2  Mar

5 Lessons Between Tech and Social Entrepreneurship

We recently had the opportunity to write a post on social entrepreneurship for the Huffington Post.  The post is reproduced below.  

My company, Smallknot, is propelled by a dash of rage and a spoonful of optimism. We are angry about how the financial system works for real people. And we believe we can make it better. This is what drives us.

But between the tech and social enterprise spaces, it’s not always easy to know where we fit. As a business, our product is a community crowdfunding platform for local businesses. We help neighbors fund small businesses in exchange for premium goods, services and experiences. Our mission is to empower communities to cultivate local economies through social finance. But even though our goal is to replace bankers with a nurturing neighborhood, let’s be honest: tilting your head and squinting just so could make our pre-sale model resemble a saintly nonprofit lender like Kiva or the not-so-saintly Groupon.

Fortunately, we’ve been behind the curtain in both the tech and social enterprise worlds. After immersing ourselves in tech as part of TechStars NYC, we had a rare chance to peek into the impact and social enterprise world by joining the Civic Accelerator. Here we are surrounded by a group of ambitious people setting out to improve the world. It was like cracking open a can of crazy — the good kind. For you social entrepreneurs out there, here’s what the team at Smallknot thinks we’ve figured out so far:

1. Talk dirty. If you’re building a business, then build a business. Use all of the dirty words: sales, marketing, monetization, exit strategy, and, god forbid, profits. You will live or die by these concepts so don’t run away — lean into them. (Unless you have an endless supply of money that people will happily plow into your bank account. That also works.)

2. Impact ≠ Soft. You likely will spend hours wondering why money seems to be split between investors seeking a return and philanthropists who just gave away $300 billion last year. Especially when, obviously, your world-changing idea will do both and you only need a measly half million. But the reality is crystal clear: Impact investors still need to see a strong business case. Do not expect breathing room on a soft business case because you might produce positive social outcomes. Focus on your business case. Be ruthless. Pitch investors with your vision for change, but I promise you — the second meeting will not be about that vision.

3. Don’t overthink it. Social entrepreneurship is red hot — #socent is the new black. You will find any number of conferences and write-ups about social innovation, social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy and impact investing. You might feel bewildered by it - I certainly am. Next to traditional nonprofits self-styled as social entrepreneurs, you’ll find massive company bureaucrats in charge of social innovation, giving lessons to nonprofit microfinanciers. Someday I hope the wind companies that monetize tax credits will no longer be lumped into the same category as voter engagement software - but for now, don’t overthink the categories. Just do what you do

4. Keep your mission out of your product. Be passionate about your product, but don’t inject your mission into the product itself. Mission-driven startups have a hard time bridging the gap between fixing a social problem in the world and building a successful product that people want. Just because your mission is to empower at-risk youth through educational games doesn’t mean any kid is ever going to play them. There is tension between validating customer feedback on your product and the social outcome you want to see. For most of us, our customers shouldn’t have to care about our social mission for us to succeed. Let your passion drive you and let it drive your company. But not your product.

5. Above all … Persist. I love what I do and you should too, but entrepreneurship is not sexy — it’s hard. That’s okay. Don’t get discouraged. This is a chance to be something new in the world. Whether consumer preferences change to the extent that high-impact products will feed a growing demand (and, thus, profitability), or the tax code changes to make it easier for foundations to fund for-profit startups, something is happening. A transformation is coming - a new generation demands more from their business sector. Get started. Keep going.

1  Jan

Note from Galapagos Art Space after Sandy

After Hurricane Sandy, Tina Roth Eisenberg (aka Swiss Miss) ran a Smallknot campaign on behalf of Galapagos Art Space to help rebuild after the storm.  The community response was overwhelming and immediate.  We wanted to share a part of the note from the director, Robert Elmes, that was sent to his supporters after the campaign.  

"But we still felt like there was a huge hill to climb and that we were stuck milling about the bottom of it wondering what to do. We were spending a lot of unplanned / un-budgeted money to clean, and the essentials that we needed to replace in order to operate the venue and get open again were just out of reach.

And then, from absolutely nowhere, came Tina’s Smallknot campaign. It’s hard to describe what it felt like and what it meant to us when we found out. Tina didn’t ask us, she didn’t let us know, she just did it knowing that we needed help and that she could do something that would help us. It felt like the clouds parted ten feet and sunshine poured down on us, like someone - a bunch of you, it turns out - cared. The affect on us as a staff was immediate and sudden; we were awed. We got to work.

Sometimes all we need to know is that someone cares, that in a city as big as New York City that there are people looking out for you and who want to help if you fall down. None of us gets to feel that all of the time, it’s a part of living here not to be able to, and part of the challenge. But in the big moments, the really important moments, we all hope that our friends will be there for us near or far - and you were. We’re deeply grateful for that.”

15  Nov

Extending the Rebuilding Efforts to November 30

The outpouring of support by neighbors to help rebuild small businesses affected by Sandy has been a moving thing to witness.   As business owners talk with us about the damage inflicted by waist deep floodwaters, the scope of the damage has been stunning.  But we are also stunned by the resiliency of the entrepreneurs we work with and the deep love and support they have in their communities.  

Rebuilding is a slow process.  The fallout will linger for months and efforts will continue quietly and persistently for even longer.  To make sure we do our part, we have extended the deadline for our offer for free crowdfunding services for businesses rebuilding from Sandy to November 30.  If you are a neighbor who wants to help a business in need or a business owner seeking to rebuild your business, send us a message at rebuild@smallknot.com and we’ll help you get started. 

8  Nov

The Generosity of Neighbors

We should never be surprised by generosity of neighbors — but, thankfully, it still happens.

Recently, three women in Brooklyn and Manhattan stepped forward to run campaigns on behalf of neighborhood businesses that were damaged by heavy flooding.  

Tina Roth Eisenberg (aka swissmiss) started a campaign on behalf of Galapagos Art Space, a cultural venue near the East River waterfront in Dumbo that was flooded by the storm. Setting a campaign goal of $2,500 to help cover some of the costs, Tina was able to mobilize over a hundred people and shoot past the goal in less than 24 hours. Locked up in our respective apartments throughout the storm, we could hardly believe the pace of the outpouring of support. 

But Tina’s reach didn’t end there…   

Responding to a tweet from Tina, Colleen Deng, one of the co-founders of OMG Foodie jumped in to start a campaign on behalf of One Girl Cookies — a charming bakery in Dumbo damaged when debris carried by flood waters smashed open a window and escaped with cakes and cupcakes that were strewn nearly 100 yards from the storefront — damaging every piece of equipment and every inch of the store.  With a goal of $2,500, Colleen will help the store make some of the repairs they need to get the bakers back to what they do best.  

That same day, we heard from Ally Kostick, a Manhattan resident who was shocked by the flooding along 14th street that spilled into Manhattan Kids Club II, a day care center on the south side of Stuy-Town.  The daycare and school suffered from 4 feet of flood waters pouring through the doors, destroying nearly everything.  

The space, a second home for her children, has to be dried out and repaired to return to normalcy.  A group of parents, led by Ally, built a campaign as a way to raise money to breathe life back into the space.  Within 2 hours of launching the campaign, they blew well past the goal.   

We are inspired by the tremendous displays of generosity by these enterprising neighbors and are hopeful that together with their communities, they can provide an early hand in getting these businesses get back on their feet. 

Seeing such kindness in action, we are opening up our platform to allow rebuilding campaigns not just for business owners, but to anyone who wants to lend a hand.  If you or a group of friends are interested in running a fundraising campaign on behalf of a business affected by Sandy, please send us an email at rebuild@smallknot.com. 

31  Oct

Rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy: Free Smallknot Services

[Updated: 11/13/12]

As we learn more about the damage from Hurricane Sandy across our own city of New York and the East Coast, we are saddened by the devastation on homes and livelihoods across the region.  At Smallknot, we are dedicated to helping small businesses grow through community finance — support from the neighborhoods where they are integral building blocks — and we would like to lend a hand any way we can. 

If your small business has suffered damage or losses related to Hurricane Sandy, we would like to help you get the funds you need to repair, rebuild and get back on your feet.  For affected small businesses, we are offering the use of our community crowdfunding platform and advising services free of charge.  To be eligible, you must 1) be in a storm-affected area and 2) use funds raised to undertake repairs or maintenance related to storm-related damage.  Eligible campaigns must be submitted by November 30, 2012.  

If you or any small business owner you know has been affected by the storm, please send an email to rebuild@smallknot.com.  

What is Smallknot? 
Smallknot is a community crowdfunding platform for small businesses.  Independent businesses can run campaigns to raise funds that are repaid to supporters in kind — at a premium — in the form of goods, services and experiences.  To learn more, please see our Frequently Asked Questions

What businesses are eligible to use Smallknot for this offer?
To be eligible, small businesses must 1) be in a storm-affected area, 2) commit to use funds raised to undertake repairs or maintenance related to storm-related damage and 3) submit a request or inquiry by November 15, 2012.  Inquiries and requests can be sent to rebuild@smallknot.com.

Do you provide any services in addition to use of your crowdfunding platform? 
Yes.  In addition to free use of our crowdfunding platform, we also offer one-on-one consultation to help you build an effective campaign and conduct outreach. 

Are there are any fees for using the platform?  
Although we are waiving our own fees for affected businesses, a fee of approximately 3% will be levied by our credit card processor.  We are currently in discussions to have this fee waived and hope to have these fees reduced or waived as well. 

When and how will I receive the funds? 
Funds will be deposited directly to your business bank account within 5-7 days of the successful completion of your campaign.  Normally, Smallknot campaigns last between 30-45 days but given the circumstances, campaigns can be as short as 7 days.  

Do businesses need to provide anything in return for the funds received? 
No.  Although typically Smallknot campaigns require participating businesses to offer premium products, services or experiences in exchange for funds, under these urgent circumstances no returns to supporters are necessary.  If businesses would prefer to offer returns, we are able to help you put those together.  

Are campaigns raising funds from Hurricane Sandy “All-or-Nothing?’

No.  Given that many of these businesses aren’t building specific limited projects, but instead need additional funds to repair and rebuild, campaigns with the “Rebuild from Hurricane Sandy” will not require businesses reach their requested goal in order to receive funds.  

I’m not a business owner, but I want to get involved and help a business.  Can I run a campaign for a business?

Yes.  Although the business owner must give their consent to the campaign, supporters are encouraged to run campaigns for affected businesses in their area.  In these situations, funds will be deposited directly to the business.  

24  Oct

Investor Stories: Saucey Sauce

By Roger Sachar, Guest Contributor

I will gladly admit to being a Smallknot addict. At first it was a fun game to “win” as the last investor in every campaign, but when I found out I was moving to New York, my interest in the company became more than passive.  I invested to get yoga lessons from Makara Studio, contributed to Ruffeo Hearts Little Snotty’s campaign and nabbed a gift bag, and have been anxious to redeem my lunch at Egg in Brooklyn. The reward I was most anxious to try was the Vietnamese Food Tour I’d earned by contributing to the Saucey Sauce Company, and as soon as she found out I’d arrived in the City, Mahira from Saucey Sauce was in touch to schedule it.

The food tour opened at the Hong Kong Supermarket in Chinatown, where Toan, Saucy Sauce’s CEO, President, Resident Sauce Guru and all around fantastic person, gave the gathered group a lesson in Vietnamese culinary culture and tradition.  I joined them just as they sat down for dinner at Cong Ly, a small Vietnamese restaurant at Hester and Chrystie. Since none of us could read the menu, we left ourselves in Toan’s hands, and she did not disappoint. We started with drinks, salty lemonade and a sweet basil concoction, which we all enjoyed (despite Toan’s likening the basil seeds to tiny tadpoles).

Then it was on to the main course, with the emphasis squarely on main. There was an absolutely delectable Pho, Banh Beo (steamed rice cakes), Banh Hoi (grilled pork), egg rolls, two different types of soup, a pork chop, shrimp in various forms (including tiny little shrimp that are ground up and sprinkled about), and spring rolls. Toan ordered so much that our poor waiter was forced to find a second table to hold some in reserve.

Once the food was all in front of us, we were let in on a little secret; the magic of the fish dipping sauce. As Toan explained, the key to Vietnamese food is to dip it; for example, taking a portion of the spring roll, wrap a little lettuce about it, and dunk it ever so gently into the dipping sauce. Each Vietnamese family has a special recipe which is passed down from mother to daughter, and Toan’s family’s recipe comes complete with a nice little spicy kick. You can try it by ordering a bottle of the spicy ginger sauce here, or better yet, help yourself to a basket of three sauces. If you’re feeling brave, you can try the extreme version of ginger sauce.

Of course, it wasn’t just Toan and I dining, and I had the pleasure of meeting some fantastic people (not to mention that I got a lead on an apartment and a blind date). To me, the evening demonstrated the reason I’m an addict.  Not only was there a great, one-of-a-kind experience I would have been unable to find elsewhere, but I had discovered a new restaurant, and met new friends and neighbors. Smallknot’s slogan is “Make Your Neighborhood Awesome,” and one of the best ways to make your neighborhood awesome is to go out and discover the fantastic people and places that are in it.  

In the interest of full disclosure, I went to law school with Jay Lee, one of Smallknot’s co-founders, so I’ve always kept a close eye on Smallknot. 

15  Oct

Campaigns to Love: Brooklyn Oenology Winery Tasting Room

Forget Bordeaux, did you know you can get incredible wines grown right her in New York state?  And you don’t need to head all the way out to the countryside to enjoy a wine tasting – you can do it right in Williamsburg at Alie Shaper’s cozy Brooklyn Oenology Winery Tasting Room.  Opened in 2006, this former warehouse space has been transformed into an adorable farmhouse and feels like you’re just steps from the vineyard.

Brooklyn Oneology, or BOE, stocks a variety of New York made wine, beer, cheese, charcuterie and other picnic items. They also hire Brooklyn artists to display their works of art on the peelable labels on bottles, and have an event space for musical guests.  

And the wine is no joke.  Alie gets her grapes out in the North Fork of Long Island and produce it in the neighboring town of Mattituck. Did you know Long Island is home to a vast number of vineyards, rivaling the Finger Lakes winescapes. New York state ranks third in wine production behind California (of course) and Washington.  

Brooklyn Oenology Winery is on Smallknot with a campaign to replace their broken down refrigerator — and they’re using this as an opportunity to offer you some awesome perks.   The little fridge that Alie bootstrapped when they opened the tasting room has gone to refrigerator heaven, and the new one will showcase more locally made goods for you to enjoy.    

There’s only a few weeks left, so invest in BOE today and enjoy a wine tasting class (or two) or even a wine country tour for up to 6 people! Through a little Smalknot magic you can get a great price on BOE’s offerings while helping to support a local business. Your investment will help this entrepreneur grow their small business and mission to bring amazing and locally sourced wine right into your neighborhood.

Indulge in some crisp wine, stay for the music and enjoy the slow ambience in the heart of Brooklyn.  

You can find the campaign here. 

Brooklyn Oenology Winery
209 Wythe Ave.
Brooklyn NY
Twitter: @bklynoenology 

8  Oct

Campaigns to Inspire: Juice Hugger Cafe

Smallknot is a way to help local businesses in your community achieve great things.  Invest in a Smallknot campaign and you’ll get great value for your contribution in the form of goods, services and special benefits — all while helping passionate entrepreneurs grow their dreams.  Today, we’re featuring Juice Hugger Cafe in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.  You can find them on Smallknot here

Juicing is all the rage these days, and with good reason.  With obesity rates and diabetes on the rise, it’s no surprise that people everywhere are looking for healthy alternatives and making more health-conscious food choices.  Cold-pressed juices made with fruits and vegetables are an increasingly popular way to lose weight, detox, or boost your veggie intake.  While it’s not unusual to find cold-pressed juices around the city, they’re often expensive and almost always in high-priced neighborhoods.

And that’s one of the reasons why Juice Hugger Cafe is so exceptional.  Opened in October 2011, Juice Hugger’s storefront is in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on Rogers Avenue, and they’re committed to bringing fresh and affordable organic juices to a neighborhood that often lacks a lot of healthy choices.  They sell their own line of cold-pressed juices and nut milks, and a variety of juice cleanses that will get you feeling energized in no time.  And with prices starting at just $3.50 for a juice, anyone can enjoy it.  Oh - and did we mention they deliver?  

Co-owner Carl Foster knows the power of juicing first hand.  Just a few years ago he was 5’9” and 220 lbs., and desperately looking for ways to get healthier.  After a friend introduced him to fresh pressed juices, he lost more than 60 pounds through a combination of healthier choices and moderate exercise.  When friends started asking him to make juices for them too, the company began to grow organically.  Together with his fiancee and business partner Kelly Keelo, Carl began bottling juices and selling them online and at festivals and corporate events.  Last year, they opened their first storefront and have quickly become a mainstay of the neighborhood.  

Juice Hugger is on Smallknot today looking to upgrade the cafe and make it more comfortable for everyone to enjoy. Carl and Kelly are looking to build additional seating that will create more of a lounge area in the space, and they plan to upgrade their refrigerators, freezers and ovens so they can expand their offering and selections.  

Invest in Juice Hugger Cafe today and you can get great values on juice packs and juice cleanses.  It’s rare indeed for Juice Hugger to offer any kind of a discount, and this is a great way to jumpstart a healhty lifestyle.  Your investment will help these entrepreneurs continue to grow their business and bring even more healthy, delicious juices.  There’s only about a week left in the campaign, so now’s the time to get in on the deal!  

Feel good, get healthy, make a difference in your community.  What’s not to like?  

Find Juice Hugger’s Smallknot campaign here. 

Juice Hugger Cafe
85 Rogers Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11216
Twitter: @juicehugger

25  Sep

Smallknot Profiles: Silver Moon Bakery

Smallknot loves local business, and every week we’re profiling the people and places that make our neighborhood special.  Want to get covered in a Smallknot profile, or know someone who should be? Shoot us a message here.

This week, Smallknot visited with Judith Norell, the owner of Silver Moon Bakery.  Silver Moon Bakery is located at 2740 Broadway, and is known for having the best breads, pastries, and coffee in the neighborhood.  I stop in at least once a day!

How long has Silver Moon Bakery been open?

We opened in November of 2000, so we’ve been open for 12 years on November 8th.  

How did you come up with the name?

Well, I’m a meditator, and I really wanted to call it Silent Moon, and I was told by my husband that nobody would understand what I was talking about.

Oh, what’s the concept of “silent moon”?

There is a poem, saying, “The Buddha is like the silent moon, seeing all, illuminating everything.”  I love the idea of moons – it’s calm, and it’s beautiful.  So, after trying several variations, we came up with Silver Moon Bakery.

Do you have a baking background?

Yes, I’ve baked all my life, and I did go to the French Culinary Institute, which now has another name.  I think it’s called the International Culinary Institute.  I did that when I felt that nobody was hiring me because I didn’t have any credentials.  And I baked in Paris also for a while. 

What do you find to be the most challenging part of the business?

I would say the most challenging part is human relations and money.  Trying to make sure that everyone who works for us gets a decent salary.  In this particular economy, it’s very difficult to juggle because prices are going up regularly, and yet we cannot really raise our prices.  The economy’s no good, and we don’t want our customers to suffer.  So, we’re really struggling; it’s a balancing act.

What’s your favorite thing about running your own business?

I love baking.  I love baking bread. 

Do you have a favorite bread that you sell in the store? 

Well, our baguettes are probably our most popular, but then after that, I would say our sourdoughs.  I don’t know if you’ve looked at our breads or our website, but we do a lot of different kinds of bread, and I keep coming up with new kinds of bread because I love to experiment.

Do you have any advice for other small business owners?

Well, in my own personal experience – I had a background in non-profits before I started this – in order to sustain yourself, you have to do what you love, and not start something just to make money.  You may as well go into finance or banking to make money if that’s what you care about.  You have to be prepared for long hours and a lot of anxiety, and being able to multi-task.

I also saw where you also have baking classes.  

Well, they’re baking demos.  They’re demonstrations.  Because I am very passionate about bread, it really forms a lovely bond between me and the people who come, because they’re all people who love doing what I’m doing.  I can critique them, or become a mentor in a certain way. 

Is there anything else readers should know about Silver Moon?

They should watch our website, and get on our mailing list because we’re always coming up with new products.  And we love celebrating holidays!  We search out holidays, so we can make special things for them.  For example, the Jewish holidays are happening now, so I found a 15th century Italian bread that was brought over from Spain by the Jews, fleeing the Inquisition, which we are now making.  It’s called “il bollo.”  It’s absolutely wonderful, and it has a wonderful history also. 

Next week on the 29th starts the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.  So, we are making moon cakes with a French twist but with all the beautiful designs of the Chinese.  We have a lot of holidays that we celebrate.  

Thank you, Judith!

(And special thanks to our Ambassador Christine Thompson!)

30  Aug

Smallknot Invited to the White House!

On Wednesday, representatives of Smallknot, Etsy, Getaround, Airbnb and Zaarly were invited to the White House for an off-the-record discussion with the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, an office of the Domestic Policy Council seeking bottom-up, innovative and results-oriented community solutions.  Without reservation, the experience was an honor.  

Each of us had the opportunity to explain our own visions of collaborative consumption / the peer economy / the sharing economy / [insert other moniker] and the broader implications on our businesses and the wider economic landscape.  The conversation was engaging, intelligent and brought together an inspiring collection of visions for building a stronger, more connected economy through innovation and re-imagination.  After learning more about each business, I left more convinced than ever that a massive shift is afoot — large institutions are increasingly being disrupted by platforms that simultaneously unleash and harness the assets and motivations of large groups of people.  

(On more substantive matters: I had the chicken (which was delicious), and noticed that even the sugar packets and pat of butter had the Presidential seal. We also got a copy of the White House menu with two boxes of the coveted White House M&Ms.  All in all, a resounding success.)