Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

The Sexiest, Hardest, and Most Rewarding Thing You Will Ever Do

The Sexiest, Hardest, and Most Rewarding Thing You Will Ever DoName of Social Enterprise and URL?

Spud Flower

Who is the person behind Spud Flower? What is your background?

There’s actually a team of us. The driving idea behind Spud Flower came from my wife as she struggled with finding the appropriate way to give her nephews an investment intended to go toward college 10+ years down the road.Unfortunately, she’s not as active as the 6 of us who work daily on Spud Flower. Lucky for our family, though, she has a regular job with great benefits.

My background is all in technology and design. Back in the 90’s when I was in high school, I helped to launch one of the nation’s first non-profit ISPs – and it’s still operational today. In college, I co-founded a web design firm and we had offices in Chicago, IL and Columbus, OH. After a few fun years, we sold that business and we all got “real jobs”. I went on to work as an engineer in the public sector practices at two defense contractors, then led a research and development group at an international digital media firm, and I’ve spent the last three or four years consulting with governments and corporations to help make cities more sustainable (using technology, of course). Most recently, I served as social entrepreneur in residence for Olazul, an ecological aquaculture non-profit – where I continue to serve on the board. Over the last 15 years, I also started a few other businesses, earnedan MBA in Sustainable Management, and helped to teach the Capital Markets course after I graduated.

The Sexiest, Hardest, and Most Rewarding Thing You Will Ever Do

Steven Tiell

What is your product or service?

Spud Flower is a Flexible Purpose Corporation with a mission to enable economic mobility for our nation’s youth. Spud Flower engages family and friends to help children save for college – a social way to save, if you will.The Spud Flower platform offers new account creation (via banking partners), depository links to existing accounts (like savings and 529 plans), and savings bonds.

With Spud Flower, parents setup an account for each child and receive a custom URL that can be used by family and friends to give a financial gift alongside a card or small toy. Spud Flower’s platform makes the gift giving process simple and transparent for users with all levels of financial literacy.

Was there an event that made you care about social change? Why was Spud Flower created as a social venture?

I’ve looked for a greater purpose in the work I do my entire life. I’ve actually turned down several amazing positions because I failed to see a higher social good. With starting Spud Flower, there was a perfect storm of events.

  • First, the idea had been tumbling around in the back of my head for quite some time.
  • Second, I have been inspired by so many amazing projects that our students created for their projects in the capital markets course – the objective was to get students to leverage all different forms of capital markets to catalyze positive change in our world.
  • Third, California recently passed legislation creating a new corporate structure – the Flexible Purpose Corporation – that allows founders to choose a specific mission to pursue in addition to profits. This special purpose can be anything that generally benefits society and becomes part of the corporate charter and “broadens the duties of its board of directors, from solely maximizing shareholder value to also pursuing an additional purpose.”
  • And the straw that broke the camels back happened in December 2011 when I tried to buy a savings bond for a friend’s child’s birthday. It was confusing and difficult – and my understanding of financial products is definitely above average.

I was at a point in my life where I could afford to dedicate my time and energy on a new venture and after talking with some top talent who I wanted to recruit to help me, they were interested in it as a business venture, but they were highly passionate about it as a social impact venture. There was really no turning back. I registered the domain and we got busy working on Spud Flower right away.

How are your users receiving your service?

Universally, they love it. We’ve had some users literally beg to be part of our pilot. We’ve also had others tell us how it has already made a lasting impact on the financial lives of their children. I’ve worked on projects before where I’d go home at the end of the day and know that something I did could easily save a person’s life in the future and I have to say that impacting the life of a child in such a profound way is equally rewarding – and the best part is that we’ll be able to impact every child in America. It still makes me shiver.

Could others help you and how?

Absolutely. We are only as strong as our community of stakeholders. Right now, the best thing for people to do is sign up for further updates at http://spudflower.com. While there, they can also take our survey and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

What free online or offline tools do you use?

Oh geez, where do we start? First, we’ve applied for numerous business plan or startup competitions – most of them are free. We’re currently in the semi-final round of Stanford’s Social E-Challenge competition and we’re looking forward to the next round in April. Our survey is hosted through Survey Builder and they’ve been absolutely great with helping us design our survey and analyze responses. We connect directly with parents at many online parent groups through Yahoo! Groups and Google Groups. We also use Mail Chimp for all of our user communications (12,000 messages a month are free). Google Apps powers our e-mail and document sharing along with Group Camp for tracking internal projects, which is a Google Apps Plug-in. Our CMS system is also free.

How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)?

We have a team of 6 and will hopefully add our 7th and 8th employees within the next few weeks.

What are your Twitter & Facebook links?

Twitter and Facebook

What is the best advice you never got?

It took me a l-o-n-g time to learn how powerful a strong professional network can be. You hear it all the time in a bunch of different ways and places, but actually creating and nurturing a professional network has paid dividends. LinkedIN is one of the most powerful resources I’ll ever use, but it’s a soft resource – it’s really just a way to keep up with my personal and professional contacts and find pathways to the new contacts I’m hoping to nurture.

The best piece of advice that I did receive came from none other than Oprah Winfrey – “never accept a ‘no’ from someone who isn’t empowered to give you a ‘yes’.”

What is the one thing that you did right?

I’m really fortunate to have the best, brightest, and most passionate team of co-founders. We constantly inspire each other to perform and contribute the best of what we have to offer.

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

Whew – I’m a jack of all trades. There’s not much I can’t do – I’m not an expert at any of it, though. My co-founders are experts in their domains. I’ve spent the last 5 years of my career learning how to delegate and be pleased with the results even if I would’ve done things differently. I’m getting better at this every week.

Are you doing any type of Search Engine Optimization?

Absolutely. SEO is interwoven with everything we put online. We’re aware of its power and actively look for SEO talent with new recruits as well.

What can you tell other potential social entrepreneurs who are deciding to make a difference?

Social entrepreneurship is the hardest, sexiest, and most rewarding work you will ever perform. When someone tells you how your service has impacted their life and made them a better person or member of their community, there’s just no feeling like it in the world. If this stuff were easy, though, every company would be doing it. It’s not. It’s challenging. And we need more people rising to the challenge because social entrepreneurs can make America and the world great once again!

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

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