This week Development3 Managing Partner, Akash Ghai looks at how and why startups should integrate social responsibility into their business models. He highlights three New York based startups that can make this happen.
A few years ago I interviewed with a New York startup company that runs a hotel management operations app. They were looking for someone to handle their day-to-day operations. I quickly got the gist of the role prior to the interview but then I got to thinking, what is stopping this organization from using its technology to integrate social responsibility into their business model? As with most interviews, at the end I was offered the chance to ask questions:
“Have you thought about integrating social responsibility into your business model?”
There was silence. The founder wanted me to elaborate. So I decided to paint a picture for them…
“You have a technology that is delivering a specialist service in the hotel management space. An element of your technology is the management of guest services, if you could partner with a nonprofit that specializes in addressing the carbon footprint like Carbon Fund – guests would have the capability to donate to said organization based on their type of travel. If they flew from one country to another they could offset their CO2 emissions through a donation.”
They looked at me with hesitancy; I could see what he was thinking.
“We’re a startup why should we do this? We don’t have the money for this? What’s the ROI? How do we know this is going to bring value to the organization? It’s not something we can do right now.”
I gave them answers, which explained how much of a benefit it would be to integrate a simple strategy like this now as opposed to 5 years from now where it will be seen as an “add-on.” I didn’t get the job that was perfectly fine but it got me thinking…
Why aren’t more startup organizations exploring ways of integrating social responsibility into their business models?
I get it. If you aren’t going to see an immediate Return on Investment (ROI) why even consider this? When they raise seed funding startups are accountable to funders and other stakeholders, so doing something that may not appease the folks with money could be a no-go. The goal is to raise funds and execute, get things done quickly to justify investment in the startup.
But surely there must be some mutually beneficial, profile boosting, stakeholder satisfying, cost effective social responsibility opportunities for startups? Here are 3 New York based startups that should integrate social responsibility into their business models.
Dressometry helps retailers empower customers to find exactly what they’re looking for online. Their solution seeks to improve customers’ experience and increases retail sales. With increased consumer demand for online fashion Dressometry is uniquely positioned to offer something that helps shoppers with specific needs.
There is an easy nonprofit partnership Dressometry could pursue to dip its toe into the social responsibility waters. Dress for Success international a nonprofit that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.
- Public Relations, Positive Reinforcement, Potential Returns – Positioning Dressometry as an e-commerce retailer that supports nonprofits like Dress for Success can only increase the brand value of the company. By demonstrating a commitment to supporting the advancement of women, Dressometry can get more positive press coverage that will enhance its customer reputation.
- Cost effectiveness – The reality is donating profits to social causes, as a startup needs to be justifiable. With this strategy, the employees come up with a campaign engaging and encouraging them to collaborate. If the campaign is successful and repeated year on year, Dressometry can position itself to actually donate profits.
- Connection with customers – If customers see that Dressometry are contributing directly or indirectly to fashion-focused nonprofit initiatives, brand perception is bound to rise, resulting in customer retention, increased sales and access to the conscious consumer market.
Overture helps companies create profile videos for their employees in lieu of a standard headshot. The videos are 30 seconds long or less, black and white and are ideal for company websites. With the growing need for interactivity in the way companies are presented, profile videos are a good way to for customers to connect beyond the title. Overture has worked with many organizations including community leaders and activists. What can they do to go one step beyond in how they demonstrate “doing good”?
There are a number of youth-focused nonprofits in New York. One example is YouthBridge-NY a nonprofit that engages promising teens in a free leadership fellowship program and teaches them how to utilize diversity as an asset to strengthen entire communities. By having Overture’s expertise and knowledge in the video presentation space work with YouthBridge-NY, the teens on the program will be able to understand A) the digitizing of business B) the importance of a first impression and C) tap into their entrepreneurial mindset to come up with visuals of value.
A simple way of collaborating would be for Overture to explain to the teens how the company works then do an exercise. Set up a dummy company website, have the teens assume leadership roles and working with the YouthBridge-NY staff design an exercise that focuses on leadership and utilizes Oveture’s technology.
- Build another story – Overture tries to tell a story in 30 seconds. Each individual profile needs to quickly get a message out there. But what about the story behind Overture doing good? This is a great opportunity for Overture to capture its activities working with a nonprofit, that can be used to sell the company to many stakeholders from a doing good perspective.
- Simple service – Overture has a fairly simple model, sit, record, share. The service line is clear which means there are so many other opportunities that they can do in the social responsibility space that won’t affect the way the company runs.This allows for Oveture to look for credible doing good opportunities in the long term.
- Look to the future – As YouthBridge-NY is focused on teens with high potential to become the leaders of tomorrow by getting in early, Overture will have potential customers. Once the teens are aware of Oveture’s importance they should keep the concept in mind when they plan to set up their own companies in the future.
Seatgeek is an online platform that enables users to quickly discover tickets to sports & music events and find amazing deals. In the highly lucrative event ticketing market where competition is fierce, Seatgeek is a growing cost-comparing service that wants customers to get the best deal. With growing companies in competitive spaces, differentiation is crucial.
Seatgeek has a predominantly millennial workforce of around 100 people. Building a corporate volunteering program that is linked to the events offered could be an interesting way to engage employees. For instance a group of employees could volunteer to support a concert, which would allow them to understand what it takes to make a concert happen. This gives them an added appreciation for what the company does, and look beyond the perspective of being fans themselves.
By incubating this model now, Seatgeek can potentially integrate it into its management processes, where employees are required to volunteer on the program. This makes the company more attractive when hiring new talent, and generates unique data (number of hours spent volunteering, the stories behind the employees in their volunteering endeavors etc.) that the company can use to attract investors and other key stakeholders in the future.
- Millennial engagement – Millennial employees are an interesting breed they want the companies they work for to have meaningful and positive impact. Looking beyond products and profits, and focusing on how to engage people is where the driving forces lie.
- Growth for ROI – By having employees volunteer at events Seatgeek can achieve financial returns on investment. While the initiative may not be tax deductible, building the perception of “doing good” is an asset in itself. If customers are aware of the volunteer program and the stories behind it they are more likely to keep using Seatgeek.
- Culture creation – Corporate volunteerism is a great way to build a culture of doing good within a company. As more employees participate, it is likely that they will discover and create opportunities that could support Seatgeek’s bottom line. Volunteering would help the fostering of new cost-effective initiatives internally as a means to supporting the company’s growth.
So there are quite a few social responsibility strategies that can be integrated at any stage of the startup life cycle. It’s a matter of thinking creatively, learning about the value of “doing good” and executing a manageable strategy that creates tangible results.
If you have a startup and want to learn more about social responsibility get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org