The Jay Kim Show #3: Jeremy Meltzer (Transcript)
In this episode, we speak with Jeremy Meltzer, a social entrepreneur who is the founder of i=Change.
i=Change is a fast-growing social enterprise, which partners online retailers with some of the world’s most impactful NGO’s. After a life-changing experience while living in Cuba, Jeremy set out to find a solution to empower women and girls around the world.
After discovering that 77% of consumers have the desire to buy from brands that clearly give back to the community, he launched I=Change in 2014 to provide online retailers with a way to give back with every sale, to develop projects around the world.
Jeremy’s a sought-after keynote speaker and recently gave a TEDx talk on how investing in women and girls will be one of the greatest drivers of growth and stability this century.
Jay: Jeremy, thank you for joining us on the podcast. We’re very excited. This is going to be a big week at the [StartmeupHK 00:01:50] 2017 festival. And so, for our audience that’s listening and tuning in across the region, can you just please give us a little quick intro on who you are and what do you do.
Jeremy: Yes, thank you for having me. So my name’s Jeremy Meltzer from Australia, and I’m the founder of i=Change, and we have built a cause marketing platform for online retailers, to enable them to give back to extraordinary development projects around the world, and receive the marketing benefits of doing so.
Jay: Fantastic. I was just reading up on your bio. You are a what’s called a “social entrepreneur”. So maybe you can tell us a little bit about your journey to how you got to where you are now. How was the idea conceived for launching something like i=Change and maybe a little bit of color of why you took this path in your life.
Jeremy: Absolutely. Well, you know, I could talk for hours. I’ll give you the short version. Look, this was a very, ultimately very personal journey. When I was 21 years old, I found myself living in Havana, in Cuba, and I lived there for four months and I had a Cuban girlfriend. Through her I met a lot of the community, and I lived very much as a local.
One thing that I started to noticed occurring over and over again: we would sit with her friends at night and we would chat. A bottle of rum would come out, and spontaneous parties. I started to hear these stories from her girlfriends; stories of abuse, and stories of violence from the men who were their partners, their boyfriends and husbands. And I remember thinking at the time, “I don’t understand what’s happening.” Like, “Why is this so normal that these girls will talk about it at a party?”
Where I came from it was a complete aberration. And that sort of set me on this journey to understand, initially, what was the cause of the abuse and violence against women. I’ve since realized it’s an enormous issue globally. So every chance I’ve had to travel over the last 15 years, I’ve gone and met with NGOs. In fact just two days ago, we were with an NGO who are working to try to end trafficking in Cambodia. Really, sort of inspiring and heartbreaking few days. And that’s an example of reaching out to these NGOs to try to understand what’s happening globally.
And then I come from this, at the same time, entrepreneurial background. Both my parents were entrepreneurs. They never had bosses. They always did their own thing, and that was always very inspiring to me.
So Dad and I have a olive oil business in Australia. We were doing quite well in the US selling online. We’ve been featured in the New York Times, et cetera. And I had one of those ideas that, I think we all have these ideas at about 3 a.m.. There’s something about three in the morning, and most of the time it’s best just to go back to sleep and forget about them. But this one, 10 o’clock in the morning that day, I thought, “Hold on.” You know, you want to make sure you’ve had a coffee before you think about it again. I thought, “Hold on. This could be interesting.” I think like most ideas that are good, it was a simple idea. And the idea was simply, “What if we used our business to give back with every sale?” Because what I realized that these NGO’s, these charities, all they need is money to do their work. And a small amount of money in the developing world can go a long way and help whole communities, and whole villages. And really accelerate change in those communities.
I realized that business has always operated, traditionally, very separately from the not-for-profit world. And I thought, “What if we could bring these two worlds together in a really compelling, win-win solution for everyone?” And the idea I had was to flip the model. I thought, “What if instead of asking our customers to make a donation, what if we make a donation as the brand? What if we gave back, and we commit to giving back, authentically and transparently with every sale? And in doing so, not only do we give back and build that into the DNA of our brand, but we actually empower our customers to make a choice. We give them the choice as to where it goes.” And so that was the beginning of a very long journey to work out how would the UX work, and how would that operate, and what was the ecosystem that we could …
Initially we built it for our family business, and we had a really great response when we went live. Looking back, it was a very clunky version of what we went live with. But it worked and we had about a 4% increase in sales within three months, and hundreds of people talking about it on social media. It was such a surprise to customers that we were giving back as a brand, and they could choose where it goes, to one of three or four projects. So that was the genesis of the idea, and that really became the foundation of then wanting to build a platform to something that other retailers could plug into, and become a solution for them to give back as well.
Jay: Right. I think that’s a great idea. Here’s my question to you. Taking a little step back, Jeremy. The olive oil business that you and your father ran; that was fine. It was profitable and everything was running smoothly, right?
Jeremy: Yeah, it was a small business, but it was ticking along, and it was making a bit of money with every sale. I think you’re alluding to a good point, because traditionally philanthropy has been about make your money, then give back.
Jeremy: It’s been about make your millions, and then give back. It typically is like old people who are giving back in their 70s, once they’ve made their millions.
The millennial generation, now more than ever, are actually want to work for companies that are giving back, and want to build businesses that give back with every sale. Social enterprise, it’s really interesting, is now one of the fastest-growing movements in business. And brands now are building in from day one a giving component. So it’s a really exciting development and we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. I mean, the US is ahead of all of us, in terms of doing this. In fact, in the US now, increasingly, you’re less relevant if you haven’t built some giving component into what you stand for as a brand. So it’s really exciting in Asia [inaudible 00:07:48] to see this starting as well. We’re a few years behind, but it’s definitely gathering steam.
Jay: Yeah, absolutely. As a small business, exactly what you said. I think most people … a small business usually just is concerned about their bottom line. Now, it’s interesting to hear what you said that your sales immediately went up, as a result of that. So that probably actually helped your bottom line in the long run, because of the buzz that it was generating. So I think it’s fascinating and I do agree that having some sort of social program, along with your brand, is almost a must-have these days. And I think it’s a brilliant idea.
At 3 a.m., when you came up with this idea, it must have just been brewing in your head, because of the experience you had in Cuba. At the same time, did you actually foresee it as potentially being able to increase your bottom line in your business? Or was it purely, “Okay, I want to do something for social change.”
Jeremy: Look, for the driver was, “What if we could empower these NGOs?” And our focus is, because it’s something that I’ve been passionate about, is women and girls. Is unlocking that potential of women and girls globally. So it was really about having met with these organizations around the world, who just needed a small amount of extra money to do their work. So the intention was very much, “How do we just help them do their work?”
The marketing side of it really came later. When I built it, I thought, “Wow, what if we could build this?” Once we had that uptake in sales with our family business, I thought, “What if we could create a plug n’ play solution that other online retailers, so they could give back?” But I knew the language of business and I knew it had to resonate as much as a marketing initiative. So when we started really thinking about, “How do we create this now, what could be a global platform, which is what it’s becoming now, for brands? How do we take i=Change, which is what it’s called, and turn it into something that offers a lot of real-time value back to the brands who have chosen to commit to giving back with every sale.” So we very much built it though that lens, knowing that ultimately, when we’re speaking to business owners, we want to be able to talk about the marketing benefits, rather than lead with what are the social benefits. So we’ve been very analytical, really testing, and A/B testing, and refining constantly the platform, so that we can really prove, using digital tools, prove how it is driving increased awareness, increased traffic, increased sales.
In fact, it’s really exciting, because we’ve been testing … basically how it works is there’s a platform that pops up post-purchase, which is branded for each company, which talks about the fact that they’re giving back. So that works well, because it doesn’t add an extra step to the check-out. Yet at the same time, customers don’t know about it until after they’ve purchased.
So we’ve been testing with a number of our busier brands. What if they put messaging pre-purchase, the fact that they … because it’s really a powerful brand statement to say, “We give back with every sale.” So we unlocked some really exciting data late 2016, which is we trialed some different messaging and we found a messaging that has proven to increase conversions by decreasing abandoned-cart, which means people are obviously more inclined to go through with a purchase when putting things in their basket, by six percent. Now six percent increase in conversions is enormous. It’s far surpassing the cost of donations, which makes this thing so exciting, and we’re really expecting a really dynamic year, an exciting year. Because I know that if you can, at the end of the day, in the language of business, if you can prove increase of sales, it becomes an absolute no-brainer.
Jay: Sure. This is a very, very interesting study … not study, but segment that you’re working in. A friend of mine is actually doing something similar in that social change for corporates.
Basically he’s set up a program where underprivileged high school students in the Philippines are learning to do SEO and social media marketing. Basically, what he’s doing is he’s offering a program that companies in Hong Kong can actually pay a small fee and have an individual, dedicated person, handling their SEO and social media marketing, and the cost is probably a tenth of what they’re paying to a large marketing agency here in Hong Kong. At the same time, they get to put that tag on their home website or whatever, saying, “Our social media marketer or SEO marketer is in the Philippines.” And they get to do a little testimonial. So it’s a win-win really, because it’s cheaper, it’s more cost-effective, and it’s for a good social cause.
Jeremy: It is. I think that’s a good example. I think at the same time, transparency is really important. So when I give talks, I give examples of how … I’m not sure, like in Australia, we had the Mount Franklin, which is a water bottle, and it was always unclear … they had the pink ribbon for breast cancer and if you looked at the fine print, it said, “1% of profits,” which we all know can mean everything and nothing. It didn’t say where it went. If you could find it, it said in the fine, fine print, “Once we’ve raised $50,000, it caps out.” So you could be buying that bottle of water and no money could be going anywhere, because the $50,000 has been raised.
So what we do with i=Change is I thought, “How do we create something that is super transparent and authentic, and enable brands to build into the DNA that component, such that it’s beyond reproach from the customer perspective.”
So I think what you mentioned is a good example, yet I think it’s really important to clarify what’s the impact on the communities. So it’s great to be able to say you’re employing someone in the developing world; fantastic. But then all our research show that all our customers want to know then where that money’s gone. They want to know how it’s changing people’s lives. They want to know the impact it’s had.
It’s really great because what it offers the business at the same time, is all this fantastic access to content. You know, there’s only so much businesses can talk about how fantastic their products and services are, discount them, et cetera. But if you have genuinely committed to giving back, it gives you wonderful content to access, which touches people’s heart. It’s about the lives you’ve changed, and how much you’ve raised and where it’s going. You can run competitions and you can gauge your … across social media. So it really opens up a whole new world for brands to be able to have these really authentic conversations with customers about who they are beyond the products that they sell. And they’re giving them essentially a purpose beyond profit.
Jay: That’s pretty powerful. So Jeremy, can you just give us a quick example. Let’s say, for example, I’m running my own olive oil brand, small business, and let’s say I approach you because I like what you’re doing. How would I implement that directly into my business?
Jeremy: So if you’re selling online, you would basically connect with us, and we would have a conversation about what you do. We built the platform to work across Magenta, et cetera, Shopify, most of the large e-com platforms. So essentially we have … at i=Change.com, you can see the projects we support. And we do a lot of due-diligence in those projects, so we asked our customers to choose three. Because how it works is that on every retailer’s platform, there’s three projects. So the retailer chooses at the end the three projects that they want to support, and we bundle that up into a preview platform. So they can, with their branding and their colors, et cetera. So the whole idea as a customer journey, it still looks like your experiencing the brand post-purchase. Because this thing pops up on the thank you page, post purchase. It doesn’t send you anywhere else. It’s like a little live box that appears. And it’s the same branding and colors of the brand that you’re shopping with. And then the retailer approves that and we integrate it with them, which is generally very simple, and go live.
What’s cool is we had this idea to build, on the platform there’s a “track our impact” button, which leads me, as a customer, to that retailer’s live giving page, which we host at i=Change.com, so I can see in real time how much I’ve helped raise and where it’s going. And who the CEO is of the company, and really helping to humanize the brand. So we’ve kind of built that transparency piece; it’s embedded into our site. If you go to the home page, you can see a global feed of how much we’ve raised from all our retailers. So we’ve kind of re-imagined how we can do this with complete transparency in real time.
Jay: That’s actually really nice because its taking it one step further. Really just opening the entire kimono to see what exactly has been raised to date and the whole portfolio of people that are involved, right?
Jeremy: Absolutely. And then you can see the projects and where it’s going, and what does $5 do, and you can see, if you go into the individual projects, you can see how much has been raised just for that project. How $5 can keep a girl in school for another day, and [inaudible 00:16:47] supporting an amazing project in Rwanda, that’s helping Rwandan women in rebuilding Rwanda after the genocide.
So that’s one example of about 16 projects that we have. So we’re really proud. We’re working across 14 countries at the moment, in terms of the development projects. We have impacted over 60,000 people with the money that we’ve raised. We’re working now in partnership with some of the most iconic retailers in Australia. Partnering now with US brands that are coming on board.
So it’s getting really exciting and gives me a lot of pride, I guess, to know that this was an idea and now we’re really making a positive impact on people’s lives.
Jay: That’s amazing, Jeremy. From 3 a.m. lying awake in your bed, fast forward to now, you’re making a serious change in the world. So it’s amazing to hear that. Congratulations on that.
Jeremy: Now, look, thank you. Look, it’s something. I mean, I guess, to add value to your listeners: to do anything well is hard. And to do something simple is hard. My humble advice is that if you have an idea test it rigorously and then devote yourself to it, and keep checking with what the universe delivered in terms of the doors that opened. It’s important not to … if I was very stubborn with my original version, none of this would have happened. So I’ve really … I’ve ran other businesses, et cetera. I’ve really honed in on, “Okay, how do I go out and … Really, that minimal viable product model. How do we keep testing and refining, and testing and refining?” So what we’ve built … I still think we’re just starting as we are, but it’s really on the back of a lot of testing and a lot of refining, a lot of listening, a lot of reaching out to mentors, and that’s really the trick. Because no one person has the answer, but if you have a good idea, you’ll get their feedback that it’s a good idea. And that’s really a beautiful part of the journey is to be open to people you respect and to reach out and to continuously improve until you’ve really built something that will stand up at a global level.
Jay: Yeah. It’s amazing. Its amazing. So you are quite a seasoned public speaker. You gave a very evocative TEDx talk. I watched it earlier. Maybe you could just give us a summary of what your message there was.
Jeremy: Thank you. Look, that was a message, ultimately, about men’s violence against women. And how can men become the solution to this global, ancient issue. And so, it was ultimately about, “How do we raise consciousness around this issue?” Because it’s an issue that has been living largely in the shadows. By that, I mean, behind people’s closed doors at homes. It’s been normalized within communities, in such that it’s expected. We believe it’s a personal issue, but in fact, it’s everyone’s issue. I could talk about that one for hours, because this is sort of the idea that was the foundation of building i=Change. I wanted to raise money for those NGOs, but I guess as a man working in this issue and speaking about this issue of violence against women, it’s a really important topic. And what’s interesting is that this topic globally has shifted to men.
Nothing’s really … We’ll be talking about this issue 500 years from now, unless in the next five years men actually realize that every woman could be our sister, our daughter, our mother, under different circumstances. And so, how we treat the women in our lives, is symbolic of that awareness. To have the respect and integrity for ourselves and the women in our lives. Also, when we see something that doesn’t feel right, to have the courage to speak out. And that’s often all it takes, is just the courage to say, “You know what? That’s not cool.” If you say to your friend, “Look, actually, I don’t accept that. That’s not cool. What if someone spoke that way about your sister?” And a really simple, fairly benign comment like that, can tell your friend, for example, that that’s no longer acceptable, and can actually start to shift and create a new normal.
So my talk was ultimately the engagement of men, about how big this is globally, and about how important it is. Because there’s actually a good news story, very briefly, I’ll share with you, in that we know that when we empower women to realize their fullest potential, whole communities benefit. So holding women back from education, holding women back from the same levels in nutrition and healthcare, and access to opportunities and resources, we’re actually impoverishing ourselves. But we don’t know that because we don’t realize it. We’re not aware yet.
So you look at the most functional societies in the world is where women are most engaged in public life and when they’re most empowered, and when they’re most educated. If you look at the [inaudible 00:21:25] cases in the planet, it’s where women are hidden away and girls are denied education. In many respects, it’s as simple as that. So it’s up to all of us, as men, I believe, to actively become agents of change in this space.
Jay: Yeah, it was such a powerful message. I mean, sort of the thesis at the conclusion, was you were arguing, essentially this attitude in trying to enact this change in the way that we view and treat women and empowering them. You were arguing that that would be one of the drivers for stability in our world. And I think that’s a very unique perspective. People worry about things like the markets and where oil’s heading and what the next geopolitical crisis is going to be, and no one actually looks at it from that perspective, the one that you presented. So I thought that was very interesting.
Jeremy: Look, we have this very emotional reaction to this idea of the market, and it’s all emotional. I mean, confidence in the market is simply that, it’s human confidence. And yet, we have indexes and we have the results, from every large NGO in the world, and small. If you look at most NGOs, you go to their home pages, most of them focus on women and girls, and that’s not a mistake, that’s because they’ve realized you get a higher social and economic return when you invest in women and girls. So this stuff has been proven now over and over again. And we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible.
I mean, to go there to Rwanda for [inaudible 00:22:53]. I was there about 12 months ago. You know, the country was devastated after the genocide. The president knew that he had to unlock the potential of women and girls to create stability, reconciliation, and to grow the country. There’s more women now in power in Rwanda than in any other country in the world.
Jeremy: And it is the fastest-growing economy in Africa now. The ninth-fastest growing economy in the world. Now who would think Rwanda, right? But this tiny little East African country has been rebuilt mostly by women and girls who have very senior roles in government, at the executive level, in the public and private sector, and it’s really incredible what’s happened in the last 21 years, 22 years, since the genocide. So I think it’s a really fascinating case study for what’s possible when you kind of start again, as they did, after the tragedy of the genocide, and unleash their potential on the country, on which President Kagame did, in his wisdom, knowing that it was so important to rebuild the country as quickly and as powerfully as possible.
Jay: Right. Right. That’s, wow. Rwanda.
Jeremy: I know, who would think?
Jay: Who would think? Yeah. Yeah.
So Jeremy, you mentioned that you feel this is just the tip of the iceberg for what you are trying to do, the change you would want to see happen in the world. What projects and what specific goals do you have for this year, 2017, both personal and for i=Change?
Jeremy: The goal now is really to accelerate i=Change. To have hundreds of brands on board. And to really make this the global giving platform to give back and support extraordinary projects. So we’re building other components where we’ve got newsletters and EDMs that go back, let the customers know the impact of the donations, which celebrate the brand. Where the brand really becomes the hero. So there’s a big communication piece we’re working on at the moment, which we plan to be rolling out in the next couple of months. So exciting as well. And a blog that talks about the issues globally.
So now that we’ve sort of proven it, we’ve got some great brands on board, it’s about adding as much value as we can to the retailers, so this becomes a must-have. That’s kind of the goal.
It looks very simple, the platform, and we did a lot of work to make this thing a really beautiful, simple, design. Yet there’s a lot going on in the background. You look at Facebook, ti looks relatively simple; I’m sure there’s thousands of people. You know, it’s amazing what it can take to make a really simple platform work, and to really make it beautiful and offer as much value as possible.
Personally, it’s just to keep developing myself. I’m becoming increasingly more meditative: yoga and taking care. You know, I think as entrepreneurs, it’s so important to take care of ourselves. We all get a bit nuts in our work and it’s consuming, and it’s bloody hard, and it’s hard to sleep at times, because your mind’s racing. So self care, I think, is so important. Luckily I’ve been doing exercise since I was a young teenager, so that’s kind of a habit for me. Sometimes it takes more courage to stop than it is to keep working. For me, I want to work smarter rather than harder. And realize that when I open my computer and there’s like 10 things I’m working on at once, maybe it’s better just to do one thing at once, rather than jumping between 10 things. I’m sure it is, part of my brain knows it is, but there’s a habit about like tackling lots of things at once.
So I think for all of us, just refining our process and getting better at what we do. Yet, at the same time, taking deep care of ourselves, what we put in our bodies, and how we sleep and how we exercise. Nourishing both the mind, the body, and the spirit. So, I know it’s going to be a big year, and I think for all of us, we have to be healthy to do our best work. Without a doubt; without our health, it’s nothing. So I’m sure with all of that, it’ll be a busy year.
Jay: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Jeremy, thank you so much. We’re going to look to wrap up. I just have a final question, and that’s just, “Where’s the best place to find you, follow you, and maybe learn some more about what you’re doing, on social media.”
Jeremy: Go to i=Change, all one word, the letter I, equal, the word change, i=Change.com. All of our social links are at the bottom. Follow us there. We’ve got a great Instagram feed, which is happening. We’re going to be sending out newsletters soon, so you can sign up for those.
Jay: Oh, great.
Jeremy: Mostly any retailers who want to reach out and have a chat about what we do, we’d love to chat with you and about the impact that we’re making.
Jay: Yeah, absolutely. So for the audiences listening, Jeremy will be speaking on the first day of the Inside Retail conference. That’s going to be on Monday, January 16. I believe you’re on 11:00. So you can go to edge.insideretail.hk and pick up your tickets there. It’s just right around the corner, so we’re really excited.
Jeremy, thank you so much for your time. I had a great time catching up with you. That’s really exciting to hear the wonderful stuff that you’re doing. Congratulation on all your success and I look forward to seeing you in Hong Kong.
Jeremy: Pleasure. Thanks, Jay.
Jay: All right, thanks so much.
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