You have an itch to launch a social enterprise. And you think your idea is potentially world-changing. But you don’t know where to begin. Coming up with an idea is the easy part, whereas executing your vision is full of twists and turns. Hear it from Bridget Hilton, the LA-based co-founder of Jack’s Soap, on how she found inspiration and turned an idea into a real (organic and vegan!) product in just four months, launching only in November 2011.
Bridget started Jack’s Soap to raise awareness and prevent deaths related to insufficient personal hygiene. Jack’s gives away a bar of soap for every one sold but it hands out locally-produced soap instead of an exact replica made in the U.S. By educating children on the importance of developing effective hand-washing habits, Bridget hopes to reduce the incidence of preventable diseases like cholera and pneumonia. Jack’s Soap has partnered with organizations like Global Handwashing Day and it currently concentrates on communities in Ethiopia. They hope to expand their work into Uganda and Haiti in the near future.
Why did you start Jack’s Soap?
When I heard that 5,000 children a day were dying because they had no access to soap, I thought how can that be possible? Soap is the cheapest and the most effective way to prevent diseases such as cholera, typhoid, pneumonia, and diarrhea. Something so simple that we take for granted in America can mean so much to someone in a developing country. My friend Ben and I decided that we had to try to do something about it. We had plans to start a company with charity ingrained in the business plan, but when we came across this fact, we knew that starting with soap would have the biggest impact.
You went from working in the music business to the soap business. How do you see your background and prior experiences contributing to the company’s early success?
I think that I’ll always be involved with music no matter what. It’s a huge passion of mine. My background in marketing & sales has been very helpful. My career thus far has given me experience in dealing with many types of people and personalities, which is important for any business leader. My experience has taught me to not be afraid of approaching anyone, no matter who they are. Also, I believe that many times it takes a person from a completely different background to make a change in an industry or put a twist on a product. It’s exciting to be in a new industry!
For those who have an idea for a social enterprise but don’t know how to move it forward, what were the first few steps you took when you had the idea for Jack’s Soap?
First of all, do your research. Are there any companies already doing this idea that you can find? Better to find one that no one is doing yet. Everyone doesn’t NEED a co-founder, but it certainly helps to have someone reliable to bounce ideas off of and be your partner in the long road of creating and maintaining a business - find someone with strengths that complement yours. If your social enterprise involves giving in other countries, make sure you secure a charity partner that is already doing great work in your area of interest. Working with up and running organizations is a huge plus - they have already laid the groundwork for donating and will be able to give you advice on the best areas to donate to. I would also recommend securing your URL and social sites as soon as you have the name for your company.
How did you decide on the business model? How do you plan on measuring impact?
The business model came first. We really believe in the one-for-one model and were very inspired by organizations such as TOMS, Warby Parker, and Krochet Kids. Making a difference through every day purchases makes complete sense. So many people are in need, and charities just simply cannot cover it all. At first, Jack’s is concentrating on small villages in areas that are in dire need, and will be measuring the reduction in disease in these areas via our charity partners.
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced when you first started out? How did you tackle it?
We started at the end of October 2011 with an idea and little money, and I gave us the goal of having a finished product and launched website by January 1, 2012. By bootstrapping our start-up in a very short period of time, I have learned so much - from how to code a website, how to set up merchant accounts, how soap is made, how to design packaging, many things that I would have never dealt with if we had paid someone else to set everything up. Building a company from the ground up and being hands-on in everything that we have done have been a major undertaking, and I’m so happy we did it ourselves. We’ve done an immense amount of research to learn about the business, the countries that we are donating to, and the global health crisis. I would highly recommend finding other social entrepreneurs in your city and getting together and discussing ideas, past mistakes, and future plans. Ben lives in San Francisco and I live in Los Angeles - we’re very fortunate to be in two cities which have thriving social entrepreneurship communities.
Wow. So Jack’s Soap has been in existence for about four months now? Why do you think you guys achieved such early momentum?
Yes! It’s been a crazy few months. Instead of starting to tell people about Jack’s after everything was finalized, we started getting feedback and really digging into our research the day after we had the idea. We focused early on building our social media pages; doing competitive research in the skin care aisles of local Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Target; and telling everyone we knew about our mission. By doing this, it forced us to really follow up on everything very quickly as we had people asking when/where they could buy the soap before our site was even up! There have been a lot of late nights at home, staring at a monitor at 3 am figuring out how to make all of this work, but when it came together so quickly it was definitely worth it. We’re of course still working out some kinks, and learning new things every day - it’s great!
When did you first realize that your idea was gaining traction? Did you have a specific turning point?
Not sure there was one turning point. Ben and I have a very specific list of goals that we want to accomplish. When we reach every small goal, it is very exciting! For example, talking to our first charity partner, launching the website, actually holding the finished product in our hands, and getting our first retailer have been high points so far.
What are some specific tools you would recommend to aspiring social entrepreneurs?
- Square - for taking local orders directly. And it’s free!
- Skype - if your business partners or employees are in a different city, it’s very helpful!
- Shopify - our fantastic e-commerce platform.
- Hover - where we buy our domain names.
- Google Analytics - obvious, but it gives you great insight into who is looking at your site and where they came from.
- Google Alerts - sign up for this with your business name and for similar businesses. That way, you are always in the know every time someone posts about you online.
- Asana - a new way for businesses to complete tasks. Way better than sending meeting requests on Outlook!
- 99designs - we got ideas for packaging here.
- Evernote - keep track of interesting links, ideas etc.
- Follow the #socent hashtag on Twitter - you’ll get a good idea of what everyone else is doing.
What tunes do you like to rock out to while you work? Any new artists on your playlist?
Music keeps me motivated. I have Spotify playing all day long. My favorite albums right now are Fun. - Some Nights, Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour, HoneyHoney - BillyJack, Gotye - Making Mirrors, Bahamas - Barchords, and Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire.
What is the one takeaway message you want others to know about your experience launching Jack’s Soap?
If you have an idea, I highly recommend launching it now. The only regret I have is not starting this business sooner. You don’t have forever - there is no time like the present and you have to keep the momentum going. If you wait around, I guarantee someone else will think of the same idea and run with it. There are so many ideas I have had in the past that I wish I would have jumped on before another entrepreneur did.
How can other people help you and your cause?
Tell your friends about our cause. Make better purchasing decisions - there are plenty of products out there that give back. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and give us input on what you like and don’t like about our company. We want to make it the best it can be and are always open to suggestions.
To find out more about these preventable diseases, dive in here, here, and here.
If you want to learn more about Jack’s Soap, check out their website!
[Update: Jack’s Soap is partnering with Children of the Nations to distribute soap in Haiti!]
If you are looking to launch a social enterprise, be sure to check out seToolbelt for its immense library of resources! Or, chat with the fine folks at StartSomeGood about igniting your idea!