Two of Thankyou’s co-founders, Justine and Daniel Flynn, recently joined us at Dreamforce in San Francisco to share their insights on starting and scaling a social enterprise, as well as to meet other global leaders in pairing profit and purpose. While there, they presented a special session at Equality Hour in the APAC lounge, sharing the story of Thankyou and reflecting on how each of us has the power to make change. Here, they reflect on the experience.
We’ve told our story many, many times over. We’ve told it to friends and family, at conferences and workshops, to the media and to other startups. But we don’t get sick of it. We feel like our story has only just begun. Like our book says, we believe it’s just the beginning.
The incredible thing about sharing that first chapter in San Francisco was that the Dreamforce environment made its lessons, losses and triumphs fresh and vivid, reminding us to stay focused as we build our biggest launch yet and prepare to take one giant leap forward in our mission.
Surrounded by people like Barack Obama, Richard Curtis and Gail Gallie, and having our story and vision received by hundreds of other amazing trailblazers was humbling and inspiring. We revisited our story against the backdrop of hundreds of businesses and business leaders all looking to bring purpose beyond profit to their enterprises. It was a context in which we had both much to contribute and much to learn.
As a society we don’t do a great job of valuing moments. We are always on to the next thing, barely taking a pause or a breath to really take that moment in. And yet moments can be defining, momentous, life-changing.
We’re here today because we each had life-changing moments. Daniel shared his at Dreamforce – 19 years old, sitting in front of a computer watching kids who walked for miles to access drinking water that might just kill them. It was incredibly confronting and upsetting. And it changed the trajectory of his life there and then.
One moment on its own isn't, of course, enough. We need hundreds of moments. But one moment can be the start of something – if you don’t let it pass you by.
When we started Thankyou we were young – 21 and 19 – and filled with a passion to do something about the suffering we had witnessed. It would not be the last time we were called naive and childish.
We only need to look at Jed, our four-year-old son, to know how precious his ‘childishness’ is and to be reminded that none of us comes into the world understanding how the system works or knowing what’s possible and what’s impossible. For him, anything’s possible. When you’re four, that kind of belief is considered delightful and it’s encouraged. When you’re an adult, it’s considered naive and is dismissed.
But Dreamforce isn’t that environment – there, an ‘anything’s possible’ mindset is embraced. The extraordinary Barack Obama calls it boldness. He told us that there’s a boldness to saying ‘there’s a problem – I’m not resigned to just accept it. I have some power to change it’.
Boldness. Naivete. Childishness. Call it what you will, it’s part of the beginner’s mindset we still intentionally cultivate today. Without it, we would have been too daunted to act in the first place, to think we could make any difference, to start Thankyou. With it, we can continue to feel that anything is possible. Just like our son. And just like so many of the people we’ve heard talk here at Dreamforce about using business to effect meaningful social change in the world.
Epic fails? We’ve had them. We had our product launch – we expected it to be one of the greatest moments of our lives – turn into a product recall. We lost 300 retail stockists in five weeks. We had distributors of our product go into liquidation. We’ve heard “no” more times than we can remember. And yes, sometimes we’ve thought ‘this is too hard, this is too hard, it’s not working, it’s time to throw in the towel’.
After three years of what felt like hard slog for nothing, we went to Cambodia. We saw our ‘why’, and it wasn’t about the product or the brand. It was about the people and the purpose: a family whose community now had access to clean water through a sustainable well and water filter funded by Thankyou. In that moment – another defining one – we realised we’d happily go through those hard years again for that one amazing outcome. Right in front of us was the very difference we’d dreamed of.
Having that moment to reconnect with our purpose in such an immediate way got us back on track to keep persisting no matter what challenges we faced. It spurred our creative and disruptive approach to marketing the Thankyou brand and getting into Australia’s biggest supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths.
Sharing our purpose with consumers allowed us to introduce the brand to New Zealand. It propelled us into launching new products, and connecting with partners who had the expertise and the resources to make real changes in people’s lives. Purpose means that in partnership with those consumers, we’ve been able to help more than 850,000 people across 21 countries today.
Dreamforce was full of discussions about changing the face of business so purpose is at its core. As part of a purpose-driven organisation ourselves, we have an insatiable curiosity about how others are approaching this model and loved hearing Richard Curtis, Gail Gallie, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Robin Wright talking about using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a lens through which to approach this new frontier in business.
While corporate social responsibility has been, as Curtis said, an admirable and important part of business in recent years, it’s now time to up the ante. We are shifting, he explained, “into a time of responsible social corporations [that] have an ability to pursue profit and success but at the same time genuinely and fundamentally be part of a transformative generation”.
Now that consumers are demanding businesses do the right thing when it comes to driving social change, the imperative to build purpose into the foundations of our organisations has never been more powerful. Consumers are turning to brands and businesses – not governments – to disrupt the status quo and make equality, diversity, sustainability and accessibility their top priorities.
We can feel that shift in consumers over the past 11 years, and Salesforce research shows that 76% of customers think companies are responsible for giving back to the communities where they do business and 78% of customers think companies are responsible for taking steps to reduce climate change.
For us, Dreamforce was a very important moment in our journey. It’s one of the biggest gatherings in the world and – while on the outside it may have looked like we were just sitting in sessions, meeting people, telling our story and doing some interviews – on the inside something else was going on.
Dreamforce’s mantra ‘business as a platform for change’ is not only possible; it’s vital and it’s urgent. We’ve been working on a launch that lives this statement at a scale we’ve never seen before. Dreamforce was a reminder that change at scale is possible – on the inside we were gaining insights and connections for our launch. With our beginner’s mindset still firmly in place after all these years, and intentionally built into every step we take, we are excited for our next step as we play a small but important part in this movement for change.
Daniel and Justine Flynn are two of the three co-founders of Thankyou, arguably Australia’s most recognisable social enterprise – seen on shelves in all major supermarkets, the brand makes the country’s number one and number two most popular hand soaps, as well as a large range of other products across personal care, food and more categories.
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