Building success through learning

Trailblazers don’t have Google Maps and leaders have to learn as they go along. These were among the lessons shared by social entrepreneur Justine Flynn at the Indue Leadership Forum: The Art of Thinking Differently in Sydney last month.

She was describing how she and her husband, Daniel, built a business that today has 38 products on the supermarket shelves, a bestselling book and is expanding into the New Zealand market.

It’s been described as the “Apple of the FMCG industry”, but unlike many companies, it has no investors or shareholders and is trying to eliminate world poverty during this lifetime by giving away 100 per cent of its profits.

Its name is Thankyou, and it grew out of an idea conceived by Daniel in 2008. “Australians spend $600 million a year on bottled water because they love the convenience of it,” explained Justine. “At the time we started, there were 900 million people who didn’t have access to water. Daniel wanted to do something about this and shared his ideas on how this would work.”

Since then, Thankyou has funded safe water access for 192,367 people, hygiene and sanitation programs for 302,814 people and 12.1 million days’ worth of food aid to people in need.

But as Justine noted, the couple encountered a range of challenges and setbacks in setting up their business, which initially sold bottled water to help those without water.

“Daniel kept saying if the idea is good enough, it will happen,” she recalled. But the young couple had no business experience and no money. Still, they managed to garner a range of supporters and donors along the way.

After a year, they discovered that the struggles of business were real and that business doesn’t just happen after their production plant experienced issue after issue.

“We all come across obstacles in our path. It’s how we deal with them and what we receive from them that’s important,” said Justine.

“We decided to learn from these and keep improving from them. What we learnt was that ‘why’ is always your greatest anchor. What kept us going all the time was that we had a why, a reason, for doing this.”

In their first year, they made just $7,000, but they got to see first-hand the result of their work when, during their honeymoon, they visited a community in Cambodia which had just been provided with water.

Today, the company produces a range of bottled water, food stuffs, body care and baby products, some outselling every competitor. And it’s given more than $3.7 million to people in need.

“Every product has a unique code because we thought it was really important that people know where their money is going,” said Justine. This allows one to see exactly which project that product has been assigned, monitor how that project went and receive a photo at the end of that project.

Cash strapped, Thankyou has had to be innovative in its marketing. For example, it launched a “Coles and Woolworths campaign” on Sunrise and Facebook with a video that went viral. They also had a donor sponsor a 10,000 square foot sign which was flown by helicopter outside Coles’ and Woolworths’ head offices asking the retailers to stock their products. The campaign reached 15 million Australians and the retailers were soon on board.

This led to another learning for Justine: Teams make dreams work!

“People need people,” she explained. “All of us have strengths and struggles. When you partner with others, you can make an impact… I really believe that when you have a team and are all on the same page, you can become a strong unstoppable force.”

To take Thankyou to the next level, Daniel has written a book called Chapter One – the first chapter in the Thankyou journey. It has raised more than $1.4 million and its profits will fund Chapter Two, the future of Thankyou and its expansion into New Zealand. Watch this space!

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