I saw this post today on The Verge which tells a great story about LSTN – a headphone company with a social enterprise backbone. LSTN not only sells unique headphones but also builds a charitable component into their business model where a portion of each purchase goes to the Starkey Hearing Foundation, whose mission is to help restore hearing worldwide.
If you don’t know what a social enterprise is (and it is different things to different people), check out the video. A social enterprise is NOT always a not-for-profit (but it can be). It can be thought of as a company that combines profit-with-purpose.
Social entrepreneurship is not only a way of doing business that uses commerce as a way to make a social impact – it’s also a very effective marketing tool. Many consumers want to know where the products and services they use come from and how they impact communities and our environment.
Companies with a social enterprise model (some of the largest are Tom’s Shoes and Warby Parker) also are able to use their mission as a marketing strategy. It gives the company and more importantly their customers a story to tell. In much the same way that Apple’s use of white iPod earbuds sent a signal that the wearer was hip, more affluent and using an Apple product (most other headphones were black), Lstn’s headphones, Tom’s shoes or Warby Parker glasses not only send a fashion signal, but one that says ‘I purchase products that help people or support a cause.’
If you’re thinking about building a business, think about ways you can build in a responsible way, or integrate giving back or raising awaareness directly into your business model. Even if you’re not – Lstn’s story is a great primer on bootstrapping and using minimum viable products to get to market. This story is worth your time.