Random Neuron Firing

Capitalism 2.0

This is from a website of a fellow B Corp – Cutting Edge Capital. And it will really make you think of the possibilities.


– the stark difference in the "build to grow to sell" model vs. the new way.

– the view of taxes:not something to avoid or minimize but pay to serve the county and State. 

– that small business, not the 1% are the true job creators, the community creators and the key to a recovery not ever imagined before.

The Little Grocery That Could

May 22nd, 2012

By Michael Shuman

What happens next in the economy – the nation’s, the state’s, and Seattle’s – no longer lies in the hands of Capitol Hill politicians, the Federal Reserve, or even the boards of companies like Microsoft and Starbucks.  It depends on entrepreneurs like Jason Brown, who has big ambitions for his small business.  Jason recently opened a grocery store in the heart of downtown Bellevue called Your Local Market.  It combines the best features of Whole Foods, like high-quality local and organic products, with down-to-earth prices and familiar brands of low cost cleaning products.

Jason, however, is not your typical small businessperson.   For more than three decades he has been an innovator in retailing.  He brought Columbia Sportswears to New Zealand and Australia.  He created the Natural Apothecary, which was sold to Wild Oats, and then went on to develop Andrew Weil Vitamin Advisor.  He grew a bi-coastal company called Organic To Go, which at its peak made healthy options available in 33 cafes and 150 outlets.

Today, Jason is all about “local.”  He and his team have scoured the Pacific Northwest for great suppliers of local fruits, meats, and wines, and now has more than 3,000 regional products.   He has turned his store into a community center, with a full calendar of speakers and special events like single’s nights.  He holds monthly fundraiser in the store that has generated more than $36,000 in new donations for children’s organizations.  He has recruited local angel investors to become owners, and is committed to keeping the store into the hands of the community. Unlike Organic To Go, which was a national chain that ultimately was taken over and then taken apart by international investors, his is committed to growing more stores only in the state of Washington.

So far, the business has fared remarkably well, considering the times we’re in.  It opened in November and weekly sales have grown steadily to a peak of over $200,000.  It has added 75 jobs to the Bellevue economy (probably double that when indirect effects are counted), and has already become a significant generator of taxes for the city, county, and state.  For three years prior to opening, site was an eyesore with an empty parking lot and a boarded up building.  After a $2 million makeover, the market is now bringing a local streetscape back to life.

Yet even in the hands of a skilled entrepreneur, Your Local Market is no guaranteed success.  The grocery business is notoriously difficult, with huge perishable inventories and tight margins if you want to serve the best in local products yet be competitively priced. Like other businesspeople, Jason made a series of bets that the economy would recover more quickly.  To survive, he has become the business equivalent of a kayak runner, surveying each week’s challenges and then deciding when and which direction to shoot the rapids.

If Jason can just grow his weekly sales to $200-250,000 per week consistently, he will clear break-even and be able to focus on growing his business, which is good for everyone.  In the meantime, besides courting more local investors, Jason has created a membership for his customers, which gives them deep discounts on your groceries over the next year or two. This program awards huge savings—20% or more—on the household necessities at a time when many Bellevue residents are economizing to get by.

Across the country, smart entrepreneurs are pioneering alternative financing methods like this to survive the recession.  Unlike investments, presales usually do not require expensive legal work.  In Oakland, California, a popular coffee shop called Awaken Café was able to finance its move to another store by preselling coffee.  In Hardwick, Vermont, Claire’s Diner has financed itself through a frequent-eaters program.

Small business innovations are key to our national recovery.  Studies consistently show that small businesses, especially new ones, are the most important creators of new jobs in U.S. economy.  Two Harvard economists analyzing metropolitan areas across the country found that the greater the presence of small business, the higher the economic growth rate.  Two Penn State economists also found that more local businesses meants higher per capita income growth.

The verdict is virtually unanimous.  The United States will only succeed if small businesses like Your Local Market succeed.  The message for Seattle residents is equally clear:  If you want to bring the region out of recession, buy local, invest local, and think local first.

Random Neuron Firing

B Corporation’s Champions Retreat & Dansko’s amazing HQ

Last week was a big one for travel. Four of the team were in London where we launched gNappies.co.uk and attended the Baby Show in London.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I headed to Philly for 2 days for B Corporation's Champions Retreat. gDiapers became a B Corp earlier this year. The B Corp mission is to use the power of business to solve environmental and social problems. And that is exactly what Kim and I had in mind when we launched gDiapers 6 years ago. Given Occupy Wall Street and the generally dim view people have of companies today (The NY Times yesterday quoted  a poll showing Companies ranking in the single digits – a tad higher than Congress when it comes to trustworthiness) I am very excited to be a part of this movement. 

As a part of our time in Philly, we toured one of the bigger B Corporations – Dansko footwear. There's nothing more interesting for a business owner that to go and see how other companies do it, especially those that have shared values and are successful. Dansko is of particulular interest for Kim and I as the founders -  Mandy Cabot and Peter Kjellerup  – are also married and work side by side (and by chance have a ridgeback just like ours!)

Dansko did not fail to impress. They have an amazing culture – you could feel it – and a facility to die for. The buildings are of course LEED certified and simply beautiful. The photos below don't do it justice. 


It all started with Clogs back in 1991.


This divider was all natural, portable and beautiful.


This is the biggest green wall in the US. The combination of the sound of running water and the site and smell of that green wall is fabulous.




Not one but three meditation rooms.


Natural light pours in everywhere.


The green roof shown here captures 70% of rain water. The remainder is directed into holding tanks for grey water use.


The Foundation does amazing work.


In place of regular down pipes, they use chain links to channel rainwater into holding tanks. They apparently sound beautiful when the rain comes down.


This is B Corporations Declaration of INTERdependence (Get it? We're all in this together so rather than work purely for shareholders, B Corps work for ALL stakeholders) which we all signed.



While in Philly we toured the site that saw the drafting of the Declaration of Independence  and the Constitution. I am finally figuring out US history. You blokes really didn't like the Poms did you?!

Random Neuron Firing

g becomes a B!

Screen shot 2011-05-20 at 6.13.10 AM

That's right folks. gDiapers is now a B Corporation and we are so excited! So what's it all about?

Certified B Corporations:

1) meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance;

2) legally expand their corporate responsibilities to include consideration of stakeholder interests; and

3) build collective voice through the power of the unifying B Corporation brand. 

There are over 400 Certified B Corporations from over 50 industries, representing a diverse multi-billion marketplace. 

I love their (our) Declaration of Interdependence:

Screen shot 2011-05-20 at 6.16.13 AM

Random Neuron Firing

Stories from the green business trenches


There are not many of us – we lunatic founders of sustainable businesses. I am eternally grateful to those that have gone before Kim & I and blazed a trail. One of those people is Seth Goldman of Honest Tea. He has always been a great supporter of g and has helped me personally think about how to manage and grow the business. While diapers and tea are a million miles away as products, our approach to business is very close.

Seth writes a regular blog for Inc. and this week's was a good read, addressing the recent moves over at Seventh Generation and the removal of their founder, Jeffrey Hollender. It is a sad state of affairs. I couldn't agree more that the key for founders is to maintain control. Easier said than done but clearly having a profitable business is a great first step. It avoids the need for ever more capital from outside investors which will dilute both control and ownership.

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