How doing good is good for business and how Yoobi and the ‘one for one’ model is changing the way we shop and give

| April 1, 2016

Australia is very familiar with the concept of businesses donating a portion of profits to a particular cause or charity but there is also a lot of uncertainty around the concept. Lance Kalish explains how Yoobi takes the concept of giving to a new level.

Four years ago my business partner Ido Leffler and I decided to shake up the stationery category by launching a new brand called Yoobi. Yoobi is an innovative new stationery supplies brand and is based on a bright yet simple idea: colourful, vibrant supplies for school, home or office that give back directly to children in need.

Yoobi means “One for you. One for me.” For every Yoobi item purchased, another Yoobi item is donated to a child or classroom in need. Yoobi launched in the United States in 2014 through 2,000 Target stores. It now has over 500 products on the market in the US and Australia.

In 2014, our youngest kids were just starting school, and while purchasing their stationery products for that year, we realised that their designs hadn’t changed much since we were kids. We had previously founded global natural skincare brand Yes To and learnt tons of lessons and new strategies in building a global brand; however, one strategy in particular stood out the most. When we founded Yes To, we also established a not-for-profit organisation called the Yes To Seed Fund that donated a percentage of proceeds from Yes To sales to worthwhile causes. Initially we gave to all types of charities through the Yes To Seed Fund without any focus or having any kind of major impact. Then we started to focus on individual, substantial projects and as these began to grow in size and exposure, we could see how much more interested and involved our employees became in the Seed Fund, and eventually how customers started to write to us about how they bought our products because of the “good” we were doing through the Seed Fund.

So when it came to developing our next venture, we wanted to take the concept of “giving” to a new level. That meant for Yoobi that we wanted to develop a line of awesome stationery supplies that engaged kids and adults, while supporting an incredible cause. After visiting dozens of public schools to research the gap in the market, we found something we didn’t expect: So many teachers were paying for school supplies out of their own pockets and a lot of kids didn’t have access to the fundamental supplies they needed. And so, Yoobi was born. In its first year of operation, Yoobi donated enough free school supplies to impact the lives of almost 1.4 million American kids and was named as one of 100 Brilliant Companies to watch in 2015 by Entrepreneur Magazine.

In December 2015, Yoobi launched in Australia through Officeworks stores around the nation. Knowing that one in 10 Australian kids grow up in financially disadvantaged families, Yoobi partnered with The Smith Family to help children in need succeed in school, right here in Australia. Yoobi aims to impact over 9,000 primary school children this Christmas, by donating a range of supplies based on need through The Smith Family’s annual Christmas give. Beyond that, Yoobi will donate Classroom Packs of supplies through the Smith Family’s partner school networks and learning clubs.

I strongly believe that in order to start a company within an industry that already offers customers a lot of options, it has to be something that’s innovative, different, and most importantly, centered on cause.

When consumers have so much choice available, sometimes they need another reason to buy. Knowing that their dollars will also be used to help others is a powerful sales driver – especially when the goods are reasonably priced to begin with. In a recent survey we discovered over 95 per cent of Yoobi customers in Australia are motivated by the cause.

Australia is very familiar with the concept of businesses donating a portion of profits to a particular cause or charity. But there is also a growing perception of uncertainty and ambiguity, when it comes to questions like, “what % of profit is being reinvested into the business into either marketing or administration?” or “how much money is actually reaching the cause?” At Yoobi we wanted to remove this doubt from consumers’ minds and provide a simple, measurable and impactful solution. For every Yoobi item sold, we donate a Yoobi school item to a disadvantaged kid in need, through our partner The Smith Family. Simple message, transparent and easily measurable.

The ‘one for one’ concept within consumer products is particularly strong in the US, and brands such as Tom’s shoes and Warby Parker have become household brand names leveraging off this concept. In Australia however, it’s relatively uncharted territory. We are often asked how we make this model viable, as giving away this much product obviously comes at a huge cost to the business. Some brands playing in this space charge a premium for their product, and others accept a lower profit margin with the expectation of selling more units due to the social cause. But Ido and I have found that if giving is a part of your brand’s DNA from day one, and all other elements of the business are planned around this cost, neither the product nor the price need to be compromised.

Further to this, a ‘one for one’ brand can tap into consumers’ personal passions and are therefore more likely to create lasting and deep relationships with their customers. The buy-one give-one model also provides intangible benefits to the company culture, primarily by helping recruit and retain high-quality employees who are aligned with our social mission.

Ido and I are driven to create businesses that are not only thriving but, most importantly, making a huge difference. We are excited about the future of Yoobi and the impact we can continue to make.