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Updated by Stan Phelps on Jul 13, 2023
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Red Goldfish Project

A collection of examples from the upcoming book, Red Goldfish (launching 2/14/17) by Stan Phelps and Graeme Newell. A red goldfish is any time a business does a little extra to embrace being #ForPurpose in business. What's Your Red Goldfish?



Meathead Movers Helps Women Leave Abusive Homes At No Cost

Meathead Movers Helps Women Leave Abusive Homes At No Cost

Getting out of an abusive relationship isn’t easy—but actually packing up and moving out is even more daunting.

Hundreds of women have Aaron and Evan Steed to thank for coming to the rescue. These owners of a California moving company have volunteered to complete the move for them, free of charge.

When they first started their business, Meathead Movers in 1997, the high school athletes were simply looking for a way to earn some extra cash. Back then, their fee was usually $20 and a pizza.

As their business grew, the Steeds started getting occasional, frantic phone calls from women with little or no money who wanted to quickly move out before their abusers returned home.

The sympathetic movers always declined any compensation and rushed to the address to load their belongings.

One day, in 2000, a situation turned volatile when the abuser came home in the middle of the move. It was then that the company decided it had to ensure that the women and the moving crew were both safe, so they partnered with a local women’s shelter.

“What was good about that is, they could be vetting the requests for help, supporting the women with counseling, and making sure when we went in, the proper restraining orders were in place, or police were on hand if necessary,” Meathead’s CEO Aaron Steed told Good News Network.

Beth Raub, director of the local women’s shelter, said that one of their staff is always on-site the day of the move so they can “call law enforcement if things get dicey.”NY: She's The Boss

Once Homeless She’s Now the Boss of Her Own Construction Business

Since those days in 2000, the company has expanded into Santa Barabara, Ventura, Orange, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties. Whenever they open a new office, within the first week, they head to a local women’s shelter and knock on their doors.

“It’s the special service we like to offer,” Aaron said on a phone call. “These moves became very personal to us, made all the employees so proud, and became part of our mission statement.” He also said the same services are offered to any victim of domestic violence–male or female.

Aaron Steed (right) says MM hires student athletes to give them an income while in school.
Yesterday, the company launched a new campaign that asks other businesses to “get creative” and help victims of domestic violence. Called #MoveToEndDV, the Meathead Movers hope to inspire others to rethink how they can work with shelters, or help women as they try to rebuild their lives and move into their first home or apartment.

“Some of our ideas are for businesses to offer free security systems, a dog kennel service, or for an auto-mechanic to provide oil changes,” Aaron said. “All those little things would help defer costs of starting over.”

Their goal is to spark 100 new stories of businesses offering services, and form a like-minded community. Already they have received pledges from stylists for free haircuts, from a realtor offering rental searches, and a counselor who has offered to help.

“Were so excited about it,” said Aaron. “It brings so much more purpose and passion to our lives and if we can be an example for others, that is so much better.”



Stella Artois Works to Promote Access to Clean Water Through Buy a Lady a Drink

Stella Artois Works to Promote Access to Clean Water Through Buy a Lady a Drink

Taking advantage of my home base’s proximity to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, I attended the press briefing for Stella Artois’s joint announcement with of a new initiative aimed to ending women’s journeys to fetch water. Stella announced a $1.2 million donation to

Around the developing world, women spend hours each day carrying an array of buckets, carafes and jugs to fetch water from the nearest available clean water resource. This is further complicated by the fact that these water sources are unreliable and some trips don’t yield any water., an NGO working in places around the world is a result of a partnership between Matt Damon–hence the connection to Sundance–and Gary White.

“Awareness is as important as fundraising,” Damon said in a statement. “We want people to understand the issue in all its complexity.”

This objective is being accelerated via the partnership with Stella Artois through a program called “Buy a lady a drink,” where Stella fans are invited to buy a custom chalice for $12 with $6.25 per unit being donated to On the website, five short films produced by Frederick Scott and Nicolas Jack Davies that capture the challenges associated with a lack of clean water, focusing especially on the time wasted fetching water each day and how the effort to gather water dominates the daily routine for poor families lacking clean water resources.

“’s current success shows we can make a difference in solving the water crisis,” said Debora Koyama, Global Vice President, Stella Artois. “As a key ingredient in our beers, water is a natural resource Stella Artois aims to protect and preserve. We are delighted to enlist millions of Stella Artois fans around the world in this effort, as well as the iconic Stella Artois Chalice as the symbol of this campaign.”

“It’s a new chapter for Water.og in terms of how can we take this message that we as an NGO kind of struggle to get out there into the world and deliver that message in new and different ways,” White said. ‘That’s why this partnership was such a natural for to tap into that storytelling, that vision for how we tap into new audiences. I think what’s going to emanate starting tonight is bringing all kinds of new individuals to this issue, to wake up to it, to respond to it, to take action.”Stella is selling three different chalices, each with a different design inspired by the region it represents, one from Ethiopia, one from Honduras and another from India.

Stella Artois, a division of AB InBev, reports working on a number of water related issues around the world. Water is critical to growing the barley and other ingredients of beer, and water itself is a key ingredient. A company statement notes, “The company is currently spearheading a multi-year, global program to reduce water risks and improve water management, protect watersheds and reduce global water usage. Water is essential to AB InBev products, as well as to the social, economic and environmental well-being of communities where the company operates.”



BASF Agricultural Solutions Helps Stop Summer Hunger With the Sort-A-Rama

BASF Agricultural Solutions Helps Stop Summer Hunger With the Sort-A-Rama

BASF Agricultural Solutions is a subsidiary to parent BASF. BASF, headquartered in Germany, is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2015. The Agricultural Solutions Division is driven by purpose. Their goal is to improve nutrition and quality of life in the world. BASF’s employees help create chemistry for a sustainable future. The company reinforces this purpose with the work it does with the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina. The company embarked on Stop Summer Hunger to donate $30,000 to the Food Bank to help the 300,000 people who are food insecure. In addition to raising and matching funds, over a hundred employees volunteer to assist with the Sort-A-Rama to sort food into family-sized bags for distribution to those in need.



RTI International Sparks Creativity to Help Improve the World Through Its Innovation Showcase

RTI International Sparks Creativity to Help Improve the World Through Its Innovation Showcase

RTI International is a research organization. It offers research and technical services to governments and businesses. RTI’s purpose is to improve the human condition by turning knowledge into practice through cutting-edge study and analysis. Employees at RTI understand their work helps improve the world. In order to encourage innovation, the company allows employees time and resources to develop their own ideas. This year RTI hosted their 5th Innovation Showcase which celebrated more than 50 projects by staff who received IR&D (Innovation Research & Development) funding.



Extended Stay America's Hotel Keys for Hope

Extended Stay America's Hotel Keys for Hope


When you stay at Extended Stay America, please remember to drop your key in the donation box. For every key dropped in the box, we will donate $1 of hotel room value, up to $1 miilion dollars for the Hotel Keys of Hope program so that even more cancer patients can benefit.


In 2013, with a passion to support a charitable cause so close to the hearts of its employees, Extended Stay America created Hotel Keys of Hope program to support the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge program, forever changing the lives of those in need of lifesaving cancer treatments away from home.

Donating 50,000 hotel stays (free and deeply discounted) in 625 US locations, Extended Stay America helped more than 6,700 patients and their families overcome the financial stress of travelling for treatment.

By July of 2017, our Hotel Keys of Hope program will have contributed 150,000 rooms to cancer patients and their caregivers since the program launch.

Over $5 million in lodging cost savings to an estimated 15,000 cancer patients while getting potentially lifesaving treatment from cancer.

“Taking care of people is what we do best,” said Tom Seddon, Extended Stay America's CMO. “So we are truly delighted to be able to give back to the many communities in which we operate by providing the Hotel Keys of Hope program to cancer patients, thus creating a stay that makes a difference.”


Extended Stay America and the American Cancer Society hosted its second annual Hotel Keys of Hope reunion in July 2016 to celebrate cancer survivors. Guests enjoyed a fun, activity filled 2-day celebration in New York City, including a keynote by Olympic gold-winning gymnast and cancer survivor Shannon Miller.



The Cantina of Biltmore Village gives back to the Manna Food Bank with Donate-a-side

The Cantina of Biltmore Village gives back to the Manna Food Bank with Donate-a-side

As local hunger-relief organizations stage fundraisers and awareness campaigns for Hunger Action Month, local restaurants make their own efforts to promote food security in the community. From donating large portions of food leftover from catered events to shelters through the Food Connection program to providing free gourmet lunches to the homeless community through the Haywood Street Congregation’s Welcome Table, there’s no question that Asheville’s restaurant owners are doing their part to help solve Western North Carolina’s food insecurity problem.

One restaurant, though, has established a simple, year-round way of giving — asking patrons if they want to skip a side dish. Customers at The Cantina at Biltmore Village can opt out of one or both of their entrée’s side dishes with the cash equivalent ($2 for one or $4 for two) being given to MANNA FoodBank. In just over two years, the Be Nice With Your Rice program has raised more than $42,000.

“The amount donated is not our profit or what ii costs us to make it. It is the actual cash equivalent, which can be up to $4 per person,” says co-owner Sherrye Coggiola. “We collect about 300 donated sides a week.”

“The really powerful thing is that people are giving up something to give to us and that feels good,” says Alisa Hixson, individual and corporate relations director at MANNA FoodBank. “You are literally giving up something tangible and potentially very satisfying — your food — so that someone else can eat.”

Focusing their charitable giving to help create food security was natural. Besides being in the food industry, co-owner Anthony Coggiola has firsthand experience working in developing nations where hunger is a daily battle. The Cantina originally partnered with MANNA as a culinary sponsor of the organization’s Blue Jean Ball, but the owners decided they wanted to create a deeper engagement with their giving. That idea spurred the side-dish donation program.

“We have children going to school hungry, and that is amazing to me,” says Sherrye Coggiola. “I was born and raised in this town, and am so thankful that for what Asheville is today, but we all have a responsibility that everyone can live here and enjoy this town. As things get more expensive and it gets harder to live here and eat here, we all have a duty — no one should go hungry.”

The Coggiolas feel so strongly about their partnership with MANNA that even their staff is educated on what the organization does, with each new employee touring the site.

“One of the main reasons their program is so successful is that the wait staff is really on the front lines explaining exactly what we do,” says Hixson. “I think they feel really connected to it.”

All around the restaurant, patrons can see how the Coggiolas have chosen to direct their support — stickers on the front door, the box on the menu depicting the side-dish donation program and the chalkboard behind the bar that displays the monthly donations raised and how that equates to meals provided.

Not only have they managed to involve the local community through their donation program, they’re also involving visitors to the area. “Biltmore Village gets a tremendous amount of tourists,” says Hixson. “They have found a way for the tourists to support MANNA’s work.”

“We are a triple bottom line company — people, planet and profit,” says Sherrye Coggiola. “In everything we do, we look back toward that and know that we can improve.”

She challenges “all businesses in the area to take a look at their generosity and consider focusing for impact by partnering with the local charity of their choice in a way of their choice based on their business model. We know how generous this community is, but working with nonprofits in this and other business endeavors has given us a unique perspective.”




Plaza Cleaners helps out customers at the greatest time of need

Plaza Cleaners helps out customers at the greatest time of need

As signs go, the one in the window of cleaners along Northwest 21st Avenue is so small that it's easy to miss. But if you happen upon it, you'll find it's a tonic to restore your faith in humanity.

Why do it?

"Why not?" says Steve Young, owner of Plaza Cleaners at the intersection of Northwest 21st and Everett Street.

"Seems kind of obvious to me," he says. "Shouldn't all of us be finding ways to help each other?"

Six years ago, when the economy went south, Young decided to offer free dry cleaning to anyone who was unemployed and needed to look sharp for a job interview.

Since, then the operation has cleaned – for free – an average of two outfits a week. The company typically charges $18 to clean and press a man's suit, and $20 for a woman's professional-looking outfit.

"It seems the least I could do," says Young, who has owned the business since 1993. "I'm lucky. I've never been unemployed, but it's part of life in this day and age."

His offer is on the honor system.

"If someone wants to take advantage of me, that's OK," Young says. "But I think most people are honest.

"The last thing someone looking for work needs is to be questioned. They've enough to worry about."

Everything is done discretely, says store manager Kathy Butters.

"We'd never want to embarrass anyone," she says. "Come in, drop your clothes off and say you are going on a job interview. We treat you just like a paying customer. Except that when you pick up your clothes, we wish you good luck."

The window sign is visible to pedestrians walking along 21st Avenue. Butters says some people, inspired by the sign's offer, have come into the store, slapped $20 on the counter and thanked her for what the business is doing.

She said homeless shelters and other social service agencies helping people get back on their feet send clients to the cleaners.

"If you think about all the people applying for one job, that right outfit you are wearing might put you over the top," she said. "It won't get you the job, but it will make you stand a little taller, or feel good about yourself."

And then there are the moments – and there have been many – when someone walks into the cleaners and asks to speak to Butters.

"They look me in the eye, or shake my hand," she says. "They thank me, and tell me they got the job.

"Then they say they'll be coming back, this time as a paying customer."




CVS kicks butts and embraces health

CVS kicks butts and embraces health

At a CVS store near Times Square, the shelves are notable for what they no longer display: cigarettes. Now the only smoking products to be found are those that could help customers quit.

As of midnight on Tuesday, all 7,700 CVS locations nationwide will no longer sell tobacco products, fulfilling a pledge the company made in February, as it seeks to reposition itself as a health care destination.

The rebranding even comes with a new name: CVS Health.

The decision to stop selling cigarettes is a strategic move as pharmacies across the country jockey for a piece of the growing health care industry. Rebranding itself as a company focused on health could prove lucrative for the drugstore as it seeks to appeal to medical partners that can help it bridge the gap between customers and their doctors.

“CVS is really trying very hard to position themselves as the winner in that marketplace,” said Skip Snow, a health care analyst at Forrester Research. “If they can be perceived as a place to go to receive health care, and buy health care products, as opposed to the place to go to buy a bottle of whiskey or get your film developed, then they can capture more of the retail medicine dollars.”

CVS already operates 900 walk-in medical clinics, or “minute clinics,” where customers can get relatively simple services like blood pressure tests and flu vaccines. By dedicating space for these services, CVS and other major retailers like Walmart are diving into the pool of competitive health care dollars available for helping manage customers’ illnesses.

“We’re at the forefront of what we all see as a changing health care landscape,” Larry J. Merlo, the chief executive of CVS Health, said in an interview.

As the medical industry braces for the flood of new patients with insurance through the Affordable Care Act, drugstores see an opportunity to provide basic care to consumers who may not want to wait to see a doctor, if one is available in their area at all. And major chains like Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, can offer such services for prices that may appeal to patients on the fringes of the health care system.

“Health care is going to retail, especially for people without privilege,” Mr. Snow said.

Drugstores want to use their clinics to help drive foot traffic to their stores, and to their pharmacies, where customers can fill prescriptions.

CVS has entered partnerships with more than 40 health systems, including local hospitals, to help run its clinics. The company opened 32 clinics last quarter and is on track to open at least 150 more this year, Carolyn Castel, a CVS spokeswoman, said. Revenues at the clinics are up 24 percent in the second quarter, compared with a year earlier, and the company plans to operate 1,500 clinics by 2017, CVS said.

As CVS seeks new health partners, its decision to end cigarette sales may make it more appealing than its tobacco-selling rivals.

“Think of it this way: Would you find cigarette machines or retail stores in the gift shops in a hospital selling cigarettes? Of course not,” said Nancy Copperman, the corporate director of public health initiatives for the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, a minute clinic partner. “I think it does give them a leg up.”

In February, CVS Health, formerly known as CVS Caremark, announced that it would stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products by October. At the time, the company estimated that the decision would cut its overall sales by $2 billion.

Robert C. Garrett, the chief executive officer of Hackensack University Health Network, which operates seven minute clinics with CVS in New Jersey and is opening its eighth in November, agreed that the move made CVS a more attractive health partner. Mr. Garrett said that Hackensack was in discussions with CVS about ways to expand its services.

“When you stop selling cigarettes as a retailer, it sends a very big signal to the rest of the health care community that you are in the health care business,” said Tom Charland, the chief executive of Merchant Medicine, a health care research and consulting firm. “I do think that it’s going to open up many possibilities in all of the partnerships that they’re trying to create across the country.”

Of course, other retail chains that operate health clinics, like Walmart and Walgreens, have attracted health care partners even though they seem to have no plans to stop selling cigarettes.

“We believe that if the goal is to truly reduce tobacco use in America, then the most effective thing retail pharmacies can do is address the root causes and help smokers quit,” said James Cohn, a spokesman for Walgreens, in an email. Mr. Cohn pointed to the company’s initiatives to help people quit smoking.

A spokeswoman for Walmart, Danit Marquardt, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Rite Aid, Ashley Flower, said the company would “continue to evaluate” its products and services.

But some of CVS’s competitors have made bolder moves in other ways. CVS has not dedicated the floor space to its clinics the way that Walmart has, for example, and is still experimenting with how to streamline the clinic with the rest of the store. “As far as I can tell, they haven’t really figured out how do you cut up the floor space of a retail traditional pharmacy,” Mr. Snow said.

Mr. Merlo said that some of CVS’s newer clinics have done a “better job” of integrating the pharmacy, the clinic and the over-the-counter products.

“I think that’s something that we’re continuing to work on to make it a better customer experience,” he said.

A big opportunity for CVS as it pushes into health care, however, has nothing to do with what happens in the pharmacy itself. The company also wants to become a larger pharmacy benefit manager, which manages prescription drug plans for employers and insurers.

CVS expects its pharmacy benefit management business, CVS/Caremark, to grow to nearly $90 billion this year, up $30 billion over the last three years, Ms. Castel said. The company’s push into other areas of health care could help CVS expand that business further.

“If I’m an employer with 2,000 employees, it makes CVS more appealing to me as a pharmacy benefits management company as well because I have this integration with health systems,” Mr. Charland said. “That’s important to employers who are trying to reduce their health care costs.”

“For me, the story is not around how CVS can directly benefit from what they’ve done,” Mr. Snow said. “Rather, the story is around how CVS is engineering their public image in order to be perceived as the place to go to become healthy.”




airBNB opens up the world

airBNB opens up the world

If you want to understand Airbnb, you have to understand our beginnings. Our story started with a problem that those struggling financially know well. In October of 2007, my roommate Joe Gebbia and I were living in a San Francisco apartment, and we couldn’t afford rent. That weekend, an international design conference was coming to town, and all of the hotels were sold out. So we had an idea: why not turn our place into a bed and breakfast for the conference? We inflated air beds and called it the AirBed & Breakfast.

From that first airbed, Airbnb grew person to person, block by block, city by city. Today, our community is in 34,000 cities in 192 countries. This idea is about much more than just making ends meet. At Airbnb, we are creating a door to an open world—where everyone’s at home and can belong, anywhere.

This is not a new idea. When I told my late grandfather about this, he said, “Of course! That’s how I traveled when I was a kid.” Airbnb is the new, old way to travel. Decades ago, travelers stayed in boarding homes, neighbors shared what they had, and ordinary people powered the economy. These activities are re-emerging through a new movement called the sharing economy, where everyone can participate.

In New York, our 15,000 hosts are regular people from all five boroughs. Eighty-seven percent of them rent the homes in which they live. On average, they are at the median income level and more than half of them depend on Airbnb to help them stay in their home. From Harlem to Greenpoint, Staten Island to Nolita, 87 percent of our hosts live outside of the midtown-Manhattan hotel district. They are teachers, artists, students, and retirees who love doing this.

They include hosts like Teya, a student who loves cooking for her guests and will use the money she has earned on Airbnb to buy her apartment in Harlem. Or Javier from Brooklyn, who works in the restaurant business and likes to show off his favorite Latin dance spots to travelers from every corner of the globe. And hosts like Lauren and her husband who are using the money they earn on Airbnb to pay off their student loans.

We all agree that illegal hotels are bad for New York, but that is not our community. Our community is made up of thousands of amazing people with kind hearts. When Hurricane Sandy struck in late 2012, our hosts opened 1,400 homes to stranded evacuees. They didn’t provide just a place to stay: they personally connected with victims and offered comfort and support in a time of need.

While our guests and hosts have already made a substantial positive contribution, this is just the beginning. We imagine a more accessible New York that even more people can afford to visit, where extra space in people’s homes will not go to waste, and where millions of visitors patronize neighborhood small businesses across all five boroughs. This will be a city where tens of thousand of jobs for people like photographers, tour guides, and chefs will be created to support this thriving new ecosystem.

Other cities like Seoul, Amsterdam and Hamburg have already embraced this vision and the sharing economy. New York can do the same.

On behalf of our New York City community, we want to work for sensible laws that allow New Yorkers to share their space, earn extra income, and pursue their American Dream. And we want to work with New York to pass laws that meet three fundamental principles:

We believe regular people renting out their own homes should be able to do so, and we need a new law that makes this clear.
Our hosts are not hotels, but we believe that it makes sense for our community to pay occupancy tax, with limited exemptions for those who earn under certain thresholds. We would like to assist New York City in streamlining this process so that it is not onerous.
We are eager to work with New York to remove bad actors in our community that are causing a disturbance to their neighbors, and will create a 24/7 Neighbor Hotline where we will service the complaints.


Video: TEDx talk -


Ben & Jerry's Take a Stand Against Climate Change: If its melted, its ruined

Ben & Jerry's Take a Stand Against Climate Change: If its melted, its ruined

Global Warming. Climate Change. Climate Justice.
What Does it All Mean?
We live in a world where the effects of climate change are increasingly real; from melting ice caps to rampant forest fires, it can no longer be denied that man-made carbon pollution is affecting our fragile planet. The scientific evidence is settled; global warming is real and already impacting people around the world. The question now is, “What are we doing about it?”

The Effects on Our Planet and Its People:
Every passing year, we see changing patterns of precipitation, including more intense rainfall events around the world, dramatic changes in the arctic, changes in agricultural growing seasons and rising sea levels and ocean acidification. Some of these changes in our climate will have dramatic ecological and social consequences. The cruel irony of climate change is that people in the developing world, who can least afford to adapt to climate change, will pay the steepest price for the 200 years of industrialization and pollution from the developed world. It truly is an issue of climate justice.

It’s Not Climate Change… It’s Everything Change

It is more urgent than ever that we take steps to dramatically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions – and to do it in a way that equitably shares the burdens and risks of climate change among the nations of the world. Ultimately, we have to break the link between economic growth and development from natural resource extraction and depletion.

There is no quick fix to solve climate change, but we know what we need to do. We must:

  • Divest from fossil fuels
  • Increase renewable energy sources
  • Put a price on carbon pollution
  • Work with developing countries to invest in renewable energy



LSTN headphones helps provide hearing aids for people in need

LSTN headphones helps provide hearing aids for people in need

We believe what's good for business should be good for the world. Proceeds from every LSTN purchase are donated to help provide hearing aids to people in need. So far, we've helped change 20,000 lives through our partnership with Starkey Hearing Foundation. Join us today with your purchase!


A good set of headphones allows you to sink back and forget about the world for a while. That's the opposite of what Bridget Hilton wants you to do.

As founder of the West Hollywood, California-based LSTN Headphones, Hilton hopes her product will prompt you to think about those who are hearing-impaired.

In 2012, Hilton, who started working for Universal Music while still a teenager, saw a YouTube video of a young woman who was hearing for the first time. Surprised, Hilton started thinking about her own life and the pervasive role music had had in it. When she discovered that 360 million people around the world are hearing-impaired, and that many of them simply needed a hearing aid, Hilton was sold.

Or rather, hoped others would be. Her idea? Get consumers to help fund hearing aids for those in need by starting a socially conscious business selling music-related products. At the time, thanks in large part to Beats, headphones were transitioning from something audio geeks wore in their basements to fashion accessories. But not everyone was enthralled with the statement these headphones made. "There was a lot out there, but nothing that spoke to me," says Hilton. "Nothing that had a cool look that wasn't cheesy. It was all plastic and neon. There was nothing that would fit more in a fashion magazine or at Nordstrom."

The answer: headphones with wooden ear cups. The wood is beautiful, and its grain means that each set of headphones is unique. Hilton doesn't need to chop down trees--she relies on scraps provided by furniture companies. And wood has a strong connection to music, having long been valued by musicians and luthiers, among others, for its ability to shape a tone. The way each set of headphones resonates depends on the species chosen by the customer--ebony, cherry, beech, or zebra wood. "Not only is it really cool and each piece unique," says Hilton, "but it sounds better too."

Plenty of customers agree: In 2014, LSTN grew to $2 million in sales, from $500,000 a year earlier. The company is projecting $5 million in sales for 2015, and has so far helped improve the hearing of 20,000 people.

Warming up.
To actually manufacture the headphones, Hilton borrowed $10,000 from a former colleague and scoured Alibaba looking for manufacturers. Then she got on a plane to China and met with manufacturers that made headphones. After listening to 20 sample pairs, Hilton and Joe Huff, now her business partner, had a pretty good idea of what theirs should sound like. "We wanted a really balanced sound," Hilton says. "Most that are out there are overly bass-y and tuned to one genre, which is usually hip-hop."

Soon they had a prototype. Hilton says Kickstarter wouldn't accept LSTN because it had a social cause associated with it. So she snapped a picture of her prototype and put it on her own site, seeking pre-orders. Before that could get going, a friend of Hilton's was talking to a producer for the Today show about socially responsible businesses, and mentioned LSTN. The producer asked for a demonstration. Hilton sent the prototype--the only pair she had--and asked the producer to please, please return them when she was done.

LSTN was on Today before the company actually had anything to sell, and Hilton had to tell each of the few hundred people who contacted her that they'd have to wait two months for their orders. "Luckily everyone was cool, and it was great," says Hilton.

Getting loud.
While Hilton says one of the hardest things about selling headphones is that the market is so crowded, it's also a market that's grown tremendously. In 2011, U.S. headphone sales were just about $1 billion, according to IBIS; two years later the market was worth more than $1.5 billion.

In April 2014, Google approached LSTN and asked if the company would star in a small-business commercial. LSTN was crammed into a 600-square-foot office; Google showed up with "like 40 people" to shoot it, says Hilton. "Our landlord got pretty mad." So far, the video has racked up 26 million views. "If you don't have some sort of story, or purpose, you're not going to get that," says Hilton. The video is helpful both with consumers and in trying to negotiate marketing deals: "People can see that what we're doing is real," she says. LSTN raised $1.1 million in November, and counts retailers such as Nordstrom, Brookstone, and Abercrombie & Fitch among its partners. This summer, LSTN plans to introduce a wooden Bluetooth speaker.

Despite the recent headphone boom, IBIS expects growth to slow between now and 2019, to only about 0.8 percent a year. Hilton, not surprisingly, thinks LSTN will have staying power. "People with our product feel like they're part of something," she says. "It's not just about a pair of headphones. It's 'I got a cool product and I changed somebody's life.' I think that will sustain us."


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Novarate helps companies brings values and a shared purpose into focus

Novarate helps companies brings values and a shared purpose into focus

Bring the Shared Vision Into Focus

Novareté helps organization's move core values out of the handbook and into corporate culture. The online platform helps articulate and promote vision and values to create stronger relationships, encourage team harmony, and boost overall performance.Research shows that the most successful organizations go beyond simply talking about values - they actively infuse their values to influence day-to-day behavior.



Carroll's Kitchen helps homeless people cook up life solutions

Carroll's Kitchen helps homeless people cook up life solutions

When Jim Freeze met the homeless people who slept on the floor at Vintage Church downtown, he wanted to find a way to help them.

So Freeze, who worked at the church at the time, collaborated with a partner to open a restaurant that will employ eight formerly homeless women.

Carroll’s Kitchen will open on Martin Street in September, and the space will be unveiled during First Friday events Sept. 2.

“Work brings dignity, and when people are working, they make better choices,” said Freeze, who quit his job at Vintage and now serves as executive director of Carroll’s Kitchen.

Three of the women, who were referred by area shelters, will live together in affordable housing and will be required to take life-skills classes, Freeze said. They will earn between $9 and $12 an hour at Carroll’s, above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

“They will pay rent and take classes on money management,” Freeze said. “We want to make it as realistic as possible.”

Freeze started Carroll’s Kitchen with Vicky Ismail, who used to own Cary Cafe and now owns Highgrove Estate, a special-events venue in Fuquay-Varina. The two met at Vintage.

Food-service job-training models exist in several U.S. cities, including Charlotte, Ismail said. After learning about several organizations, Freeze and Ismail devised their own version and named it after Ernest and Della Carroll, who were civic and church leaders in Raleigh in the early 20th century.

Carroll’s Kitchen will have about 12 employees, eight of whom will be in the job-training program.

Ismail said they decided to focus on hiring women who are homeless or were recently released from prison because those women often have fewer opportunities and can have a hard time finding jobs.

“There’s a lot for men, there’s a lot for women with children,” she said. “But if you’re a woman that’s single, there’s not a lot out there.”

Freeze, 33, an Army veteran who graduated from West Point and served two tours of duty in Iraq, moved to Raleigh in 2011. Before he started working at Vintage, he worked with a recruiting firm that helps veterans find jobs.

Raleigh Rescue Mission asked Vintage leaders to allow some homeless people to sleep on the floor of the church, and Freeze got to know them.

The Triangle has some good programs to help those in need, Freeze said, but he and Ismail envisioned a place where women could gain job skills.

“It was kind of a leap of faith,” he said.

The restaurant space is the former home of The Square Rabbit, which closed in February after Carolina Ale House founder Lou Moshakos bought the building. Moshakos will eventually open a restaurant there, but he offered the space to Carroll’s Kitchen temporarily.

Freeze and Ismail are raising money online to help with costs of construction, equipment, training and housing. If they meet their $30,000 goal, donors have promised to make matching donations.

Freeze said he will soon start searching for a permanent space, but he hopes the Martin Street site will help the project get off the ground.

Recently, Freeze and Ismail hired Liz Reedy as sous chef and Nina Sigarto as general manager.

Sigarto, who has lived in Raleigh for about a decade, attributes her success to Ismail, who has served as her mentor. Nearly 20 years ago, Sigarto bought a pizza joint in Florida from Ismail.

“She gave me a purpose and helped me build a career out of it,” Sigarto said.

On a recent day, Sigarto teetered on a ladder as she painted the walls of Carroll’s Kitchen. She said she looked forward to helping others the way she was helped by Ismail.

“We’ve all had things happening in our lives that we’re temporarily debilitated by,” she said. “And luckily, I had somebody like (Ismail) in my life.”



Special Spectators help seriously ill children and their families by hosting VIP game day experiences

Special Spectators help seriously ill children and their families by hosting VIP game day experiences

Special Spectators profoundly impacts the lives of seriously ill children by hosting VIP all-access game day experiences across the United States. Since 2002, we've served 8,800 patients, parents and siblings at over 330 games - mostly college football.

In collaboration with some of the biggest programs in the country including the four teams who competed in the most recent College Football Playoff - Alabama, Clemson, Michigan State and Oklahoma, we create inspiring and memorable experiences for kids battling cancer and other life threatening illnesses. We partner with major FBS football programs and athletic departments to provide the quintessential Saturday experience including tailgate parties visited by cheerleaders, mascots and marching bands; locker room tours; meeting coaches & players; and a moving stadium announcement. Imagine a small group of seriously ill kids standing on the field in a packed stadium, being introduced to fans resulting in one of the loudest standing ovations of the season.

Special Spectators is run entirely by volunteers who love sharing our passion for sports with the children and families we serve.

A Moving Video of Special Spectators' Impact - this video of our 2014 Oklahoma Sooners game day experience provides a full picture of what we create and includes some great quotes from the kids.


Merchant Match Charity helps make every transaction count

Merchant Match Charity helps make every transaction count

The Merchant Match Charity Mission

Merchant Match Charity was born out of a desire to rise above the norm in an industry known for deception and gimmicks. We believe that giving is in the heart of an entrepreneur. Our proprietary system enables those merchants to turn a necessary cost of doing business into a way of giving back to the community.

Our mission is to change the way people view their merchant account, and promote the importance of giving back to the community. We strive to develop lasting partnerships with our customers to see them grow and their communities flourish.

Merchant Match Charity is blessed to be partnered with amazing merchants, schools, churches, and non-profits across the country. We work tirelessly to provide the very best customer service, technology, and support system for our customers.



Groceryships Helps Families Eat Healthily

Groceryships Helps Families Eat Healthily

Enter Groceryships: scholarships for groceries.

Here’s how it works: For six months, 10 South L.A. families receive a weekly allowance to spend on plant-based groceries, in the form of gift cards allowing them to buy fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, seeds, and nuts. In addition to financial help, the families attend weekly classes on health, nutrition, and cooking, focusing mainly on plant-based foods. They also get some back up, including “group support, a peer-buddy system, and mentoring.”

The program, which will wrap up its first six-month session in August, is based on the idea that healthy eating is a spectrum and it’s almost always possible to find something better to eat than fast food and junk food, even in under-resourced areas.

“We’re dealing with poor families that are struggling to get by and we’re saying, ‘try this quinoa salad.’ If you’re really stretched, that’s a big risk,” says Sam Polk, founder and director of the eponymous nonprofit behind the Groceryships program and a former Wall Street trader. “During the course of our program, we want to give families a little bit of breathing room to experiment with new foods and develop new habits.”

That makes sense, but what happens at the end of the six months, when families no longer receive the stipend?

The goal is to teach families how to shift their food dollars over the long term. These are folks who were not going hungry before, they just weren’t eating with health as a top priority.

“Most of the families we’re working with do have food budgets. And so now those budgets are going towards whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, and less towards fast food,” Polk says, adding that he has seen the first round of participants making exactly those changes.

“Over half of them have reported that their food budgets have gone down since they started eating this way,” he adds.

Foods like grains and beans are not only healthy, they’re inexpensive. If those become the foundation of a meal, they pack a ton of nutrition for your dollar. And packaged and processed foods can really bring grocery bills up. So one of the Groceryships classes talks about how oatmeal is cheaper than boxed cereal—and suggested the idea of serving brown rice in the morning, which Polk says has become a breakfast favorite for many of the participating families.

Because the program is so new, Polk was resistant to giving Civil Eats access to Groceryship participants, but Claudia Keller, director of programs at L.A.’s Promise, a partner organization helping recruit applicants for the program, thinks the model is working. “We’ve really seen, in talking to those folks, their attitude has changed. Their outlook has changed,” she says.

While Groceryship participants may be attracted to the program because of the stipends—who doesn’t want free groceries?—they end up staying because they start feeling healthier, make new friends, and find themselves with a support network that helps to make the lifestyle changes a little easier. Keller she says it seems likely the the new eating habits will stick, because “[Polk has] enabled them to prove to themselves that they can eat healthier and not break the bank.”

Since a lot of the barriers to eating better are cultural, the camaraderie established by the program (each class ends with an “empathy circle”) has been vital to its success. That’s evident in the attendance rate, which stands at an impressive 97 percent.

Polk is also excited about the potential for wider community impact. He says some participants’ kids have shifted what they eat at school, even throwing “smoothie parties.”

One woman was getting negative feedback from her husband—he wouldn’t eat what she cooked and even made fun of her being in the program. “Thirteen weeks in, he came to his first meeting. Now he’s eating what she’s cooking and he’s totally supporting her,” says Polk.

“So much of food movement and policy is focused on top-down stuff. And rightfully so, because that impacts the most people,” he says. “We are coming from the opposite direction. We know that if you empower one family, the ripples through concentric circles of people they know can have profound effects.”

It’s still early days, but things are looking good. Groceryships is taking applications for the next two six-month sessions and plans to roll the program out in New York City next spring. Polk is taking it as a positive sign that many of the new applications were generated through word-of-mouth. In one recent application, he says a mother of four expressed interest in cooking healthier food to her daughter who has cancer. “I haven’t met her yet, but she’s going to be in the program,” he says.



Everytable is on a mission to make healthy food accessible to everyone at an attractive price

Everytable is on a mission to make healthy food accessible to everyone at an attractive price

But Everytable in Los Angeles is betting that this will prove a successful business model, while also serving up a hefty side of social mission.

Here's the concept behind the new chain: Customers walk in and grab a to-go container of pre-made, healthful meals prepared by chefs who've previously worked in some of the finest restaurants in LA and New York. They can heat up the meals in microwaves at the restaurant, or take them home. And everything is priced affordably — though the price changes, depending on the neighborhood. The goal is to make nutritious food more available to everyone.

The first location opened this summer in South Los Angeles, a low-income area. The next one will soon open in a well-off neighborhood of downtown LA, and there are plans for outlets in other parts of the city. Each location will have the same exact menus and decor, but with different price plans.

Founders Sam Polk and David Foster spoke with Robin Young of Here & Now at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Highlights from their conversation follow, edited for length and clarity.

Sam: In 2013, I founded a nonprofit called Groceryships, which works at the intersection of poverty and food-related health issues like obesity and diabetes. Groceryships is in South Los Angeles, where per capita income is $13K a year. It helps parents who live in food deserts — places where there's very little fresh food and tons of fast food. It helps parents get healthy through a program that includes nutrition education, healthy cooking schools, fresh produce and emotional support groups. We kept hearing from a lot of the parents we were working with. Things like, "I need to get food on the go, and I don't have a lot of money. So I go to McDonald's."

I'm a former hedge fund trader, and David's a former private equity guy, and we basically took out our pencils and tried to figure out a concept for a business that would make healthy food that would be affordable for the families in the neighborhoods that Groceryships was serving.

On the difference between the two restaurant locations

David: At the location in South LA, we offer meals on average for under $4. We've got a variety of items like kale Caesar salad and a California Cobb salad, as well as some warm items like puebla chicken tinga and Jamaican jerk chicken. We offer some kids meals that sell for $2.95. The model for that store is to try to be priced affordably for the local community, but also priced competitively with what else is there — like fast food. ... The second location is opening up downtown, which is about 2 miles from the first one, but the demographics are quite different there. It's more of a professional crowd. That location is going to be offering the same meals, but for about $7.95 on average. We think that's priced really competitively with what's downtown, like Whole Foods and Sweet Green and Tender Greens. Those are great, healthy and fast options that typically cost about $10 to $12. So we think that even though it's twice the price [as the same meal you can buy at the South LA store] only a couple of miles away, it's still offering great relative value.

On the relationship between the two restaurants

David: Each store is designed to be individually profitable. At $4 per meal in South LA, we're not making much money from each meal sold. But if we get enough people to come out — and we're already seeing great traction — it will actually be profitable. The location downtown will also be profitable. So together they're part of this company that's working to improve access. The higher-priced location will help fund the growth of new locations in both markets.

On having one central kitchen

Everytable's meals are prepared in a central kitchen, then packaged in to-go containers. Customers can heat them and eat them at the restaurant or take them home for later.

Sam: The central kitchen produces a large amount of healthy food. We have two chefs: One is the former head chef of Le Cirque, one of the greatest restaurants in the country. The other was the head chef of a Culver City restaurant called A-Frame that was super hot and super local. They're creating these meals like the Jamaican jerk chicken and blackened fish that are ... mind blowing, and then at the commissary packaging them in grab-and-go containers. And that's a really simple but key economic insight. A standard restaurant is 2,500 square feet, has 10 to 15 employees and a fully built-out kitchen. Because of all those additional costs, they can't sell healthy food at a low price. But we open stores that are 500 to 750 square feet, and we don't need a commercial kitchen because all the food is already in containers. Because of that, we only need two employees in the store. So all of those savings are passed on to customers, who have these delicious, healthy meals that you can get faster than walking into a fast food place.

On changing attitudes about fast food

Sam: We actually think there's something of a misconception around this issue, which is that people in South LA have access to fast food largely because it's the only affordable solution. We know from our work with Groceryships, and now with the incredible sales that we've seen in the first month of Everytable, that there is high demand for healthy, nutritious food within the South Central community.

What people think of as healthy food is actually what people just called food 50 years ago. And by that I mean cultural traditions of incredible cuisine that have existed for centuries. And we're bringing those back. We're going to the communities that we're trying to serve and asking, "What are the meals in your culinary tradition that you love, but you don't see offered for a good price in a convenient manner right now?" And then we're creating those meals and selling them at a really attractive price. [Interviewer's note: Of course, there are small pockets of great little joints all over South LA that are making great food, but not enough right now to compete with fast food.]

This interview aired on Here & Now, a public radio show from NPR and WBUR in Boston.



Bright Funds is Improving the Giving Experience

Bright Funds is Improving the Giving Experience

A great business idea is one that comes along at the right time, and delivers the right product to a generation who is ready to use it.

Bright Funds is a great business idea.

Targeting a generation of Millennials who expect great online experiences; and want to embrace social good in their daily lives; Bright Funds has created a modern platform for charitable giving.

Frustrated by outdated and unimpressive online charitable giving platforms, Bright Funds founders Ty Walrod and Rutul Davè wanted to tap into the $300 billion charitable giving industry in the U.S., and its over 900,000 registered nonprofits; to deliver a product that the 85 million members of Generation Y would embrace and want to use.

“We always came across giving sites that were outdated, paid little attention to the user experience, and failed to appeal to donors on both an emotional and rational level,” say the founders. As professionals with backgrounds in technology, finance, and marketing, they had came to expect a lot from online experiences, and were disappointed by what they saw in the nonprofit world.

With Bright Funds, consumers can manage their charitable investments just as they might manage an online financial portfolio. The experience caters to consumer’s needs as donors and is not just a fundraising platform for nonprofits.

The Founders say they built Bright Funds to make the act of giving to causes we cared about agreeable and empowering—not just about entering credit card information in response to a flood of donation solicitations. To do this, they focused on the user experience and the interface.

They see Bright Funds as a way to modernize an outdated and frustrating charitable giving process. “We’ve researched how best to address each issue and invited a handful of highly effective nonprofits to be a part of Bright Funds,” say of the company that launched in 2012 with 100 invite-only nonprofits including the Knowledge is Power Program and charity: water. “Our members create a portfolio of the causes they care about and direct their giving to these effective organizations in a way that is similar to investing in securities.”

The simple online experience is designed to give consumers a way to identify and make impactful donations to the nonprofits that best fit the causes they care most about.

In fact, the product was built with the donor in mind, “We really tried to listen to what people want and incorporate their feedback into the platform to make the experience as intuitive and rewarding as possible,” say the Founders.

“Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to make highly impactful donations. Too many choices can confuse and overwhelm the donor-- It complicates the whole giving experience. Giving should be a satisfying act.”

Bright Funds is for individual giving, but they have a cloud-based “corporate giving” platform as well—built so employees can easily donate through payroll and take advantage of gift matching programs.

Bright Funds is harnessing the power of technology and innovation for doing good, and creating real and meaningful change in the world. And they’re delivering exactly what a generation of Millennials is looking for—great online experience, choice, and the empowering them—in a simple way, to have impact in the world of social good.



Whole Foods is a Purpose Based Business That Practices Conscious Capitalism

Whole Foods is a Purpose Based Business That Practices Conscious Capitalism

We Sell the Highest Quality Natural and Organic Products Available
We appreciate and celebrate the difference natural and organic products can make in the quality of one's life.

We Satisfy, Delight and Nourish Our Customers
Our customers are our most important stakeholders in our business and the lifeblood of our business.

We Support Team Member Excellence and Happiness
Our success is dependent upon the collective energy and intelligence of all of our team members.

We Create Wealth Through Profits & Growth
We are stewards of our shareholders' investments and we take that responsibility very seriously. We are committed to increasing long term shareholder value.

We Serve and Support Our Local and Global Communities
Our business is intimately tied to both the neighborhoods and the larger global community that we serve.

We Practice and Advance Environmental Stewardship
We wholeheartedly believe in active environmental stewardship so that the planet continues to flourish for generations to come.

We Create Ongoing Win-Win Partnerships with Our Suppliers
Our supplier partners are our allies in serving the interests of our other stakeholders in bringing to market the safest highest quality products available.

We Promote the Health of Our Stakeholders Through Healthy Eating Education
Healthy eating is a basic foundation for optimum health and well-being. By providing healthy eating education we inspire and empower our stakeholders to make the best health-supportive, delicious food choices to maximize personal health and vitality.

Whole Foods Market is a dynamic leader in the quality food business. We are a mission-driven company that aims to set the standards of excellence for food retailers. We are building a business in which high standards permeate all aspects of our company. Quality is a state of mind at Whole Foods Market.

With great courage, integrity and love – we embrace our responsibility to co-create a world where each of us, our communities and our planet can flourish. All the while, celebrating the sheer love and joy of food.

Whole Foods Market's vision of a sustainable future means our children and grandchildren will be living in a world that values human creativity, diversity, and individual choice.




Container Stores Purpose is to Improve the Quality of Our Customers' Lives Through the Gracious Gift of Organization

Container Stores Purpose is to Improve the Quality of Our Customers' Lives Through the Gracious Gift of Organization

Our purpose is to improve the quality of our customers’ lives through the gracious gift of organization. In doing this, we must stay true to our Foundation Principles, which guide us in creating an organization where everyone associated with it THRIVES. It’s true, we sell empty boxes – but that’s not why people come to shop with us. It’s because by getting organized, they feel like “Mom of the Year,” that they can focus more, that they save more money…and we’ve even heard from people that The Container Store has saved their marriage!!!


Letter from the CEO:

Since 1978, The Container Store has been working toward creating a retail store experience that is unlike any other - a differentiated shopping experience offering customers innovative, time and space‑saving solutions coupled with astonishing customer service from happy, well‑trained, well‑paid salespeople. We hope you and yours have had the opportunity to enjoy it. And if you haven’t, I’d love nothing more than for you to take a trip to one of our stores around the country to see what we’re talking about. A store that can change your life? Well, yes, we hope so.

Our yummy culture - What we stand for

How to define The Container Store culture? I would have to say that first and foremost we’re an employee‑first, yummy company. “What does it mean to be yummy?” might be your next question. Well, it’s the opposite of yucky. We know our employee‑first mantra defies conventional business wisdom, most famously expressed by the late American economist Milton Friedman. Milton said the only reason a corporation exists is to maximize the return of the shareholder. Well, with all due respect to Milton, at The Container Store we have found that if you take better care of the employees than anybody else, they really will take better care of the customers than anybody else. It’s actually about creating this one‑of‑a‑kind experience, where we operate our business with a focus on all of our stakeholders - but with our employees first.

This results in a culture where employees get out of bed and actually look forward to coming to work - to work alongside other great people. It’s a purpose to improve our customers’ lives through the gracious gift of organization, to help our vendors’ businesses become all they hope and dream they can be, and to make our communities a better place to live. And in doing this, all by staying true to our seven Foundation Principles, which I’ll tell you even more about later, we know that the lives of everyone associated with our business will be enriched, filled with opportunity and EVERYONE - all of our stakeholders - can thrive.

People often say (and I mean often), “How does The Container Store do it? How have you always been considered a great place to work (and we’re talking retail), and how can you compete against the mass merchants and all of the knockoffs you’ve seen over the years?” My response always points to the culture and our Foundation Principles. We trust that the most sophisticated investors understand that our culture is what drives the value of our business - yes, the culture. In all that we do every single day we keep a laser‑like focus on developing and nurturing our culture.

It means that when we asked our employees to describe in a word The Container Store’s culture, they shared things like love, passion, family, sweet, security, support, mindful, magical and matchless. Love and sweet and mindful - in business? Now that warms my heart and is something we’re incredibly proud and passionate about.

One of our greatest hopes is that the practice of simultaneously taking care of everyone connected to a business, operating from a purpose beyond profits and leading with consciousness - what we along with other companies, thought leaders and academics call Conscious Capitalism® - becomes the preferred and most accepted way of doing business. It will prove that the economic imperatives of corporate success aren’t incompatible with doing the right things. It’s not a zero‑sum game. No one has to lose for the other person to win. You can make decisions based on love and succeed.

Our foundation principles

In order to achieve all of this, our business is structured around some very basic and fundamental values and business philosophies about treating employees, customers and vendors with respect and dignity - we call them our Foundation Principles™.

They were formalized in 1988, after we opened our Houston store. That store made us take a look at our business a little harder. From the day we opened the doors, the store did more business than we ever anticipated, which became quite overwhelming to our Houston store employees.

So I referred to a file I had started many years ago called my “philosophy epistle file” where I’d put various anecdotes, musings and philosophical phrases that I admired beginning in high school, through college and up to this time in the business. I chose many examples to communicate the message that no matter how big the company became, its guiding principles and values would stay the same and over the years these were condensed into our Foundation Principles™.

By understanding and supporting these principles and philosophical guidelines, everyone can all respond in unison to similar circumstances. In other words, they act as a unit, all working in the same direction toward the same goal. Retail is far, far too situational to attempt to achieve a concerted effort through inflexible rules and policies.

So, instead of using the typical phone‑book‑sized retail procedural manual to guide our decision making, all of us at The Container Store use our Foundation Principles™ to keep everyone on track, focused and fulfilled as employees. With this combination of values‑driven business philosophies and a one‑of‑a‑kind product selection, The Container Store’s goal is to become the best retail store in America.

“1 Equals 3” is our hiring philosophy. One great person equals three good people in terms of business productivity. We have to be selective when interviewing potential employees because of the brand promise we’ve made to our customers to provide exceptional customer service.

We believe that Communication IS Leadership - they are one and the same. The Container Store knows the importance of executing every day, consistent, reliable, predictable, effective, thoughtful, compassionate and yes, even courteous communication. It’s hard, but we feel passionate that it is critical in developing and growing our business successfully.

This statement has become a Golden Rule of our company - it’s our business philosophy. The Container Store has been successful in creatively crafting mutually beneficial relationships with our vendors by doing everything possible to truly “fill their baskets to the brim.” We know that in return, they will support us and assist in our success as well.

Conventional wisdom says that price is mutually exclusive of service and selection. It’s hard for most retailers to offer competitive pricing and provide exceptional service. A few great retailers have achieved a combination of the best selection and the best service. To add competitive pricing to that equation is generally unheard of, but The Container Store works hard to achieve all three simultaneously with this philosophy.

This is our training philosophy and demonstrates how committed we are in arming our employees with the knowledge to provide the best possible service to our customers. We want our employees to use their intuition, which I heard someone once say is the sum total of your life experiences, so why would you want them to leave that at home when they come to work? In order to successfully anticipate the needs of our customers, we encourage our employees to use their intuition coupled with the enormous training they receive on our products. We are the experts and must ensure our customers feel more than taken care of by us.

This is our selling philosophy and we use it to illustrate how we astonish our customers by exceeding their expectations. When a customer comes to our store looking for shoe storage, for example, we equate her to a “Man in a Desert,” in desperate need of a complete solution (not just a drink of water). We start asking questions about what her needs are. “How many shoes do you have?” “If shoes are a big problem for you, how does the rest of the closet function?” By anticipating her needs, we know that she needs an organization plan - a complete solution - for her entire closet.

Three steps in the door and you can tell whether or not a retail store has it. And we know that The Container Store has it! “Air of Excitement” is our employees’ smiling faces and genuine concern for customers’ needs. It’s the bright, visual, innovative and conversation‑provoking products we sell. It’s our clean, well‑organized shelves. It’s music that is pleasant and speaks to our customers.

The customer dance

It’s all of these wonderful Foundation Principles that, working together, create that differentiated shopping experience. That customer experience is not just about any one thing. It’s a very complex and powerful mix of so many things. But the ultimate reward, the validation that the experience was successful is what we call getting the customer dance. It’s everything about the customer experience that happens in the store and continues on after that customer gets home. Her heart rate goes up, up, up with every interaction with the brand. It’s about what occurs when she takes the product home and actually lives with it. We want her to do a little dance every time she opens that closet door in the morning because it’s so beautifully organized. So perfect for her. Frankly, she feels an emotional connection to her closet. The product - the solution - it transcends value for her.

And the dance is really happening when she has her friends, sister‑in‑law and neighbor over to see her closet and they want to feel that way every morning so they make a trip to The Container Store to find out how they can experience that feeling. I’ve had customers tell me over and over again how our stores are a peaceful, organized oasis after a really stressful day or, even better, after a trip to our store they say It was more fun than Disneyland.

Our customers don’t just like The Container Store - they say they love us. It’s the ultimate achievement in building a brand when the people associated with it don’t just enjoy the brand, they somehow feel a part of it.

Continuing to lead with heart and soul

I’m excited about the work we have ahead of us - whether it’s in the stores that are yet to be built or in the products of the future that will continue to help our customers

save space and time. We’ll continue to create boundless opportunities for our employees and they will be enriched by working around other inspiring, fantastic colleagues. We will continue to work closely with our vendors, building our businesses together - and we will have customers continuing to dance in their closets with delight. All of our stakeholders will enjoy The Container Store’s purpose in action.

My favorite movie is It’s a Wonderful Life. I know it’s kind of corny, but the whole movie is about showing one guy, George Bailey, the power of his wake. At The Container Store, we talk a lot about WAKE - like a boat’s wake. I really believe that being a CONSCIOUS business means that everyone is aware of their wake. And I think that all of our wakes are much, much bigger than we can ever, ever imagine. We have built a culture that champions a collective focus on our wake, team, mutual support and respect, grace of authority and servant leadership and leadership based on love rather than fear. We believe The Container Store’s magic will continue to flourish in our next step as a public company.

We’ve come a long way over the last 35 years - from my dad’s friends scratching their heads about us opening a store that sells “empty boxes” to originating and now leading the storage and organization category of retailing to being at or near the top of FORTUNE Magazine’s “100 Best Companies To Work For” the last 14 years in a row (we were #1 twice). We’ve been one of Oprah’s “Favorite Things” during her farewell season and most recently achieved positive quarterly comps for 13 consecutive fiscal quarters as of fiscal August. But our heart and soul, our devotion to operating a conscious business has never wavered. It’s what makes The Container Store matchless - and something I’m excited to say continues to strengthen with every step we take in our extraordinary journey.

We will continue to innovate, trail blaze, astonish and thrill. And we will continue to work hard and create opportunity for everyone associated with our business. But, if the RPM needle ever gets in the red and our precious, yummy culture is in need of a bit of a hug, we’ll stop and give it the love it deserves and needs. For love is what The Container Store’s past, present and future is built on.

I sure wouldn’t want to miss our future - would you? We hope you’ll join us!

Kip Tindell

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer



Patagonia Has a Passion for the Planet

Patagonia Has a Passion for the Planet

That mission is a daily inspiration for Patagonia's 1,275 employees, from Chouinard to the flip-flop-wearing guy who answers the phone in the headquarters lobby. Most corporate mission statements are empty platitudes. This one guides every decision. And it's the centerpiece of a set of management practices that have helped Patagonia grow at a healthy rate and retain what is arguably the best reputation in its industry even while it faces increasing competition from much larger companies.

Patagonia's philosophy is the handiwork of Chouinard, a gruff yet funny outdoorsman who, despite his 67 years and arthritic hands, hasn't slowed down much. He helped pioneer modern rock-climbing techniques in his youth and now prowls the globe in search of outdoor adventures and product ideas. That is, when he's not shaking up his 33-year-old company, helping to preserve the environment, or advocating radical changes in the way Americans do business. "Most people want to do good things, but don't. At Patagonia, it's an essential part of your life," says Chouinard.

At a time when companies must adapt to an ever-quickening competitive pace, a highly motivated workforce can provide a crucial edge. Until now, there have been two primary approaches to keeping employees at the top of their game. At the high-stress workplace, bosses rule by fear, kicking ass and taking names. At feel-good places, managers try to motivate employees with kind words and generous benefits. Neither approach is optimal. In a recent Gallup Poll, only one-third of Americans considered themselves passionate about their jobs.

A few companies have found a better way. "There are companies that stress continuous improvement and being way better than the competition but also make people feel comfortable," says Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer. These companies range from publicly traded giants such as FedEx (FDX ) and Southwest Airlines (LUV ) to small fry like Patagonia. They are meritocracies with ambitious goals that trust their employees to do the right thing -- and give them the tools and time they need to do it.

Patagonia, with 39 stores in seven countries, works hard at achieving that delicate balance. It offers an on-site day-care center at its headquarters and full medical benefits to all employees, including part-timers. When the surf's up, Chouinard himself urges people to hit the beach. At the same time, the company demands hard work, creativity, collaboration, and results. Management isn't shy about axing employees who aren't up to snuff.

Patagonia enjoys an unrivaled reputation among outdoor aficionados, and its green philosophy is gaining broader appeal as more Americans embrace sustainable consumption. Chouinard's goal for Patagonia's own sustainability: "I look at this company as an experiment to see if we can run it so it's here 100 years from now and always makes the best-quality stuff," he says. That means keeping growth relatively slow but steady, at about 5% per year. Revenues were up a healthy 7% last year, to $260 million. Operating margins typically come in at the high end of the 12% to 15% industry average, according to people who have seen the numbers, and that's after it donates 1% of revenues to environmental groups. Patagonia, which declined to comment on its financials, is owned by a Chouinard family trust.
Chouinard calls himself a reluctant businessman. He disdains cell phones and laptops as much as he does quarterly-earnings-obsessed executives. (As you might imagine, he's as likely to take the company public as he is to club baby seals.) Yet he finds that concern for quality and sustainability doesn't pose a conflict with running a highly successful business. "Every time we do the right thing, our profits go up," he says.

Odd as it may sound, Chouinard gets a lot of business done standing waist-deep in water. He has coined a term -- MBA, or managing by absence -- that sums up his leadership philosophy. At the office, he's totally plugged in. But he spends much of his time traveling around the world doing outdoor things and talking to outdoor people about their likes and dislikes. Sometimes the best way for new CEO Casey Sheahan to get face time with Chouinard is to meet him on the water. Last year, the two were fishing for steelhead in British Columbia when they noticed that their feet were cold. Clearly their Patagonia waders weren't up to the job. They decided to launch a series of quality meetings to review and improve the company's products.
Chouinard and Sheahan are hardly the only Patagonia employees to enjoy "Eureka!" moments in the great outdoors. Getting away from the office regularly is a job requirement -- considered essential for dreaming up the next generation of products. Whenever employees play outdoors, they're testing the newest gear or coming up with improvements. Regularly, teams of 20 to 30 people, including outdoor professionals Patagonia calls its ambassadors, go on excursions where they climb, fish, ski, or surf.

During such an outing at Yosemite National Park two years ago, mountaineer Dean Potter snipped the legs off of a pair of climbing pants at mid-calf so he could see his feet as he climbed. The next year, Patagonia offered a successful line of pants based on his ideas. "We spend a lot of the time climbing and cooking and drinking excessively," says designer Carey Mullett. "It's hard for people who are used to a fixed itinerary to understand, but it's this kind of deconstruction that leads to the most creative work."

Patagonians like to say they don't have a corporate culture, they have an unconventional culture. That goes not just for product innovations but for new business ventures. You can see the effect of this philosophy in the company's major new strategic initiative, surf shops. It signed up three professional surfer brothers, Chris, Keith, and Dan Malloy, who had sponsorship contracts with larger surf outfitters, to help come up with a vision of what Patagonia surfing should be.

The Malloys, with their deep tans and unruly sun-bleached hair, are far from the usual corporate stiffs. Chris, 34, explains how they bonded with Chouinard, a crack surfer himself, during a trip to Chile in 2004. They discovered they shared concerns about water pollution and wastefulness. (Chouinard, Chris notes, wore the same shorts eight days straight. Now that's conservation!)

Ultimately, given the freedom to try something different, the Malloys and Patagonia's strategists came up with a new concept for a surf store. Rather than copying rivals and selling loud clothing and boards that break easily, it sells durable boards and wet suits, and simple, long-lasting clothing. The focus is on "authenticity" and building a solid community -- one that will, they hope, give their shops a sustainable edge. Every store will have a space set aside for surfers and environmental groups to gather.
The strategy is off to a strong start. Sales at the first store, opened in June in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, have been running 50% higher then expected, says Chouinard. The Malloys are now scouting locations in Ventura and Santa Cruz, Calif., and in Hawaii. Patagonia plans on operating 10 surf stores within the next several years. "We took some big pay cuts to work for Patagonia, but we're not regretting it," says Keith Malloy, 31.

Few Patagonians are in it just for the money. The company recently raised salaries to adjust for the cost of living, and everybody gets an annual bonus based on profits, but, overall, Patagonia pays at, or just slightly above, the market rate. However, the most significant rewards aren't monetary. One popular perk is a program that allows employees to take off up to two months at full pay and work for environmental groups. Lisa Myers, who works on the company's giving programs, tracked wolves in Yellowstone National Park during her sabbatical. The company also pays 50% of her college expenses as she pursues a wildlife biology degree. "It's easy to go to work when you get paid to do what you love to do," she says.
Patagonia's culture makes it a magnet for talented people. The company receives an average of 900 résumés for every job opening, so it can afford to be picky. Top outdoor industry executives want to work there, too. Sheahan just lured Damien Huang from much larger rival North Face to run Patagonia's product development group.
Can others capture some of Patagonia's magic? Most companies -- especially ones with demanding public shareholders -- simply can't let employees take a surfing break. They can, however, foster creativity and provide a sense of purpose. Perhaps the most valuable and easily applied lesson from Patagonia's experience is this: To think outside the box, sometimes you need to get out of the cubicle.
By Steve Hamm



Chipotle's Purpose is to Serve Food With Integrity

Chipotle's Purpose is to Serve Food With Integrity

Chipotle — pronounced chih-POAT-lay, the name refers to a smoked, dried jalapeno pepper — makes its commitment specific, starting with the company motto and guiding philosophy: Food With Integrity. Among Chipotle's practices for its burritos, tacos and salads:
Sour cream and cheeses made from milk free of bovine growth hormone.

  • 35 percent of at least one of its produce items for every restaurant sourced from small and midsize local farms throughout the growing season.
  • 30 percent of all black and pinto beans served by Chipotle are organically grown.
  • 100 percent of chicken and pork and 65 percent of beef (in the Northeast, it's 100 percent of beef) is naturally and humanely raised.

While there could be some wiggle room as to what "naturally and humanely raised" might mean, as there are no government definitions, Chipotle lays out its standards: all-vegetarian diet, no added hormones or antibiotics, responsible animal husbandry. Pork, beef and chicken come from respected suppliers like Niman Ranch, Bell & Evans and Meyer Natural Angus.
"They have very high standards and very strict guidelines for their product," says Jim Donio, whose family business, Frank Donio Inc./Pleasantdale Farms, owns 600 acres of produce fields in New Jersey and represents 100 vegetable growers. The company supplies green bell peppers, a key ingredients in many Chipotle dishes, to most of the 162 restaurants in the chain's Northeast region.

"The greatest success for truly local sourcing is for our produce," says Phil Petrilli, Northeast regional director for Chipotle, who oversees restaurants from the Washington, D.C., area to New England. "Initially, any (produce) that would fall into the 'local' category for Latham would be from New Jersey. That's not as local as we'd like … (but) it's not from California, either," Petrilli says. "This is only our second restaurant in the (Albany) area. As we get some density, it will be easier to go out and apply our resources to sourcing more locally."

"Word of mouth gives us some of our best marketing," says Petrilli, the company's regional director. (Chipotle does not advertise on television.) "When people understand what we're doing, why it makes a difference and why it makes the food taste better, they're excited and want to tell others about it."



Google's Purpose is Organizing the World's Information

Google's Purpose is Organizing the World's Information

Being at Google is a pretty sweet gig, but the people responsible for helping to craft and communicate “Googley” culture, are resolute in maintaining that the perks are just the icing on the cake. The cake, as they told us, actually has three layers that are a lot in line with what we see at all great workplaces, regardless of the perks, and regardless of whether or not they make a Best Companies list. Here’s a reminder of what really goes in to sustaining a world-class workplace: Purpose, Transparency, and Voice.

Google was founded with the mission of “organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.” It was a simple statement that gave form and function to everything the company decided to pursue. While still technically the mission (though perhaps one they’ve succeeded in achieving), the more recent iteration would be (and I paraphrase) “to create technology that improves people’s lives.” Though no longer a startup, mission continues to motivate employees. When employees at Google arrive at work each day, they have a shared purpose and that brings clarity and inspiration to all they pursue.

Google is committed to keeping employees up to speed on the state of the business, and has been since the beginning. One of Google’s first, and most famous perks, is their Friday afternoon business update, beer bash named “TGIF,” a tradition that continues to this day. Sure there is beer, but first, there is business. Today, Google’s business leaders, and even the founders, still gather to deliver in-person business updates to employees. These candid conversations, from the mouths of company leaders, keep employees connected to the company’s goals, challenges, and opportunities, which helps keep them tied to purpose as well. The one significant modification Google has made to TGIF, is that it is now hosted on Thursdays so employees in Google’s Asian offices can dial-in for the business update.

Finally, Google is committed to listening. Google has a survey for everything, and their annual company-wide survey, Googlegeist, is a key driver of change. Over 90% of employees participate in the voluntary survey. Response rates like that are achieved because employees trust Google’s commitment to translate feedback into change. Even Google’s 20% time program, which grants engineers “free time” to work on a project of their own design that will improve or enhance Google’s products, is a mechanism for giving employees a voice.

It’s all terribly simple when you stop and think about it. Give employees something to do that they can believe in, show them how their contribution matters, and allow them to offer their opinions and ideas to help you be even more successful. With a foundation that strong, it’s easy to see how Google stays great. However, it’s also easy to understand why more of us would prefer to focus on the frosting than the foundation. Strong foundations are hard to build, even when we have the recipe.



Tom's Shoes One for One Purpose

Tom's Shoes One for One Purpose

In the fall of 2012 I did something I never thought I’d do: I took a sabbatical from TOMS. It was not your typical travel-the-world sabbatical. My wife, Heather, and I moved to Austin, Texas, where I’d grown up, and I used the physical and psychological separation from the company to do some soul-searching.

In the six years since I’d founded TOMS, it had grown from a start-up based in my Venice, California, apartment to a global company with more than $300 million in revenue. I still owned 100% of it, and we were still delivering on our promise to give a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair sold, but I felt disillusioned. My days were monotonous, and I had lost my connection to many of the executives who were running daily operations. What had once been my reason for being now felt like a job.

During my months away, I did a lot of thinking about my personal “why.” I knew why I had started the company, and why people joined me in the early days. And I still believed in our mission and the impact we were making. But I was no longer sure why I wanted—or even if I did want—to continue driving the business forward.

Eventually I came to a surprising conclusion: I felt lost because TOMS had become more focused on process than on purpose. We were concentrating so hard on the “what” and “how” of scaling up that we’d forgotten our overarching mission, which is to use business to improve lives. That is our greatest competitive advantage: It allows us to build an emotional bond with customers and motivate employees, because they know they are shopping and working for a movement bigger than themselves.

After my time away from the business, I returned with renewed energy. My mission was clear: Make TOMS a movement again.

The Company’s Genesis
I got the idea for TOMS on something like a sabbatical. After founding and selling several companies (a door-to-door laundry business, an outdoor advertising company, an online driver’s education service) and making a brief detour into reality TV (I competed on The Amazing Race with my sister and created an all-reality cable channel), I decided to take some time off in 2006 to learn to play polo in Argentina. I know that sounds like a strange mix of pursuits, but I’ve always been happiest chasing my latest interest.

While in Buenos Aires, I met a woman who worked for a nonprofit, delivering shoes to children in poor rural areas. She invited me to accompany her, and the experience was truly life-changing. In every town we were greeted with cheers and tears. I met a pair of brothers, ages 10 and 12, who had been sharing a single pair of adult-size shoes. Because the local schools required footwear, they had to take turns going to class. Their mother wept when I handed her shoes that actually fit her boys’ feet. I couldn’t believe that such a simple act could have such an enormous impact on people’s lives.

I decided to do something more. Rather than go home and ask my friends to donate their hand-me-downs or make financial contributions, I would start a for-profit company based on the buy-one, give-one idea. I named it Shoes for Tomorrow, later shortened to Tomorrow’s Shoes, and finally to TOMS so that the name would fit on the little tag on our shoes. (To this day, some people are puzzled when they meet me, because they’re expecting a guy named Tom.)

My polo instructor, Alejo, and I persuaded a local shoemaker to help us make a more fashionable version of the alpargata, a canvas shoe worn by Argentines for a century. To borrow a term from Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup, our first shoes were a “minimum viable product.” They had glue stains on them, were in Argentine rather than U.S. sizes, and didn’t always fit the same from pair to pair; but they were just good enough to test the concept among my friends in Los Angeles. My goal was to sell 250 pairs so that I could give away 250 pairs in Argentina.

Back home, I hosted a dinner party for some women friends to get their advice. They loved the shoes and were even more excited when I shared my vision of helping children in need. They suggested a number of local boutiques that might serve as retail outlets, so I went to one of them, American Rag, and asked to speak with the shoe buyer. I knew my shoes couldn’t compete on quality or price alone, so I told the buyer why I wanted to sell them and give them away. The store became our first retail account.

On a Saturday morning soon after that, I woke up to find my BlackBerry vibrating. At the time, the TOMS website was set to e-mail my phone every time we made a sale. Usually it was just family and friends placing orders, and the occasional buzzing was a nice surprise. But on this day the phone kept buzzing…and buzzing…and buzzing. At brunch I started flipping through the Los Angeles Times and saw that what I’d expected would be a short piece by its fashion writer on TOMS had landed on the front page of the Calendar section. By the end of the day we had sold 2,200 pairs of shoes. This was incredible—but it was also the company’s first supply-chain management challenge. We had fewer than 200 pairs in my apartment.

Over the next six months I worked with a team of interns to turn my “shoe project” into a real company. We received a flood of additional press from Vogue, People, Time, Elle. Soon celebrities such as Tobey Maguire, Keira Knightley, and Scarlett Johansson were being photographed wearing TOMS. Nordstrom insisted on carrying our shoes. By the end of the summer we had sold 10,000 pairs. The “why” of TOMS was clearly resonating.

By 2011 TOMS had an annual growth rate (for five years running) of 300%, and we’d recently given away our 10 millionth pair of shoes. The one-for-one model—initially dismissed by traditional businesspeople as nice but not financially sustainable—was clearly a success, and we’d decided to extend it to eyewear, giving away pairs of glasses or medical treatments to restore sight for pairs sold. We had set ourselves apart in other ways, too: A third of our revenue was coming from direct-to-consumer sales via our website, and we spent virtually nothing on traditional advertising, relying instead on our 5 million social media followers to create word-of-mouth buzz.

In September 2012 Heather and I got married. I’d brought in an experienced team of executives to manage the day-to-day operations, and for the first time since founding the business, I felt I could take a break from it. I was relieved, but also deeply unsettled. The excitement and camaraderie of our start-up was beginning to be replaced by a more hierarchical culture. The leadership team was bogged down in personality conflicts and bickering, with key members insisting that we implement processes and systems similar to those used at their previous companies. As an organization, we were so focused on protecting what we’d already built that no one was thinking about new possibilities. I noticed that longtime employees were starting to leave for more-entrepreneurial organizations, and I realized that, secretly, I wanted to follow them.

TOMS Giving Since Its Founding 50M pairs of shoes
50M pairs of shoes

250K weeks of safe water

360K pairs of glasses or medical treatments to restore sight

I’d started and sold companies before—but TOMS was different. It was more than a company to me: It was my life. So this period of uncertainty felt like having problems in a marriage. You thought you’d found your business soul mate, but you’re not in love anymore. What do you do? For me, the sabbatical was like going into couples counseling. I wasn’t walking away; I was putting in the work to see if TOMS and I could reconcile. If it had been a pure business problem, I would have organized a strategic offsite. But this was both corporate and personal. I needed to figure out the future course of the company and my role in it. And I tend to do my best thinking alone.

When I left for Austin, I was careful not to make a big deal of it—I told people the break was an extended honeymoon with Heather. But once there, I dedicated a lot of time to private contemplation. I also started talking to anyone I thought might offer good advice and inspire me. I spoke regularly with my executive coach, entrepreneur friends, and business and nonprofit leaders I admire. I traveled to conferences around the country to learn from experts in social enterprise and international development.

It was during this time that I read Simon Sinek’s fantastic book Start with Why, which looks at leaders who inspire action, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and companies that create products so compelling that fans will line up to buy them, such as Apple. Sinek argues that one can build and sustain these movements only when leading with the “why.” People follow you, buy from you, when they believe what you believe.

The more I thought about this idea, the more I realized that TOMS had veered away from its “why.” In the early days we always led with our story: We weren’t selling shoes; we were selling the promise that each purchase would directly and tangibly benefit a child who needed shoes. But our desire to sustain the company’s hypergrowth had pushed us away from that mission and into competing on the “what” and “how,” just as every other shoe company does. In an effort to meet aggressive sales goals, we had begun promoting deals and discounts on our website—something we’d never done before. Our marketing increasingly felt product-focused rather than purpose-focused. And as the leader of TOMS, I was ultimately accountable for those mistakes. That was a tough pill to swallow.

Another breakthrough came during a Dallas Cowboys game. I was introduced to a man named Joe Ford, who told me that his son, Scott, was also using business to improve lives, but through the coffee trade in Rwanda. Joe explained the importance of water in the coffee supply chain. When beans are processed with clean as opposed to dirty water, they are transformed from a commodity to a specialty and can be sold at dramatically higher prices. Scott’s company, Westrock Coffee, was helping Rwandan growers build community-owned washing stations to increase the value of their product and to prevent the spread of waterborne disease. It was also buying direct from growers, helping to break up unfair industry price controls, and offering low-interest loans as an alternative to those from predatory lenders. Best of all, Westrock was a profitable business that sold fantastic coffee.

After meeting Scott, I realized that a TOMS coffee venture could have a real impact—and maybe lift me out of the funk I was in. Like most entrepreneurs, I get a high from starting things and doing the unexpected. No one doubted our shoe business anymore, but few people would imagine that we could also sell coffee. And the expansion could pave the way for a new TOMS retail experience, something I had long wanted to try. We could create cafés and use them as community gathering places to share ideas, get inspired, and connect guests with the “why” of TOMS. The vision—and the challenge—pumped new life into me.

The new product allowed employees to reconnect with our mission.

I told our senior executives about my idea. Like TOMS Shoes, TOMS Roasting would have a one-for-one model: For every bag of coffee we sold, we would provide a week’s worth of water to a person in need. When they gave me the green light, I quickly assembled a small team of TOMS employees to get the project (code-named “Burlap”) off the ground. I was still living in Austin, but the more I discussed my plans with Heather (an early TOMS employee who knew the business—and me—better than most people), the more she realized it was time for my sabbatical to end. We’d just bought a house, and we had a great group of friends, but in early 2013 she said to me, “Blake, we need to move back to L.A.” If I was going to fully recommit to TOMS, it couldn’t happen from afar.

The Reentry
Coming back was great, but I quickly made some of the classic mistakes that founders do upon rejoining their companies. First, when I outlined my vision for using the coffee business to reinspire the “why” of TOMS, I did so without a fully thought-out plan. That made some of my coworkers anxious. Second, I asked the company’s CMO to step down so that I could take over brand marketing and communications, which I considered to be key pieces of our new direction—not only for integrating the new business but also for reigniting the passion of our customers. But I quickly realized that I’m better in the founder’s role—setting the vision and traveling the country to communicate it, not running marketing or any other department.

Despite these hiccups, by the end of 2013 we had launched the coffee business nationally in Whole Foods stores, opened up three of our own cafés, and started exploring international expansion. To date we have provided more than 175,000 weeks of clean drinking water to people in need around the world. The new product generated a ton of PR and got our customers excited about TOMS again. But most important, I believe, it gave our employees permission to think bigger, to challenge the status quo, and to reconnect with the mission of the business.

It also got me thinking bigger. I realized that my ultimate aim was to create the most influential, inspirational company in the world, which would be possible only with more help. I decided to meet with private equity firms that had a track record of helping entrepreneurial companies into the next stage of growth, and after a thorough search, I sold 50% of TOMS to Bain Capital in mid-2014. We clearly defined my role and responsibilities and agreed to hire a world-class CEO.

The man we found, Jim Alling, embodies the core values of TOMS. Although he scratched his head a bit over the “coffee decision” (he spent much of his career in senior roles at Starbucks), he understood what the move represented. Creating TOMS Roasting wasn’t an attempt to compete with big chains but, rather, a bold move to reengage with the community and help more people. Over the past year Jim has brought great stability and strategic thinking to the business. We now also sell bags, to fund safe births for mothers and babies in need, and backpacks, to support anti-bullying programs.

As TOMS approaches its 10th anniversary, I feel more energized and committed than ever. As far as we’ve come, I still see tremendous opportunities to grow our movement. The “why” of TOMS—using business to improve lives—is bigger than myself, the shoes we sell, or any future products we might launch. It took going on a sabbatical to realize the power of what we’ve created—and the best way for me to move it forward. Now that I have a clear purpose and amazing partners supporting me, I’m ready for the company’s next 10 years and the many adventures ahead.



Warby Parker Buy a Pair, Give a Pair

Warby Parker Buy a Pair, Give a Pair

The whole story begins with you

You buy a pair of Warby Parker glasses.

We tally up the number of glasses sold and make a monthly donation to our nonprofit partners, which covers the cost of sourcing that number of glasses.

The nonprofit trains men and women in developing countries to give basic eye exams and sell glasses to their communities at affordable prices.

Go forth
These men and women work hard to spread awareness and make eyecare available to their communities.
“But wait,” you’re thinking, eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Why sell the glasses? Why not just donate them?”

Glad you asked.

It’s a sticky fact of life that kind-hearted gestures can have unintended consequences. Donating is often a temporary solution, not a lasting one. It can contribute to a culture of dependency. It is rarely sustainable.

Instead of donating, our partners train men and women to sell glasses for ultra-affordable prices, which allows them to earn a living. More important, it forces our partners to offer glasses that people actually want to buy: glasses that fit with local styles, look good, work well, and make the wearer feel incredible.

Because everyone wants to feel incredible.

With your help, we’ve distributed
over two million pairs of glasses to people in need.
Watch the video

What’s the impact of a single pair of frames?

A pair of glasses

by 35%and increases
monthly income
by 20%

703 million people currently live without access to eyewear.

Our work is cut out for us, our sleeves are rolled up, and we’re excited to move forward together.

Our primary partner is VisionSpring, a non-profit that trains low-income men and women. We’re kindred spirits: our co-CEO Neil once worked as Director of VisionSpring (and was their second employee!). During his time in the field, Neil learned the nuts and bolts of glasses: how they’re manufactured, how they’re distributed, how they’re received, and how all three processes can be done differently.




  • Stan Phelps is a Forbes Contributor, IBM Futurist, and TEDx Speaker. His keynotes and workshops offered at focus on how to create meaningful differentiation to win the hearts of both employees and customers. He’s the best-selling author of: Purple Goldfish -12 Ways to Win Customers and Influence Word of Mouth, Green Goldfish - Beyond Dollars: 15 Ways to Drive Employee Engagement, Golden Goldfish - The Vital Few, Blue Goldfish - Using Technology, Data, and Analytics to Drive Both Profits and Prophets, Purple Goldfish Service Edition - The 12 Ways Hotels, Restaurants and Airlines Win the Right Customers, and Red Goldfish - Motivating Sales & Loyalty With Shared Passion and Purpose. Connect with me at or +1.919.360.4702.

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