Doing Good Well

By Chris Cole and Kyle McCollom. Chris and Kyle are co-founders of Everly,  a Nashville-based beverage startup marketing a natural line of drink mixes that, per box sold, provides a packet of life-saving medicine to treat children sick with waterborne disease.

We get asked a lot about our age. I mean it makes sense – two scruffy twenty-somethings, recent graduates, all gung-ho about taking on the big, established beverage brands.

And, admittedly, we don’t help ourselves out. Like that time that Kyle walked around with a hole in his pants after a pitch session. Or that time that Chris accidently told Jean Case, the wife of AOL founder Steve Case, about his dating history during a Q&A session. Or that time we were late to our first production run because we accidently ran over a bear (sorry bear!).

But, we jest. There are of course challenges to entering a traditional, intensely competitive industry as young founders. But it also allows us to come in at a different angle, particularly on the social side of things. Because we were the generation that grew up with social enterprises. We were the college kids that went barefoot for TOMS shoes, that gave up our birthdays to build wells. We were the ones who started seeing through cause-marketing campaigns of big corporations, and who wanted something more.

Companies recognized that desire and responded. More BOGO (Buy-One-Give-One) models were popping up in different industries. And while it worked for TOMS, consumers have matured to the point where BOGO isn’t enough. Companies can no longer afford to tout their give-back programs as the primary value propositions.

Warby Parker, a for-profit eyewear company, is a perfect example of this. For every pair of glasses they sell, they provide a pair to someone in need. They take a “by the way” approach to their social purpose, putting their product first in their messaging and making sure that they never rely on their cause as a crutch. And they’ve taken their giving model beyond the typical BOGO. They work with a nonprofit called VisionSpring that provides the glasses at a discounted price to people who could otherwise not afford them. It’s not a handout, it’s a market-based approach that focuses on creating long term, economically feasible access and ultimately makes for a more sustainable, scalable solution.

So we’ve looked to companies like Warby Parker as we try to understand where Everly fits into the social enterprise spectrum, as we try to understand what today’s conscious consumer wants. Because its not enough to do good. Companies with a cause must “do good well.”  To us, that means:

  • Never letting your cause be a crutch – put product first.

  • Build in a strong alignment between your product and purpose. Give back models should never seem “tacked on.”

  • Handouts are losing their luster. Innovate on the BOGO model by focusing on access and scalability.

For every box of our mixes that we sell, we provide a packet of life saving medicines called “Oral Rehydration Salts” (ORS) to treat children sick with waterborne disease. We partner with a nonprofit called ColaLife that harnesses Coca-Cola’s huge distribution network to deliver ORS to remote locations in Zambia through a market-based model similar to VisionSpring. These ORS packets are made in-country, where local entrepreneurs are able to sell the packets to their peers at an affordable price because of the subsidy provided through ColaLife.

The social enterprise sector is continuing to evolve. New businesses are being built everyday that innovate on existing models and make big strides towards sustainability and dignified ways to do good. Our hope is that we stay hungry to learn from fellow entrepreneurs and innovators as our generation finds new ways to use business to build a better world.