4 Tips for Social Venture Fundraising Success (Part One)

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Raising money for your social venture is the single hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. Most people hate fundraising, aren’t that good at it and shy away from focusing on it.  That said, it sure is fun when someone gives you a $100k check as an investment in your company. Like you, I like getting checks that help me fulfill my dreams and make the world better.

In the past 7 years I’ve raised money from:

Stuff I Love – Running a Social Venture


Quick video on why I love running a social venture. Let’s face it, being a social entrepreneur can be really challenging. You have to work your tail off and deliver a business that makes economic sense while serving the mission or cause you’ve committed to. That’s not easy so I congratulate you for even being willing to try.  Very cool to see the business word moving in this direction.  Great for us all.

The ultimate home office for social entrepreneurs

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I live with three women (2 under the age of 10), two dogs, two cats and a fish.  Ours is a chaotic home with kids playing, dogs barking, just constant activity with the occasional broken dish. There is one place I can truly call my own where there are no American Girl dolls, legos or pet toys laying around and that’s my home office.   I do have an office in downtown Encinitas (2 blocks from the beach) but I do work from home very often.  In my 10+ years of running different startup social ventures here’s what I’ve learned:

Three questions that guide us

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All deals are not created equal.
When I first started in the impact investing world I chased a lot of deals and wasted a ton of time.  I took deals (and chose investors) based on opportunity and not alignment.  Big mistake.  Now, every deal our company pursues goes through a simple 3 question filter.  If I can’t get a ‘yes’ to all three questions then I don’t pursue the deal, no matter how good it looks.

My three questions:

Automatic Green (for the people)

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I believe in the Red Sox.

The New York Yankees have been the hated rivals of my beloved Sox long before I discovered the rivalry when I was 6 years old growing up in Attleboro, MA. The chances of me wearing a Yankees hat are virtually zero.  I’d rather sit through an entire Justin Bieber concert than wear a Yankees hat.

The point is that changing beliefs and behavior is hard.  It takes education, cajoling and a constant “what’s in it for me?” for people to change.  Even then most diehards probably aren’t going to change.

How we got here…

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For some reason I’ve never written about how our company started.  At some point I’ll probably write something much more detailed but for now here are a few highlights about the start of our company:

  • The birth of my oldest daughter, Kaya and the movie Inconvenient Truth were the two major factors that launched our business.  I always wanted to make a difference in my career and now had an opportunity.  At the time (2006) the concept of green building/green living were unheard of.  I got a lot of quizzical looks when I told people what our company did.  Now everyone and their mother is a HERS rater:)
  • The idea for the business came smack dab in the middle of the desert on a drive back from Phoenix to San Diego while listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn on the radio.  We had just made a client a significant profit on a few green remodels and thought, why don’t we just do this ourselves?
  • I wrote our entire business plan at a coffee place by the beach in 5 straight, 10 hour days fueled by double espressos and bagels.  Since I’m not a great typer my hands were literally swollen by the end of the week. Unlike many other start-up founders you might read about, I absolutely loved writing our plan.  It felt like I was writing something with the potential to change the world. Sounds cheesy but it’s the truth.
  • Our first projects were in largely non-green minded areas like Detroit, throughout Texas and Phoenix.  Our success on these projects proved that if ‘green’ worked there it would work just about anywhere.
  • A few years ago we did a deal with a huge international firm that committed $50M to us (to start) to launch green homes on a national level.  After 6 months of working with them I ended the partnership. Without going into details, I was not comfortable with their business practices and wasn’t going to put our name on something I didn’t believe in.  That said, I’m the only person I know who walked away from $50M.
  • From the very beginning (and to this day) I have been committed to the alignment between green and profit. I have based our business on the belief that green should be more profitable, not less. Our slogan has always been, “Do good, make money”. The more good we do, the more money we (and our investors) make.
  • We’ve never taken (and won’t ever take) venture capital money. We will only work with true impact investors who care about investing in a socially responsible business.  Our investors are are true angel investors.  They believe in our mission and our vision and are the most supportive, positive people I know.  They inspire me on a daily basis and I am honored just to know them.

 

Porch-to-Porch Communities

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You deserve more.

You deserve more from your home and your neighborhood. You deserve to live in a home that is comfortable, improves your health and costs less to operate. A house that is safe, sturdy and strong and adapts to your family’s ever changing needs.

You deserve to live in a community where you actually know your neighbors and hang out with them occasionally. A community specifically designed to support and contribute to the happiness of your life. A community that is fun to live in and collectively improves the lives of everyone who lives within.

Unfortunately real estate developers don’t build communities that way. Maximizing house size and room count are the major factors in their design. The front porch, once the dominant feature of a typical home’s entrance way, has been replaced with the monster garage. Their logic is, the bigger the house, the more profit we make. And until the last 5 years or so, they were right.

Now the tide has turned.

Building Green Homes and helping Non-Profits

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One of the things we’ve done recently is partner with a few non-profits in our business. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the success of the program and wanted to share how it came about and how we’re moving it forward.

A few years ago I was approached to be on the Board of Directors for Jeans 4 Justice, a non-profit in San Diego that educates kids about sexual abuse and sexual violence. I believe strongly in their mission and joined their board.

Fast forward a year.

The J4J work was going well but I saw that they continued to have the same problems that many other non-profits face. They have to spend tons of time raising money which takes away from fulfilling their true work. Raising $ was their constant focus.

This bothered me enough (I hate broken systems) to come up with a plan to help them out. We designed a plan to put a profit-sharing program in place so that as our company earned revenues, we’d donate 5% to them. We actually wrote it into our corporate by-laws and it’s worked beautifully so far. They know that as we close deals they get checks.

Still, the whole non-profit donation model bothers me. It seems like non-profits are constantly asking for money and not able to provide much in return to their donors.
Below is plan that we’re doing to help a few non-profits in the area. I believe it can be good for the non-profit and good for us. I’m hoping other businesses blatantly steal my idea on this because if so, a lot more non-profits doing great work can thrive.

Summer Driveway Dinners

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During one of the best summers of my life I spent numerous nights eating dinner sitting in my driveway. I would come home from work and my wife and kids would be playing with our neighbors in the yard.  The kids would all be playing and the wives would be drinking wine and talking.

Each of us dads would get home, pop a beer and join the party.  After a couple of hours the sun would be going down and we’d all head inside.  There would be times where I’d get home at 5:30 and not step inside my house until 8pm.

What I love about those times is how spontaneous and easy it was to hang out and be part of a community of friends*.  There was no agenda, no planning, no driving. It was easy, enjoyable and made living in that particular house fantastic.

If I could I would happily live in a shack in a neighborhood where my family could enjoy that sense of community again.  Most people would.

In fact, in designing the ‘Healthy Home Method’, one of the biggest impacts we considered was the societal impacts of homes.  Sure, we want our houses to be green and cost less to run, etc.  We also want them to be designed in a way that makes it easier for people to be neighbors and build a sense of community.

Most current house designs make that virtually impossible – huge houses, with monster garage doors and no front porches.  All of the activity takes place in the backyard and the front is largely for decoration.  Because of this many of us barely know our neighbors.

We’re designing healthy homes with big front porches to make it easy for you to know your neighbors and create hassle-free community.   Don’t worry, our houses still offer a ton of privacy, we’re just making it easier for you to hang out with your neighbors when you want to.  We believe that our healthy homes can make people’s lives healthier, happier and more rewarding.

*We still get together with those friends every month for pizza night.  We moved from that neighborhood more than 4 years ago but the bond with them is strong enough that we see each other once a month.

 

Photo: Flickr

Impact Investors as Early Adoptors

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When we launched our company and raised money from our 1st investors (2007) the concept of ‘green’ homes was far from commonplace.  In fact, no one really knew what we meant by green and the industry really hadn’t taken off yet.  Our team (our company and our investors) enjoyed success because we were in the early adoption stage.  Green homes were new and the desirability for green homes buoyed our success.   Being early adopters was good for us and for our investors.

Fast forward to today and the concept of healthy homes is very new.  We again are at the early adoption stage of the growth in this sector of the housing market.  Again, our team (our investors and us) expect to enjoy success because we’re at the beginning of the curve on the upswing.  The sector hasn’t matured yet and is continuing to grow and expand.

Since we’re one of the only companies focused on healthy green homes as a model we’ve got the double benefit of:

  1. Increasing demand for our product (healthy homes).
  2. Little competition.

I’m glad we seem to be ahead of the curve (again). Also, I’m very happy that our business model gives our investors the greatest opportunity for long-term growth.

The Healthy Home Method

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For the past several years an idea for a better way to build homes has been at the forefront of my thoughts in green building.  While their are countless energy-efficiency rating systems (LEED, BuildItGreen, Energy Star, etc) there really hasn’t been one that encompasses a whole life method of building.

That said I’m excited to announce the Healthy Home Method of building.  This is my take on how to design and build a healthy home that supports every aspect of your life.  This isn’t just about saving money (energy-efficiency) this is about creating a happier life. By utilizing all of these elements we can create homes that are more than energy-efficient.  We’ll create homes that allow us to lead longer, happier lives and protect the planet in the process.

The five elements of the Healthy Home Method are:

The Big Pivot

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This blog used to be primarily for the coaching side of our business.  I didn’t spend much time at all describing the work we do in the green development world since I did most of that on the Simcoe Green site.

Well, now for simplicity’s sake all of my writings will be here.  Much easier to manage (my selfish reason) and probably more effective for you, my cherished reader.  Really, I do cherish you, very cool and very happy that you have chosen to read this blog, if only for a few minutes.  After all ESPN.com is available 24/7 so I appreciate you being here.

Also, as per the request of several people, I am going to approach these posts from a conversational level rather than a professorial level.  Looking back on a few things I’ve written in the past and I feel like I come off like a professor in a tweed jacket, which I clearly am not.

I’m just a guy who chucked a pretty easy, well paying corporate career because I wanted to do something different.  Something that I could be proud of and something that inspires me.  I do miss the nice expense accounts and fancy sales dinners but mac and cheese is fine with me if I get to do what I love.

Impact Investors and the Legacy Question

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All investors are not created equal. Some care strictly about their returns, their IRR and pure performance of their portfolios.

Then there are investors who want to build something.  Investors who be part of something historic and contribute to their legacy.  These people are often called ‘impact’, ‘caused-based’ or ‘mission’ investors.

They invest in companies that:

  • Improve society or assist an under-served community.
  • Are aligned with their personal beliefs (children, community development, sustainability, etc).
  • Are focused on doing something great, something historic (not just creating the next Angry Birds).
  • Have a solid team, strong leadership and great business model.

Impact investors realize that the question is not, “Will you leave a legacy?” but:

“What legacy will you leave?”

It’s a subtle difference but looking at it from that paradigm can change your perspective dramatically.  I have 2 daughters, Kaya (8 yrs old) and Noa (4 yrs old).

Regardless of my intentions, I’m daily creating my legacy right in front of them.  When I pass on (50+ years from now hopefully) they’re not going to remember how much money I made or the nice clothes I wore.

I hope they remember the difference in the world their Dad made. I hope they remember our dates and the path I chose to try to make a difference in the world.  Unfortunately, they’ll probably remember my bad jokes and my god awful grey sweatpants.

The danger of being neutral

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Neutral isn’t neutral, it’s bad.

Put a car in neutral and it doesn’t go anywhere until it slowly slides downhill.

Neutrality is apathy and apathy kills.  The enemy of neutrality is passion.  Ask any Red Sox fan how they feel about the Yankees and you’re unlikely to hear anything neutral and thats’ good.

Passion drives results and endeavors on when most would give up.  Thomas Edison wasn’t neutral about inventing a light bulb and because he had passion he got it done.

The less neutrality, the more progress.

In the housing design we need less neutrality.  We need to stop being neutral about the growing disconnect between our living needs and modern day home design.  Let’s build homes that are healthy, easy to run and cost less to operate and made from superior materials.

Homes that foster neighborhood interaction, encourage front-porch living and generally contribute to happier lives.

The time to be neutral is gone.

For Inspired CEOs

For Inspired CEOs

“Fortune Favors the Brave”

Virgil said it but you and I are living it.

The time to launch or run an inspired business is right now. There has never been a more auspicious time to launch and the world has never needed it more. What is an “inspired business”?

An “inspired business” is simply a business that makes the world a better place. I’ve worked with inspired CEO’s running inspired company’s all over the US including: wind farm energy companies, non-profits, schools, green real estate investors, commercial builders and apartment managers, solar companies, etc.

Uber-successful Inspired CEO’s that I’ve had the pleasure to work with all share three common traits:

  1. The company they run makes the world a better place.
  2. They believe in what they do.
  3. When they started out, they knew less than you do right now.

Healthy Green Home in 10 Easy Steps

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This post is written for anyone who doesn’t live in a hermetically sealed, LEED Platinum, net-zero, passive solar house built with fair trade materials. Basically, it’s for all of us. Our company has greened tons of homes and wanted to pass along the biggest things you can do to green your house. I am defining a green house as one that is:

Healthier/Safer/Less toxic to live in for you, your family, your kids and your pets.
Less expensive to run, costs less in utility bills every month.

There are some added things in here for people who live in California (where I do) but the info can be used by anyone.

Launching a Green Business Venture

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Launching a green business venture is incredibly daunting. If you’re a new green start-up you’re probably facing the following challenges:

Finding your niche in the world of green business.
Getting funded and/or finding investors.
Competing with the information overload your prospects experience every day.

I have coached green start-up entrepreneurs all over North America over the past several years. My clients have launched green businesses in green real estate investing, eco-consulting, green retail stores, online eco-products, sustainable non-profit pre-schools, etc. They come from all walks of life, from the northern parts of Canada to south Florida.