Trailblazers for Good – Lessons from Care2
EDITOR’S NOTE: This new Trailblazers Channel was the idea of our founder, Randy Paynter. He had the vision and guts to launch Care2 and thought that his peers would add greatly to our understanding of the “web for good” movement. It’s only right then that the first post here should be his.
If starting a business is like climbing a mountain, then starting a business intended to make the world a better place is like climbing a mountain with a 200 lb backpack in a blinding snowstorm.
Sure, there are advantages to starting a do-good enterprise, and some of the pain can even feel quite righteous. But despite our steadfast belief that we’re on the right track, taking the high road is seldom the easier path.
Competitors can take short cuts and cheap shots and not worry about collateral damage. But not “social entrepreneurs” out to better the world – we have the usual startup challenges, then spend countless hours designing new business models to support social welfare and planetary health, worry constantly that our model isn’t perfect, and then often pile on costly alternatives to the exploitive, cheap solutions our competitors use.
Fortunately, few social entrepreneurs realize the madness of their journey when they start. We forge ahead, confident we can better the world, blind to the pitfalls that lie in our path.
My journey with Care2 started nearly 12 years ago, when I launched the company from my apartment. I had two primary objectives: 1) empower as many individuals as possible to make the world a better place, and 2) prove that “business,” with integrity, can be a powerful force for good.
Over the years, I’ve learned countless lessons (often the hard way), and met many inspiring entrepreneurs on similar quests. Despite the challenges, I know that most of us would do it all again in a heartbeat – for it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to devote one’s life to the pursuit of a more sustainable future.
And so it is with great enthusiasm today that we launch our newest blog, “Trailblazers for Good” – to inspire other would-be social entrepreneurs, raise awareness of the power of business for good, and to provide some guidance to help others avoid some of the mistakes we’ve made along the way.
To get things started, here’s a bit of history from our journey with Care2:
Any rational person would have quit long ago. Consider the time I was on the way to my wedding, desperately phoning investors to save the company from going bankrupt. It was just days after 9/11, the market had plunged, investors were panicked, and months of investor meetings had produced no results. Even before the crash it felt like I was running into brick walls trying to convince investors (even those who donate millions to charity each year)that they could actually make money on a company whose mission was to make the world a better place. And now, after 9/11, the private investment markets were frozen.
Yet somehow we made it. Unpleasant as it was, on my honeymoon we did a big layoff, brought in a short term loan, and got to a cash flow positive position within two months. In short, we survived.
Six years later we had grown to more than 50 employees, revenues were up – which meant we could support more causes, and the VC’s were excited to help us make Care2 a blowout success. Mainstream America was beginning to talk about “going green”, and we were the front- runner online. We had a term sheet for a $10 million investment from a leading venture capital firm, and we were spending heavily to ramp up growth to meet the VC’s lofty expectations.
But something didn’t feel right. We started to sense the venture firm wasn’t the right partner for a do-good company, and so I pulled the plug on the investment days before the deal was to be signed – even though our cash was dwindling and our burn rate was too high. Scrambling, we found another investor more aligned with our values and staved off disaster, but not without a lot of sleepless nights and second guessing while I tried to maintain a calm demeanor around the office. Turns out, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Despite the close calls, we’ve made fantastic progress over the years, and we still believe we’ve barely tapped into the enormous potential that lies ahead.
It turns out the old adage, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is true for most entrepreneurs. Each time disaster strikes, we learn, we adjust and we get better. After 9/11 and the dot-bomb era, we redoubled our efforts to meet the needs of our customers. We knew no one was going to bail us out – and unlike a nonprofit organization we couldn’t go to foundations or donors. Investors weren’t going to save us, so we had to get really good at delivering value to our clients. “No margin, no mission” was our mantra. It was a great lesson that has enabled us to now invest over $40 million in Care2 – not from investors, but from revenues earned by providing great value to our customers.
Call me crazy, but I love this adventure, the opportunity to work with smart and passionate teammates, see our vision come to life, impact millions of people’s lives and to be trailblazers for good. There are thousands of other entrepreneurs and intrapraneurs (change makers in big companies) facing similar challenges every day.
They say, “the pioneers are the ones with the arrows in their backs,” and more often than not there is no gold or glorious finish. But we all can learn from their stories, be inspired by their passion, and commit ourselves to the fight for good, whatever way we can.
With this new “Trailblazers for Good” blog, we’ll introduce you to a broad variety of these pioneers, not only individuals but also companies and technologies. If you have nominees of your own, or topics you’d like to see covered, please add them here in the comments and we’ll go check them out.