The Beauty of the Social Enterprise with Jamie and Lennart, Co-founders of theotherstraw

The startup world is filled with many new types of businesses. Some are technology businesses, others focus on manufacturing, and some focus on social impact. Social enterprises are the hot new thing in startup land. Emerging in the 1970s, these businesses focus on the societal impact their startups can have. But these aren’t your traditional non-profits that we grew up knowing that use donations to help those in need. Social enterprises use commercial activities and have business goals and societal goals. As a result, the social side of the business is embedded in their business activities and they are tackling some big issues. From inequality to plastic waste, they are the ninjas of the business world, stealthily helping others while you shop. Social enterprises range in what they do from providing you with cute moccasins (TOMS) and coffee cups (KeepCup) to helping collect plastic waste. 

theotherstraw is a startup that is part of the SPARK Deakin Accelerator and the ING Dreamstarter program. They are a social enterprise tackling plastic waste by selling reusable bamboo straws. Jamie and Lennart started theotherstraw 8 months ago. It started like all good businesses do by trying to solve a problem. But their start journey was far from normal, as Lennart says, “The business started on a holiday. It was a whirlwind on the spot process and had a steep learning curve that was complex.” 

Jamie and Lennart are passionate about the environment. In recent years they became more concerned with their own impact, Lennart emphasising that, “It is ingrained in our values. In all aspects of life, we have had a passion to care for the world and others.” Jamie and Lennart started immediately trying to see what they could do and while on their holiday they started looking for suppliers who could help them. They met many but it was not until they found one that shared the same values as they did that, they knew they could proceed. They ended up working with the Hmong minority group in Vietnam to provide sustainable jobs in the community. You see, Jamie and Lennart don’t just care about how cheap their straws are and profit margins. As a social enterprise, they value the whole production process and knew it was their duty as founders to make sure all their stakeholders were protected. Their values truly seem to be ingrained in every part of the business. 

Image provided by: theotherstraw

When I first learned about theotherstraw I was sceptical. My immediate thought was “why straws?” and “how can a straw makes an impact?” I’m a creature of habit and I don’t like to change my routine. But as Jamie so brilliantly puts it, theotherstraw is “a simple solution that helps businesses and people make a simple change.” It really involved no effort, and just like the gym, we all have to start somewhere. theotherstraw’s appeal seems obvious. It’s a gateway drug of sustainability, you start with a straw and pretty soon you are integrating sustainable solutions in all aspects of your life. But it goes even further than that. Every time you use it you feel good, especially when you consider just how many plastic straws we use. In Australia, people use almost 10,000,000 straws a day. Yes – that’s one million plastic straws every single day. These fill our oceans and never break down. But on a more positive note, theotherstraw’s sustainable bamboo straw looks great too (perfect for any Instagram posts). 

But running a business is very hard, as Lennart puts, “It is an emotional roller-coaster with heaps of ups and downs. We always wanted to set up and run our own business. Before this, we had not been in the entrepreneurial space. We did have some stints of running a business and organisations, but this is the first full-fledged enterprise.”

This is especially true when you are young and don’t have the capital or connections behind you. This is a problem them almost all young founders face at one point or another. But this didn’t stop the social enterprise power couple with theotherstraw hitting 20,000 units sold, and with 80 stockists and 27% month-on-month growth, there is no stopping them. But what is even cooler than these stats is the impact it has had on society. It is estimated that through the use of their bamboo straws they have prevented 2 million or more plastic straws from being used. That is a lot of turtles that have been saved and shows just how big of an impact a social enterprise can have. 

Image provided by: theotherstraw

If you have ever thought of running a business, social enterprises are an awesome way to incorporate social issues into your company. But even beyond the social enterprise model, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be incorporated into all businesses. From being aware of stakeholder needs and knowing your responsibilities, to reducing the environmental impact of your business, I think it is the responsibility of all young entrepreneurs to think about how their business fits into society and what they can do for others.

Why You Should Pay Your Employees with Shares or Equity

Growing a business is hard, especially for a Startup. You begin your day probably thinking about cash flow, and at night you are dreaming about it. It’s hard to imagine paying a bunch of employees a salary for development, when you have other stakeholders to look after as well – hence we all bootstrap our way up to Startup success. However, this is slow and time consuming; not only do you have to invest the time to learn a new skill to apply it, you also have to start a new project and manage all the other tasks on your plate.

But some skills are just too hard to bootstrap, like development and legal advice; and business strategy is only learned through time. So, what can you do? Paying contractors and advisors in equity or shares is the best solution to this problem. This is a common tactic used all over the world from companies like Facebook to small Startups alike. Paying your contractors can be a winning strategy. However, there are risks involved and you should always do your due diligence when entering into this type of transaction. Here is a number of reasons as to why you should consider paying them in shares.

1. From zero to something 

Companies are built on ideas, however, without the funds to grow a business you are worth nothing. Bootstrapping is an effective way to grow your business but does not always work for hard skills. Finding an early stage investor is not easy because you are fresh. Paying someone with equity to help you develop your business is one of the best ways to get started. Ultimately, it is up to you to show them you are the best person to start the business and grow their investment into something big. 

2. It gives your contractor a vested interest in your business 

If you are starting a business, odds are you have a great group of people wishing you luck, but without skin in the game it’s just words. Contractors that take payment in equity are great as they want to see growth on their investment. It’s now not just your baby – it’s theirs too. However, ensuring that they know Startups are a long-term game and their rights as a shareholder is essential. 

3. You can allocate limited cash flows to more critical areas of the business

Paying with equity frees up your cash flow, allowing you to focus on areas of the business where this may not be viable such as web hosting, Annual fees, Accounting and growth marketing. 

Taking equity is complicated and you should consult a lawyer or accountant. Sproutr tries to make this problem as smooth as possible by utilising transparent proforma contracts for our share purchase agreements, however talking with one of our affiliated lawyers or one you know is still recommended. 

If you are interested in paying professionals and contractors with shares, we’d love you to join Sproutr. Sproutr will help you in a safe and protected manner using our simple contracts system.

5 Digital Marketing Tips to Stand Out

1.  Don’t be afraid to try new things 

In the digital age, new technologies are the norm. It is almost impossible to predict what will take off and what will fail. So, when you are creating a new marketing project look for the latest technologies that have come out from Social Media sites such as Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. Creating a Snapchat filter or engaging with clients by live streaming on Facebook and Twitter are important new technologies on these Social Media platforms. If you are worried that it is not right for your brand, or that you will look unprofessional using such services, try them out in personal accounts first to test their capabilities. Implementing new technologies makes your company feel accessible and fresh to your audiences, and live updates are engaging.

2. Jump onto trends

This is a simple one – we see memes and new trends sweep across social media on a daily basis. From events like announcing the wrong winner at Miss World or the Oscars to ALS ice bucket challenges or the mannequin challenge. These trends are a free ride on the coattails of an internet storm: get your marketing to take advantage of this even if it is undirected. It will grab you leads – great examples of this would be the Specsavers Oscars Meme ad and Optus’ mannequin challenge. 

3. Keep it short

The average person only looks at an ad or listing for a few seconds before they move on or delve in deeper. To keep them hooked, make sure your message is clear and simple, so it can be processed in that short space of time. Otherwise, your target market will just whiz past without a second glance. 

4. Use Data

Data analytics exists for a reason. Everybody loves cookies so give them away to everyone who visits your website. Collect the data necessary to improve your marketing projects. For example, how long are they on your site? Do they come back to the site a second time? This data is essential when it comes to testing whether your strategies are working well. If you are not getting enough leads, then you know you need to rethink your marketing strategy. 

5. Have an exit strategy

Don’t be afraid to get out of a certain portion of the digital space. If you are a B2B service provider advertising on Pinterest, you may be barking up the wrong tree for an audience who is just going to ignore all your hard work and waste your money. Analyse the data you have collected to see if it leads you to any interesting discoveries and then jump to a more suitable platform, such as LinkedIn.