Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

How a Tweet Started My Career

How a Tweet Started My Career.Name of Social Enterprise and URL?

Verde Sustainable Solutions, L3C is an environmental firm that seeks to promote and educate others on the principles of sustainability. My company advocates for renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, and respecting nature. As an organization, we put our mission ahead of profit.

Who is the person? What is there background? Date officially launched?

My name is Jamie Johnson, and I have a rather diverse background. My consistent job over the last 10 years has been as a suburban firefighter and paramedic in the town of Wilmette, Illinois. We work 24 hour shifts, every third day, which means I end up having a lot of spare time during normal working days. Although I am often tired from working nights, I have used this time to go back to get an Environmental Science Policy graduate degree from the University of Chicago, interned at the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and volunteered with children with life-threatening illness at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Connecticut. Like I said, I have a rather diverse background.

I launched Verde as an L3C, or limited liability low profit company, in July of 2010. L3Cs are new hybrid non-profit/for profit organizations that are committed to acting within their mission ahead of profit. However, they are not limited by profit, which allows them to compete in a way that is different from traditional non-profits. Having a unique perspective from working with non-profits, for-profits, and municipal governments led to this type of mission focused organization.

What is your product or service?

VERDE, launched on September 1 of this year, is an iPad application that helps consumers recognize the true cost of running each appliance and light bulb in a home or small business. The software also accesses a database that I created to demonstrate the cost savings available with energy efficient upgrades. In additions, the app can be used to demonstrate cost savings available with behavior changes, like turning off lights during the day or running your current air conditioning less. Both of these services help people reduce their usage of electricity, and have great potential to help the environment.

What came about that made them help in social change? Why was this social venture created?

With a strong training in economics at the University of Chicago, I understand that many decisions are made based on costs. I also feel very strongly that the planet is very stressed and needs us to change many of our behaviors very soon.

It turned out to be a natural connection to show people that they could save money and help the environment at the same time. I do not find it natural for myself to convince people that environmental action needs to happen for any particular reason. There are people out there that are much at that than me. I have found that most people appreciate that change is important, and using cost savings to drive people to encourage these changes works.

What is the cost per person that is being helped? Are you working on decreasing that cost by being more efficient?

The app costs $4.99 for each download, so the average consumer can save several hundred dollars by using the VERDE app to inventory their home and make a few changes. However, there are pricing options down the road to help more people. I plan on making the app free for download on Earth day, as well as some further promotional dates to help schools and non-profits use the program.

Could others help you and how?

Yes! I currently am looking for larger, environmentally focused groups to review and support the app. There are 100,000 iPads being shipped each day, and my goal, regardless of the profit and revenue, is to get the app on 25% of iPads.

I also want to partner with retailers that sell energy efficient products. While I will not compromise with products that are not energy star certified, I think that there is an opportunity to actually drive some consumer behavior after they learn about how efficient products can actually save themselves money.

I love the example that I like to use in my own home. My wife and I had an old TV and I avoided getting a new, power hungry HDTV. When the LED HDTVs came out, I ran one through my database and realized that we could save $73 each year in electricity costs, which was enough incentive for me to buy a new TV. The fact that this also leads to 650 less kWh of electricity being produced each year is an added benefit to the environment.

When we think of investing in renewable power and other expensive measures to protect the environment, we rarely consider how we can reduce our current usage with new and more efficient purchases. I think that the TV example is great, and will speak to many households out there that might consider spending money to help the environment. It makes it easy when you use the VERDE app to demonstrate ways that you can actually buy products you would want anyways. In fact, millions of households will purchase a new television in the next year and likely will not consider power usage as a priority. VERDE users will, and will even get recommendations for great products that are also energy star.

Do you tweet, facebook fan page, myspace friend or use any other social media to get the word out? (Please provide links)

Yes, Verde has worked hard on generating a social media presence, with a strong brand that does not compromise on the quality of environmental topics. I try to post relevant information that is important and informational, and stay away from trends that are not actually helpful to the environment. I find twitter to be a very helpful way to gather information about topics, and use it myself to learn about environmental topics.

A tweet is actually what started my recent success. I sent out a tweet asking if anyone knew a good iPad developer. Dan Shaker from Matte Black Studios, who turned out to be someone that I had already known casually, responded. That turned out to be a very important professionally relationship for me, and he also helped me create a fantastic product. I would have never connected with that particular firm without that tweet!!/verdeL3C

YouTube – Do you have a YouTube video URL that you can share with us, and allow us to publish with your story

This link is a rough draft – and it may change depending on when the story launches. I hired an artist friend of mine to create a comic strip that depicts a damsel in distress getting overrun with high energy bills. The hero, VERDE, saves the day by helping her save money and the environment. It is a parody off the Worlds Shortest Melodrama, which was broadcast on PBS when I was a kid.

My brother set the video to music, which turned out pretty cool as shown here.


What is the best advice you never got?

I think that the biggest challenge to being a social entrepreneur is that you don’t receive validation on your ideas and trajectory for years. I really need to trust in myself that my ideas will make a difference someday, but probably not for a while and a lot of resistence. Otherwise, I would not be making changes and I would just be happy with the status quo.

It is very difficult to maintain your core ideas when they are repeatedly discouraged, because it is very difficult for people to change. I have tried a ton of different ways to get people to use less electricity.

Many of my initial attempts were unsuccessful. However, they all led eventually to my final product, the VERDE app. The app is sleek enough and robust in a way that helps people appreciate the money that they can save by being more energy efficient. All of my early failures (my wife hates this word!) had input toward my eventual success, yet no one was able to appreciate the potential until the actual product was successful.

Being a social entrepreneur is difficult in a way that nothing in life prepared me for, and often challenges my core beliefs. I wish that someone had been there to warn me about this early in my entrepreneurship, so hopefully my message will reach other budding social entrepreneurs.

How a Tweet Started My Career.What is the one thing that you did right?

For me, the best decision that I made was to stay at my current job as a firefighter while I continue to create social change on my days off. This has allowed me to stay on course, and not falter toward less risky trajectories. If I did not have the steady job, I would not have been able to bootstrap the development of an app the size and magnitude of VERDE.

The lack of other stakeholders involved in the business allows me to make decisions based on what is best for the environment overall, as opposed to bottom line for profit. A great example for this is the VERDE app, which initially was going to be a higher price targeted toward professionals. However, I decided to drop the price to make it within range of the average app and allow individual consumers to use it within their home.

What was the biggest transition you had to make (i.e. new skill set, habits, abilities, focus)?

The hardest transition that I have had to make is being 100% responsible for each daily decision. It is often easier, although frustrating at times, to have a boss to make the ultimate decision for you.

While having control over each decision was something I would initially have thought I would enjoy, it was more difficult than I expected. It is easier to blame someone else for a bad decision if things don’t work out, and I had to learn that it was ok to make a bad decision and not be too hard on myself.

Are you doing any type of Search Engine Optimization?

Not enough!

What book(s) have you read that others should read?

I read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair in the early stages of forming my social venture. That book, while specifically relevant to Chicago, reminded me about what both makes our country beautiful and tragic at the same time.

We have opportunities in this country that are available nowhere else. Yet often the profit motive can take advantage of the poor and lower class. Entrepreneurs take the greatest risks in our country, which is why the reward is often so great. However, social entrepreneurs take risks that seldom are rewarded in the same way. “The Jungle” reminded me why it is important to constantly strive for improving how we treat people and employees, as well as why certain laws are in place today to protect people. I hope to keep this message core to my businesses values as we grow.

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