Niche to Norm

 

Niche To Norm Image

People don't typically hop in the car without knowing their destination.

...Although at one point a massive man I'd never met named Kurt knocked on my front door at 9pm, to which I invited him into the living room with me where he lied to me and told me we were friends and talked in my front yard the other day, asked for money for a bus fare, instead accepted my offer to drive him to the bus station; and then actually gave me directions to the pizza place he wanted to go to. Ultimately leading me on the strangest car ride and stories of my life. But that's beside the point and has absolutely no correlation to anything beyond the opening sentence of this blog. Content is king right? No one else in the world has that story. Boom.

Okay, where I was trying to go with that is if you're considering really diving in on this blog with us, it seems we should tell you where we're heading. Not just with the blog, but as a company. 

So here you go, our overall mission is to see "social business" go from being a niche to a norm.

Like most titles, you can split hairs over how to define social business. Here's one common one: A business that has specific social objectives that serve its primary purpose. Social enterprises seek to maximize profits while maximizing benefits to society and the environment.

TBH I'm not actually super concerned with how people define it right now.

My translation: Any business that fights for something beyond just profits.

In 2014, we started our first social business called The Voice Community (later known as the Minnesota Mall): A store that fights for Minnesota by raising money for Minnesota non-profits while driving sales for Minnesota businesses.

It was born out of my own personal wrestlings after looking at my wife and I's spending and realizing I hated an assumption that I'd bought into; that the only money from our life that was making an impact were the dollars going straight out the door to charity.

Even in the most generous of households where people are giving away a high percentage of their incomes; that perspective leaves a lot of money on the table that we're deeming as uninspired and mundane, leaving no lasting impact on the world.

Do we actually want to live in a world where 80%+ of our spending is unimportant? Do we really believe that the money that goes to charity is important, but the money we spend on food, and gifts, and cute stuff for your home, and coffee, and everything else you can think of... is unimportant?

Deep down we all know that isn't real. We know that the money we spend is shaping the world of tomorrow. That we literally vote with every dollar we spend.

And yet, at times it is hard to spend money in ways that feel responsible. It is easier to look the other way knowing that our iPhones were made in conditions that we wouldn't feel great about if we came face-to-face with it (no judgment... I'm team iPhone too); or that our jeans being dyed is literally dying rivers purple and killing everything in it; or that our obsession with convenience and shipping everything to our door is crushing small neighbor-owned businesses around the country and consolidating all of the power at the top only to exasperate the growing wealth divide between the rich and poor.

Look, I'm also a part of all of these things... don't curl into a ball of shame and hide. Stay with me. The problem isn't with you, it's with the system we find ourselves a part of. It is really really hard to be a conscious consumer in an age where social business is a niche and not a norm. Because for too long businesses have been able to compete without caring about anything besides profits.

But what if we could turn the world and the economy to one where "social business" was no longer a phrase we used simply because it was an assumption of every business?

What if consumers started rallying together and building demand for socially driven brands in a way that is impossible for the big players to ignore?

Here's the imaginary scene I hold in my head that inspires me to keep going as we build out Fight For Something and our brands: What if someday, the Targets and the Walmarts and the Amazons of the world all sat down together and looked at the sweeping movement of consumer demand for social business that is eating away at their businesses? I picture them saying things like "If little companies with no financial backing are able to come in and start winning market share, maybe being a more socially responsible company is something we need to start taking seriously. Maybe it's time we start caring about the impact we have." What if as a result of that conversation, they started really truly looking inward at their own practices and the effects of their companies and started committing themselves to being socially responsible in more and more ways?

I recently came across a quote that has captured a lot of the words and spirit of what I've been looking for the last number of years. 

"Money should never be separated from values. Detached from values it may indeed be the root of all evil. Linked effectively to social purpose it can be the root of opportunity."

- Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School Professor

Business was never meant to be detached from the values and communities that support them, but somewhere along the way it has been allowed to happen.

The heartbreaking reality is that we've allowed businesses off the hook in this regard. We hide behind the common sentiment of "What difference does it make?" when we view ourselves as one person among billions on the planet.

But at the heart of democracy is the idea that one person can make all of the difference, and as consumers it is time to start owning that again.

Because my formal education is in Biblical & Theological studies, I often like to think back on the marketplaces that would have existed in Ancient Israel. You would go to the market to buy your sheep, maybe your grain or your clothing, and you knew the people you were buying from. People knew Dan on the corner sold sheep but was an absolute monster in the way he treated people in town, but you also knew Doug on the opposite corner selling sheep. And Doug was the kind of guy who would do anything for anyone in town. So come time to buy your sheep, it was never even a question about who you went to. Doug wins that sale 9 times out of 10.

One of two things is going to happen to Dan:

1. He's going to move, and go somewhere he can get a fresh start. He will go in search of a place where he hopes he can run his business and life in the way and spirit he has been used to.

OR

2. As a response to supply and demand, and people showing a clear preference to support the businesses in town that share in their values; he'll start to change and become kinder out of necessity.

It is the simplest version of supply and demand at work and how consumers and businesses together can leverage the kind of world they want to share in tomorrow.

It may feel a step removed from that, but today's marketplace really isn't any different. Whether it's an individual or an organization, they stand for something they represent something. Every person and organization that has ever existed has some sort of ethos to it. The question is whether the things they stand for are worth being celebrated and perpetuated.

We need social business to become a norm. 

Since launching that first brand in 2014, this has been the heartbeat and vision fueling my mildly obsessive personality and commitment to growing Fight For Something, a company that builds brands to fight for things that matter. We currently have 4 brands that fight for various causes and values, if you want to learn more about them you can head to our website. Our fifth brand is currently in the works.

We don't expect or even hope to be the answer to any of the massive problems we throw ourselves behind... We simply want to be a drop in the bucket, and maybe, on our very best of days, inspire others to want to be a drop as well.

Thanks for reading. And thanks even more to those of you who believe in Fight For Something and what we've been up to with our brands over the last few years.  We can't believe where we're at after starting all of this only a few short years ago, and we owe it largely to those of you who have been in our corner. You know who you are. Thank you thank you.

PS - I think there is something about our house that tells strangers to come knock on the door and make odd requests at late hours, because only a few weeks ago we had another guy come to our door and ask if he could come in and use our Wifi around 10pm. He's now officially Kurt #2 in my book.

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The Other Entrepreneurs is a blog written by Mitch Reaume, a social entrepreneur based out of Minneapolis and his company Fight For Something.  The Other Entrepreneurs is a blog for entrepreneurs and people who want to measure the success of their life around the impact they have and not the zeroes in their bank account.  The blog centers around social entrepreneurship in a way that is hopefully a bit more honest and transparent... and hopefully less about vanity and a life of excess than the average entrepreneur on the internet. It’s a blog whose content consists of the thoughts and experiences of our own company trying to make a difference, and the things we’re learning along the way.  This is a blog for the other entrepreneurs.


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