Wells Fargo CEO: "What I've Learned Since Business School"
What I’ve learnt about… bringing ethics to the advertising sector
I’m the founder and CEO of the ethical advertising platform Good-Loop, which uses money from online advertising to solve international problems (every time someone views one of our ‘ethical ads’, they can donate half of the cost of it to a charity of their choice). I started the company two years ago, having recently quit my job at a global ad agency. I wanted to build something that harnessed the 0bn ad industry in a more positive way.
From day one I’ve had to battle against the misconception that doing good in the world makes a business less commercially successful. At Good-Loop we’re all about making ethical behaviour both profitable and scalable (in fact, our ethical advertising is 30 per cent more effective than regular ads). This ‘doing well by doing good’ mentality is something I’ve had to work hard to make each new customer and investor understand. The social aspect of my business isn’t a ‘nice to have’ – it is our competitive advantage in an industry full of distrust and negativity.
In the early days of the company, my role was to do everything and anything, from designing the logos to closing deals. As the company grows, I am building an amazing team around me who specialise in these things, so I can focus more on leadership and strategy. Here are the lessons I’ve learnt along the way…
1. Lead with the cool, bake in the good.
This was something I learnt from readingGood Is the New Coolby Afdhel Aziz and Bobby Jones. In this brilliant exploration of philanthropy-based business models, the authors talk about how the ethical elements of a product or service are rarely the real drivers behind people’s decision-making, they are much more likely to be the justification. So if, like Good-Loop, you’re offering an ethical alternative in the market, take time to understand why, at a more human level, people want what you’re selling.
For example, if your company delivers fresh produce to people’s homes, your ethicalraison d’êtremight be to support local farmers. But if we’re being honest, your busy metropolitan customers mostly care about having fresh, convenient food. Ethical values are baked into the business model but they’re not how you close the deal.
2. Don’t apologise for making a profit.
Good-Loop is not a charity or an NGO. We are a profit-making company with global ambitions and huge commercial potential. It just so happens that we make our money by doing something ethical. I’ve found this to be a bit of a moral grey area and at times have felt pressure to shy away from sounding too commercial or ambitious. As our business generates funding for charitable organisations, some people expect us to be on tiny salaries and to take enough to ‘keep the lights on’. In fact, profit-for-purpose companies like mine are making ethical behaviour scalable, so the more successful we are, the more good is done. We have to invest in ourselves in order to grow and, until we find a way to change the capitalist system we live in, we have to prove that you can be commercially successful while making the world a better place.
3. Harness the power of storytelling.
I’ve learnt that as a small business, our story is everything. It’s not some abstract mission we write on the wall, it goes right to the core of who we are, why we founded our company and what we’re trying to achieve. Telling our story on an ongoing basis has been an important part of getting other people to join our journey and I’ve recruited some talented individuals who want to be a part of the story too.
4. Talk about why, not what.
Before starting Good-Loop, I’d never worked in sales. I had no idea how to close a deal and at the beginning I struck out a lot. But I had a brilliant advisor who once told me that selling isn’t‘here’s what our product can do’, it’s ‘here’s what you can do with our product’. In other words, no one cares about 16GB of storage but everyone wants 1,000 songs in their pocket. This applies to social and non-social businesses, but it’s great advice wherever you work.
5. Have a big vision and tiny plans.
As a founder, I feel that I am constantly bouncing, or perhaps simultaneously co-existing, in the world of big, hairy, audacious goals and the immediate next email. In sales or investor meetings, for example, it’s a balancing act between getting people to give me money for the product I have right now and also buying into Good-Loop’s ‘big vision’ of using ad money to solve the world’s problems. I have learnt that you have to be very comfortable existing in both of these worlds and you always need to have at least a loose idea of how the two connect. Ethical companies in particular can have pretty lofty ambitions for what they want to achieve in the world but without also having the smaller, more digestible next steps, they’ll never get there.
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