We’ve all had jobs. Jobs that we loved or hated but jobs that paid our bills and let us live a reasonable life.
But deep inside, haven’t we all thought that maybe our jobs are only fulfilling half of who we are and who we wish we could be.
Maybe deep, down inside… We want to save the world. Or at least a little part of it. But how can we do that AND pay bills.
It’s possible. With some caveats.
In 2004 the war in Iraq was raging and Americans were being killed. The war had become a political punching bag during the election and I somehow learned that when a soldier was killed in action, the family got a $12,000.00 death benefit and a flag.
Many of these young military families were already struggling and I found a non-profit foundation that doubled what the government gave, no questions asked. I wanted to help support the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund so I got to thinking on how I could do that.
I went back to my days growing up in LA and the ever present POW Bracelets my friends in middle school were wearing.
Why not bring that idea back and use funds from sales to give to the Intrepid Fund.
I came up with a name, HeroBracelets.org and found a company that could anodize and laser etch aluminum. I got a list of the military personnel that had been killed and I made a batch of black memorial bracelets with each name engraved, their city and the date they were killed in action.
I put up a simple website and hen I started emailing reporters and groups to tell them about this project. We’d give $2.00 from every bracelet bearing the names of a fallen service member to the fund.
The first day the site was up, we sold five bracelets. For the first week, we’d sell a half dozen, then I came into the office and there were 75 emails, each containing an order for one or more bracelets.
I was shocked.
I searched around and found we’d picked up a one-sentence mention in an AP story. One sentence and the next day was over 150 orders. The next day, 200. It kept going with dozens of news organizations doing stories and thousands and thousands of orders. It seemed that every few days a van with a camera crew was coming out to our little office and doing a story on the project.
It was a perfect storm of “be careful what you ask for, you might get it…”
The massive crush of orders caught us totally unprepared and it nearly destroyed my ad agency. The site kept crashing and we had to quickly switch to just taking checks and started getting fifteen pounds of mail a day, all wanting orders. We lost clients and struggled to fulfill orders with friends and neighbors stuffing envelopes. I can’t blame my clients for getting miffed. I was getting letters and calls from parents who’d just lost their son in battle and could they have his name on a bunch of bracelets for his family. When you’re having those conversations every day, the color on a logo starts to pale in importance.
Today we’re still fulfilling orders, but in a much more efficient way. We’ve given over $300,000.00 to a dozen non-profit organizations and helped thousands of people honor someone they love.
We’re still giving $2.00 from each order and the buyer gets to choose the organization they wish to fund.
The concept of building a business that does good and does well is a solid one. For many of us, it’s a dream that will always seem just a little out of reach but it IS possible.
1. Who do you want to help? Talk to the organization and make sure they want help.
2. What will you sell? Find a product that exists and is underutilized or find a product that, with a few alterations, you can make your own.
3. BUILD THE BRAND. This is the part that is the most difficult if you’ve never done it. If you need advice, ask and I’m happy to help free of charge.
4. Do your marketing. Again, not for the feint of heart, but building the site and starting the marketing/PR/Social process can be a lot of work if you’ve never done it. I’ve met a lot of people with a great passion and idea but they don’t have the experience to bring the project to life. Find someone who can help or call me, I’ll do what I can.
5. Partner. If you can’t do any part of this process, find a partner that can and split it.
It sounds simple because when you really break it down, it’s these five steps. There is a lot to know and learn within each step, but you can do it. If you don’t have the experience, find a mentor to help. I reached out to some great people here in Austin that had a profound effect on the project and made it possible.
HeroBracelets.org has evolved many times over and will continue to evolve. We’ve got over 30 different products and we continue to give money away and so very happy to do so. We’ve seen presidents, generals, civic leaders, actors and musicians all wearing HeroBracelets. We’ve received thousands of email and letters from around the world to thank us for making such a simple and personal way to remember our heroes. We’ve met so many people and been touched by so many stories and it was all because of a quick idea that turned out to take on it’s own universe.
The lesson here is simple. If you see a problem, you actually CAN do something about it. Get some help if you need it, but you CAN make a change. Don’t give up.