Social Connectedness / 2013
Helping Small Businesses and Independent Contractors in Los Angeles Be Very Nice.
When you are making a billion dollars a year, it is easy to donate a million to a good cause. When you are a small business, or an independent contractor, likely bringing in a revenue that is barely pushing 6 figures, it is really hard to give back. We’ve seen lots of success from models over the years such as the One Laptop per Child initiative, and the famous One for One model from TOMS that proceeded it, but what about the service business? What model of business can be created to turn philanthropy into an integral and viable component of service-oriented business? We hear about billionaires like Bill Gates giving away half of their net-worth upon death, but is that kind of impact really limited to the mega-rich? What would a very nice business look like? 5 years ago I founded a company called verynice to begin to answer these questions. verynice is a full service design and innovation consultancy that is dedicated to disrupting the way the design industry operates. Over 50% of our efforts are given away for free to non-profit organizations around the world. I chose to settle on the “over 50%” philanthropy model because it is my philosophy that anything you spend less than 50% of your time doing is just an extracurricular activity. To have a true impact, I believe we need to make giving back an integral component (at least 50%) of our daily lives. Over the course of 5 years, we have had the pleasure of donating our services to over 200 non-profit organizations, all adding up to a pro-bono dollar amount of close to $750,000. By the beginning of 2014, if all goes according to plan, we will have hit the million dollar mark in donated services. All of this with a staff of 7 people in our downtown LA office, and over 170 people located around the world. A recent article in Harvard Business Review estimates that the annual marketing and design expenditure amongst non-profit organizations in the United States alone is a whopping 7.6 Billion dollars. Let’s put that into perspective. $7.6 Billion dollars can but up to 100,000 homes in the United States. $7.6 Billion dollars can provide over 1 Million college educations. For about a dollar a day, World Vision estimates that a child in an impoverished community can be granted access to fresh water, nutritious food, healthcare, and even an education. Imagine, then, what could be accomplished with the spare funding that would result from the eradication of marketing and design expenditures amongst non-profit organizations… So here is the thing. Myself and the people at verynice have been able to donate the equivalent of $750k. That is amazing, and I have seen the impact that saved money has had on these organizations, but at the end of the day, it took us 5 years to accomplish that. Here is the other harsh reality check - $750k is only .01% of the amount of money non-profits are spending each and every year. That is just not enough. We can’t do this alone anymore. If we truly want to create a world in which any and all marketing and design expenditures belonging to non-profit organizations are eliminated, we need to get serious about the replication of our model. My vision for verynice has never been to build a big successful business. Instead, the vision has always been to build a big and successful model that is capable of replicating itself by inspiring others to leverage it as their own. To do this, I am launching a new project, beverynice, which is a platform for inspiring and holding accountable independent contractors and small business owners for their philanthropy by offering resources and tools to make “extreme philanthropy” a viable endeavor in the small business arena. All of that is getting a bit ahead of myself, but to start this long-term journey, I am creating a “beverynice startup-kit” that will completely open-source the verynice business model for other entrepreneurs in service-oriented business at large (consultants, doctors, designers, lawyers, hairstylists, etc.) to leverage. If all goes according to plan, this startup-kit will pave the way for a successful replication of our model. There is no company in the world that comes close to matching our pro-bono ration while still maintaining profitability. I sincerely hope that this project creates more competition for us. To get started, I already have assembled a team of 14 entrepreneurs / beverynice “alpha testers” from around the world that have expressed specific interest in leveraging verynice’s business model in their own companies, and I am mentoring them all free of charge to make that happen. I have a lot of long-term plans for this project, but in the interest of beging specific for this application, the project’s scope will include the completion, production, distribution, and dissemination of my toolkit, to make Los Angeles a leader in small business philanthropy.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
verynice started in my apartment at UCLA when I was 19 years old. To date, I have grown the organization to be home to over 170 people around the globe. We have successfully completed projects for over 200 non-profit organizations. Our work has been done in, with, and for 40 countries spanning 6 continents. If you have a project that we can collaborate with you on in Antarctica, please let me know.
All of our work equates to roughly 50,000 hours of volunteer service. This is the equivalent of working for 5.7 years straight without any break, and we do all of this without any automated process or crowd-sourced gimmick. Just a group of friends from around the world working hard.
The verynice business model has been featured and published multiple times on renowned publications including Forbes, GOOD Magazine, The Huffington Post, and The Guardian. In total, our work has been featured on over 100 print and online venues.
Over the past 3 years, I have personally delivered over 50 talks / panel discussions / workshops at venues across the United States including TEDx, UCLA, Art Center, and the Art Directors Club.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
I will employ verynice, and the freelancers in verynice’s network (including myself) for the design and development of all components of this project. The money earned by verynice will not only compensate us for our time away from client work, it will go directly back to the community and the causes we serve by supporting out pro-bono efforts.
Printing partner - I am still seeking out a local printing partner for the toolkit, but would like to work with Typecraft as their work is wonderful.
Workshop partner - While it is not finalized, it makes perfect sense for the workshopping and focus groups to take place in our space at the HUB in the downtown LA Arts District.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
I will measure the success of this project purely by numbers. How many people received the toolkit? How many people are actively implementing the toolkit? How many small business in Los Angeles witnessed business transformation? What total dollar amount has been donated to organizations by users of this toolkit? I like numbers. I am not at all a fan of qualitative analysis when it comes to philanthropy and “social good.” the success (or failure) of this project will be documented with great intention and hyper-transparency.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
My project will benefit Los Angeles in numerous ways. First, the toolkit will serve as a great resource for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles by giving them the tools and confidence necessary to excel in business and in philanthropy (at the same time). Second, the toolkit will plant the seed for potentially thousands of new businesses in LA, all of which will be actively giving back to their respective communities and the world at large. It is a win-win for Los Angeles and the world in which it resides as well as the people and businesses within LA.
If this grant is received, I will personally provide up to 5 hours of free consultation on best practices for integrating our model to the first 100 Angelenos that obtain a copy. That is 500 hours of service that I am willing to give to the people of LA, a value of $100,000.00 which is the exact dollar amount of this grant. It all comes back around :)
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Success in 2050 for this project would mean that all of verynice’s altruism, and our model in general, are just common practice. In 2050, the verynice model would be ubiquitous in the Los Angeles business scene. I really hope that we look a lot less impressive by then.