Posts

corporate social responsibility investors

Corporate social responsibility why investors don’t give a sh!# about it

Today’s socially conscious businesses with corporate social responsibility programs  are not socialists nor hypocrites. We are entrepreneurs that believe that it is possible to be profitable while supporting the communities in which we operate.

corporate social responsibility investors

About three months ago my business partner and I met with a capital-raising expert to discuss our pitch deck for Boldface. We sought out Mr. Expert to get unbiased advice from someone who had successfully “been there and done that” on several occasions.

For the most part Mr. Expert LOVED our product, our business model and our team. In fact, other than some minor tweaks and rearrangement of pages, the pitch deck survived intact – with one major exception.

As he was reviewing the deck Mr. Expert came across a page that included our stakeholders. “Get rid of this section” he stated with authority. After looking at the section he crossed out I looked to my partner and noticed some apprehension. Mr. Expert wanted the portion of the pitch deck that stated that once profitable the company would make corporate social responsibility a core value.

“Investors don’t give a sh!# about social responsibility. Investors want to know how much you need, how long to break even and how before they get their return on investment,” said Mr. Expert.

We deferred to Mr. Expert and agreed to remove the statement from the pitch deck. But on our drive back to the office my business partner and I continued to debate the point. In Mr. Expert’s absence I played devil’s advocate and took Mr. Expert’s position.  I even brought Milton Friedman into the fold.

 

friedman_quote3

When I was in college I studied economics. During that time I learned about Milton Friedman and his highly controversial 1970 article for The New York Times, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.”

“There is one and only one social responsibility of business,” he wrote, “to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.” Friedman went so far as to label business executives with a corporate social-responsibility mission as socialists and hypocrites.

And while I agree that Friedman was an economics genius, I am not sure that his argument has withstood the test of time. With government funding of nonprofits strained, at best, and with public disgust over CEO pay and the one-percenters, it seems that companies with well-thought-out and sincere corporate social responsibility policies stand to gain as a result of their honest and transparent actions.

In the age of social media, access to information has been democratized and the consumer has been empowered. Through peer-to-peer reviews, instant video uploads and platforms such as WikiLeaks, businesses can no longer commit their resources entirely to the pursuit of profits.

Today’s consumer is not the consumer of the 1970s but is someone who expects more than just a product or service. He or she expects businesses to reinvest in the communities where they have earned a profit.

BoldFace nonprofits images corporate social responsibility

Consumers expect businesses to behave as good corporate citizens, hire from within the community, provide living wages and prevent environmental damage. Any business operating today under Friedman’s doctrine of profit maximization would be tarred, feathered, video recorded and ridiculed on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

We never put the statement back in the pitch deck. Despite our desire to use our company to benefit worthy organizations we moved forward with Mr. Expert’s advice to get the funding we needed to expand the company. That is not to say that my business partner and I were happy about it. But we understood.

But I am happy to report that earlier this month Boldface launched Boldface for Nonprofits. Through this program we partner with nonprofits, schools and sports clubs to create customized backpacks and we return 30% of the sale to the nonprofit. This program allows us to begin building longstanding relationships that will be mutually beneficial.

Mr. Friedman, today’s socially conscious businesses are not socialists nor hypocrites. We are entrepreneurs that believe that it is possible to be profitable while supporting the communities in which we operate. It’s a new world that requires a new business model…even if the pitch deck doesn’t say that much.

Google branding

I Google, you Google, we Google: Own your brand success

Google branding

I am often asked how I come up with my article topics. My answer is usually: “They just come to me.” This weekend this article came to me while desperately trying to find a Starbucks in between my daughter’s soccer games. After five minutes of driving the main boulevard with no sign of my favorite siren my daughter said, “Don’t worry Dad. I’ll Google it.” Sixty seconds later: problem solved.

As an entrepreneur and a writer of “all things entrepreneur” I am constantly looking at the successes and failures of businesses. I do this to both implement it in my ventures as well as to share it with the world.

There are no guarantees in business. Success comes through the culmination of many moving parts that come together and result in an outcome where the sum is greater than its parts. Notwithstanding the absence of a secret sauce for success there are definitely some strategies that come close to acting as silver bullets. One such strategy is turning the brand into a verb.

I noted above how my daughter saved my morning when she volunteered to “Google” the closest Starbucks. She didn’t “search” for Starbucks. She “Googled” Starbucks. I don’t even think she used Google to find the location. But she has come to think of the act of searching as Googling. That is what I call the closest thing to a silver bullet in the world of entrepreneurship.

Richard Laermer, in his book Full Frontal PR, asserts that the coining of a phrase is a great way to start people talking about your product. In Google’s case, the brand name (Google) replaced the act of searching for something on the Internet. Yahoo!, AltaVista, Hotbot and Ask Jeeves all preceded Google by years. Yet it was Google that became the 800 pound gorilla. Was that the result of better technology, smarter management or a cooler logo? I say not.

Google’s ability to own the verb used to describe the act of searching for something made it the king of the search engines and strongly contributed to its staying power in the evolving search space. Think about it. How many times has someone asked you to Google something. How many of those times did the person want you to specifically use Google and not another search engine? Brilliant!

“If you do it right, your name will be the first one that leaps to mind when consumers think,” Laermer states. “This is not an overnight effort, but the effects can be powerful, and they can last a lifetime.” Just ask Google!

Someone who gets the power translating the brand to a verb is Boldface CEO Randy Fenton. “While we are not a tech company like Google, YouTube or Facebook, we are involved in producing and delivering innovative products. As the world’s only maker of on-demand customized backpacks there does not yet exist a well-recognized understanding or vocabulary for what Boldface does. So the timing is ripe for us to take ownership of that process.”

Fenton uses the phrase “I’m gonna Boldface that” and the corresponding hashtag “#ImGonnaBoldfaceThat” to establish Boldface as the verb describing the process of creating customized on-demand apparel.

“Our product is unique and our process highly innovative. Regardless, we know that competition will always be brutal – no matter how awesome our backpacks are when compared to the competition. So having Boldface become synonymous with producing customized on-demand products will ensure our long term success,” said Fenton.

Laermer encourages entrepreneurs attempting to “own” the verb to use the word as a verb replacement everywhere possible. “When you’re trying to drive buzz about your product in this way, you have to use the new word whenever you can, in conversation and in writing, to get people truly to start using it and to make it stick in the collective memory.”

Good luck. And if you have any comments or questions about turning your brand into a verb you can post them below. Or you can always Google it!