inspiring to see how together we’re capable so much more. All of us started with no titles, just tasks that need to be done.
CHRIS: Be persistent and patient. There’s so many external variables to success and you can’t account for them all.
By Catherine McElhone, UTS Master of Digital Information Management & Quyen Nguyen, Bachelor of Communication (Digital and Social Media) Bachelor of Laws