The Art of Combining Social Purpose with Profit, with Dan and Lisa Graham

The Art of Combining Social Purpose with Profit, with Dan and Lisa Graham


Jan Ryan: ll right, everybody feel
good? Hello. Welcome to the College of Fine Arts. I am Jan Ryan and I’m executive director
of Entrepreneurship and innovation here at the College of Fine Arts. And welcome to our
Pathways to Entrepreneurship series. This is our signature speaker series for creative
leaders and entrepreneurs that are really changing the world. This is our first one
this fall. This is actually a very diverse audience today. We’ve got we’ve got creatives
and artist and business people and and some that are just just trying to figure it out.
And we’ve got community partners and people that are interested from the community. One
of the things that I’ve I’m kind of impressed by is that we all actually have something
very much in common, even as diverse as we we are here tonight. And I think it’s really
about a a value, a personal value or a desire or a longing to give back. And I think that’s
why every one of us is here for this for this session tonight to hear Dan and Lisa and I’m
and introduce them in just a minute. But that ability to give back and to actually think
whether is is truly possible to have meaning and purpose combined with profit and paying
the bills and and getting things done, is. Is that actually real and realistic? I know
our students that I work alongside and I teach creative entrepreneurship and women and entrepreneurship
here at the at the college. And I often hear our students, in fact, an overwhelming majority
of our students want to change the world. They want to give back. They want to have
impact. And what I what I see too often is that this amazing drive, you know, when they
start getting closer and closer to graduation, it gets a little bit tricky because now suddenly
they’re they’re pressed and they’re trying to think, is this impractical to think that
I actually could have impact in my life and have significance as well as just getting
a job or just having a job or thinking about it as a job. So that’s why we’re here, guys.
We’re we’re here to have a conversation really about the art of combining social purpose
with profit and to do that. I’m going to bring them on stage in just a minute. Dan and Lisa
Graham are what I would call a pretty terrific duo, maybe a power couple in the era of of
impact and innovations around impact. And they’re going to share a little bit about
their experiences and they’re going to be helping us understand some tips and tricks.
So I want you to think about what kind of questions that you can ask to, you know, to
be a part of that in a Q and A. And I think I need my clicker to go forward. So if somebody
can can hit the forward button, I would be most appreciative. So let me say just a couple
of words about the new Center for Creative Entrepreneurship. Some of you know, we actually
introduced a couple of years ago an entrepreneurship program in the College of Fine Arts, not knowing
really what we would expect to find. And it’s just been so gratifying and rewarding. The
results, the different the different things that have happened over the last couple of
years as we’ve incubated this made us really understand that we need to go forward. We
need to grow this and expand the impact of it. And we’ve created an entity of the center
of creative entrepreneurship. And we have some programing that I want I want to review
quickly with you before we start our program. And if you can go forward, wait. We have Beyond
the Speaker series. We obviously do have curricula and curricula. So we have the classes I was
talking about. But we have upcoming is Ideas Lab and the Ideas Lab is starting September
30th. For those of you that are students and you have ideas and you don’t quite know what
to do with them, but you really want to nurture them and develop them and maybe meet with
mentors and come and be inspired. This is the kind of thing that is going to be student
led, but it’s going to be it’s going to be created and supported by faculty and community
mentors. So we’re gonna be meeting September the 30th starting weekly Mondays from five
to six. Go downstairs to the lounge area and that’s where we’ll meet every every Monday.
So remember that one, if you’re if you’re interested, we are also November 1st through
the third, going to do our first ever three day startup for creatives. How many of you
have ever gone through a three day startup or know what I’m talking about with three
startups? So three days startup is a lot of fun. And it’s we’ve never done one on the
creative side, but it’s a completely facilitated weekend really of of simulating and running
a company. And basically, you come together and you pick teams and you have an idea that
you pick and then basically you go out and you do everything you would do as as an entrepreneur.
You don’t need any experience to come join this. It’s always fun when you interview people
that are leaving, they say. Now I sort of get it. I understand what it means to to launch
a company. And I think I actually have have I could do this. This is much more accessible
to me. So we’re gonna do our first creative three day startup first through third and
then creative cup word after we’ve done all of the ideation and now we’ve got the 3 day
startup, we’re actually going to have a pitch event in COFA. Our first ever pitch event.
And there will be prize money for ideas that are the winning ideas you and your team, so
that you could actually have seed funding. OK, so we’re going to have a lot of fun. I
hope you’ll join us. And I think it’s time. Let’s dig into our are our top tonight. So
Dan and Lisa want you can come join me onstage. Jan Ryan: So let me let me give
you a few words about Dan and Lisa Graham get too close to the mic over here. Both Dan
and Lisa are from native Austin Nights. Jan Ryan [00:06:14] They’re here. Texas, Austin.
They both are also from UT UT Alumns. Both are very motivated, which is very odd. Both
of them would be this way before they married. Jan Ryan: And from what I understand,
motivated by this this powerful intersection, this intersection between social innovation
and entrepreneurship. So both of you sort of have this DNA around philanthropy and perhaps
even like some of the reason why you brought you together. You’ve co-founded a company
called Notley Ventures. And I believe that that was named after the Abbey. That was that
you were married in. Is that am I correct in that near Oxford? It’s a company that created
a new level of energy and growth and awareness around impact based businesses here in Austin.
And it’s also now a playbook that they can take out nationally. So if you’ve ever heard
of Notley, you’re always you’re thinking of things like philanthropist and center of social
innovation. And we’re going to we’re going to talk about some of these innovations a
little bit later tonight. Back in 2005, though, Dan, who was the original entrepreneur here
of the two, Dan was a student at UT. So just like you sitting in your chair, Dan was out
there and a couple of buddies and he actually launched a company called BuildASign and very
easily understanding what you do. And BuildASign we’re going to talk a little bit more about
that. But BuildASign was ultimately acquired by Vista Print for it in 2013 for two hundred
and eighty million dollars. He was recognized along the way
as CEO of the year from ABJ. Austin out of the year by Austin under 40, serves on the
boards of the Long Center and Austin Community Foundation and others. Lisa is also an alum
of UT. She graduated from LBJ at the school level, LBJ Public Affairs. And and as I mentioned,
she shares the same philanthropy DNA. She founded a group that matched pro bono services
with nonprofits. She’s worked with political campaigns, consulted with school districts
and been really involved in advocate advocacy for education. She’s also very active in the
community in Austin’s community boards, such as the board of directors for Annie’s List.
The Friends of the Children. She is on the advisory board for Houston Tillotson School
of Business and Technology, and they have three beautiful young daughters. Jan Ryan: So I don’t think I’d want
to be in on the judging and juggling that has to happen on their calendars. Jan Ryan: But that this this is
the the background of where we are with with Dan and Lisa. So let’s let’s. Jan Ryan: When we’re when we’re
thinking about how to start, let’s go way back to the very beginning. I want to go back
and really see what kind of students you were at UT. Dan, what did you tell us a little
bit about what what was going on in your mind back back in that time? Dan Graham: Yeah. So can you guys
hear me OK? Was it started out here in undergrad. I was a computer science major and a philosophy
major. And as I was getting ready to graduate, what do I want to do? Some involve and interacting
with with people a little bit more than just kind of a pure coding job. And so I looked
at business schools and also law schools ended up enrolling at UT law and thinking I would
kind of go into intellectual property or contract contracts or patent law or something like
that. And so for me, you know, I was very much in the mindset of. I mean, I’m here in
school to get a particular type of education that will allow me to go get a particular
type of know, nice paying job in entrepreneurship, which was sort of going on in the background,
was to earn extra beer money on the weekend. Yeah. Jan Ryan: So were you guys dating
at the time or. Lisa Graham: No. Jan Ryan: So So tell us what you
were up to, Lisa. Lisa Graham: Yes, I was. Can you
hear me OK? Or is it a little too loud? OK. I actually so for undergrad, I did communications
studies and history here at UT and my background was in political communications. Lisa Graham: I was really interested
in policy and political campaigns. Lisa Graham: So in my mind, I come
from a background of educators. And so I always knew education was very important. And I knew
there I wanted to make the world a better place. I wanted to work in the community.
I always thought I would do that through policy. And so through undergrad. And then actually,
I know of LBJ School, my master’s in public affairs. So that’s what I was doing. And it’s
we do like to contrast our undergraduate education because Dan likes give me a hard time because
my science classes were like age of dinosaurs and history of witchcraft and dance were like
five different classes on algorythm so our backgrounds are pretty different, so we’re
doing very different things, Yeah, in undergrad. Jan Ryan: So if you both had this
this desire to give back. Was there something early on that that actually shape that when
you think back to your early life and your family? What do you think that came from? Lisa Graham: Yeah, I mean, I mentioned,
you know, my grandmother was an educator. I grew up. My dad. Lisa Graham: He is an attorney and
he worked at the Capitol. And so when I visit my dad, I would go to the Capitol. And so
it’s funny because I still work in that building I don’t know if y’all been to the Capitol
building, but it smells exactly the same as it did in 1985. Lisa Graham: And so it’s just a
lot of memories there. And so just seeing that people are still the same people probably.
And so I think for me just seeing that firsthand. Lisa Graham: So that in my mind
it’s like oh well that’s what people do. They. This is what they do to affect the community. Lisa Graham: And that’s just what
I saw. Jan Ryan: And you the same?. Dan Graham: I mean, I think for
me, you know, giving back was something that was always part of the plan. You know, make
money and give money back, you know, provide for a family first, but then be able to give
back whatever wealth was created to to others who who need it. Both of my parents worked
for nonprofit organizations. Growing up, I went to a school that did a lot of service,
work and volunteering. But I don’t think it was like a conscious plan other than just
something that I kind of assumed would be part of my life going forward. Jan Ryan: So I don’t think you actually
expected entrepreneurship to hit you and when it did. Did you? Tell us tell us a little
bit about that process with BuildASign and what was it like to take an idea? And we have
entrepreneurs in the room and those that are are looking at entrepreneurship. What’s the
what’s it like to take an idea and then take it forward? Dan Graham: Yeah. I mean, for for
us, the development of the idea is really just iterating through a whole bunch of failures.
And so we started out we were doing web development work on the side, as I mentioned, to kind
of earn some extra spending cash. And one of the companies that we were talking to about
building out a Web site was a sign company. And we looked at their business model and
saw how inefficient it was, how much money they were spending in the graphic proofing
process. And we thought, you know, there are there are companies and Web sites out there
providing online design tools for things like business cards, but not for signs. What if
we built a Photoshop tool that could be embedded on the Web site and then you could go out
and get new customers from nine geographically specific places? You could turn over the graphic
design process, which is really costly to the customer. And so we built out kind of
a working prototype of that and tried to sell that as a piece of software to this this printing
company that we were quoting. And I think we quoted them seven thousand dollars for
the for the Web site and they said it was too expensive. So we had this thing that we’d
spent all this time on. So then we said, OK, well, there’s there’s bound to be other sign
companies in town. So we went in. Turns out there’s about one hundred and fifty. And we
started going door to door. So all these different sign shops trying to find someone who would
buy or license our software and just got rejected every single place we took it usually because
they thought the internet was a fad. Dan Graham: Multiple business owners
kept calling it the intercom. And usually the graphic design person that we were talking
about replacing was like an uncle or a cousin or someone like that. And so it was a really
hard sale. Dan Graham: And ultimately, we ended
up launching it online as a proof point to show that it could be used to get revenue. Dan Graham: And we spent five hundred
dollars like all the money we had. It was on Google AdWords. It was gone in three seconds
and we got zero orders. And so we actually tabled the whole thing. And about a month
later, we randomly got an order from somewhere in the middle of Illinois and had no idea
how they had found us or even, frankly, at the Web site worked. And, you know, as we
were dissecting what had happened, we realized we were doing AdWords completely wrong. And
we had just said show our Web site to anyone that searches for anything that has the word
signs in it. And so Google will actually let you pull up a list of everything that people
are actually searching for when they click on you. And it was full of stuff like signs
of gonorrhea, signs of the apocalypse, signs of the zodiac. And so we we went through and
clean that up. Dan Graham: And suddenly orders
started kind of coming in on a on a more regular basis. And so we quickly had to find someone
who could produce that stuff for us. Luckily, we had this huge list to sign companies that
had rejected our software. So we went back, found a company that was willing to be the
manufacturer. This was back in 2005 and began to outsource to them and did that for a couple
of months. And until our volume exceeded their capacity, and then at that point I was finishing
my last semester of law school, so I began to drive over to this sign shop everyday to
yell at them about getting our orders out on time. And the owner just looked at me and
said, we hate your orders, would like these custom one off ones to see things. So we don’t
know if your volume is going to be here tomorrow, so you might as well go help in the back.
So we started going over to this sign shop everyday, helping get our orders out and then
going back and cutting them a check for all the free labor we had just done. Dan Graham: Yeah. And so that’s
kind of how we ended up slowly getting into the business and then ultimately made the
decision after sleeping and taking shifts and this other guy’s shop to get in. Jan Ryan: You literally were sleeping
at the shop. Dan Graham: Yes. Some of the printers,
they require constant watching as they’re printing. Dan Graham: So we would take shifts
sort of monitoring all the different printers in the shop. Jan Ryan: So did you. Did you all
three know you wanted to do this after school or was this just kind of you just randomly
continuing something because it begins to work? Dan Graham: No. However, I was finishing
school. Dan Graham: Another one of my partners
was getting his masters in electrical engineering and the other two had jobs. And so none of
us were doing this this full time. We actually in January of 2006 and we decided to get our
own machine. Dan Graham: We we kind of had to
threaten one of our partners to quit his job and say, if you don’t quit, we’re gonna take
away your equity. So he quit his other job and then we were all full time. But it was
and it wasn’t a unanimous decision for us to get into the manufacturing part of the
business. We actually voted and it was 3 to 1. Jan Ryan: So as entrepreneurs, we
all have that wish we had known story. What was your wish you had known before you ever
got in this type story? And what kind of class do you wish you had taken at UT? Looking back
and knowing all the things you’re going to go through. What is your wish Jan Ryan: I’d known item you can
share with us. Dan Graham: There are way more instances
of if I had known, I never would have done it than there are things that I wish I know. Dan Graham: And I think part of
the fun of being an entrepreneur and frankly, the reason a lot of entrepreneurs, including
myself, are successful is because we sort of fly it at the brick wall with the expectation
that we should be able to punch through it. And if we had known the odds of actually being
able to punch through that brick wall, you might not have charged at it with this with
the same passion that we did. Certainly we had a lot of close calls at the beginning
of the business where we almost went out of business because we didn’t understand the
way that the bank viewed merchant services accounts and taking credit cards online. And
we had to learn those things really quickly or printers that we purchased without doing
the due diligence and trials that we should have that turned out to be really expensive
paperweights. When we got him into the shop and things like that. But I really think that
there is some value to that, that kind of ignorance early on and plowing forward with
an idea that you have passionate about. Jan Ryan: So when did when did philanthropy
began to come inside of your your company mission and when did that happen? Dan Graham: Yeah. So the all the
products that we sold are in really high demand by non-profits for their walks and races and
conferences. And so they’re always asking and nonprofits are very good about asking
for stuff for free. And so we would get all these calls for our asking for free product. Dan Graham: We set up a budget at
the beginning, a quarterly amount that we would do free product for. And very quickly,
you know, across the country has work cut out. We had this nonprofit program. We got
a ton of requests. And so we found ourselves in this position of having to decide what
nonprofits we were going to support. Dan Graham: And it was a very hard
thing to do to sort of make that decision in a systematic way, getting dozens of these
requests every day. And so what we ended up doing was trying something entrepreneural.
We said, well, let’s bring in a part time person. And and and let’s tell them that they
need to create a tiered sponsorship model. So really large nonprofits that we know had
big budgets. Let’s charge them. You know, maybe we’ll give them 10 percent off. And
then all of the money that we make from that nonprofit will go to subsidize the smaller
nonprofits that can’t afford anything with the kicker that that person also had to use
that revenue to pay for their own salary. And so we we kind of had this business model
mindset behind the philanthropy that we were doing in terms of funding itself. And that
person absolutely crushed it within 18 months. We had eight full time people focused on philanthropy.
We had hundreds of thousands of dollars that we were trying to figure out how to give away.
And then that began to fuel a lot of the programing that we’d lost. Dan Graham: And and and it happened
to be leveraging our business and this really interesting kind of microP&L way. Profit and
loss kind of business unit within our larger company that was funding our philanthropy.
And that was my first real aha moment, I guess, with regards to funding philanthropy in a
nontraditional fashion, meaning not where you go ask someone for a donation every single
year until they get tired of giving to you. And then you have to find another person to
replace that person. Jan Ryan: I remember when I I’m
also an entrepreneur and at the time my company had been acquired and I had launched a company
or a nonprofit called Women at Austin. And I remember at that time we were first starting.
We had a need for some signs just signage because we had some early panels and someone
said, you really need to talk to Dan Graham, you know, BuildASign. And and sure enough,
one of our people did. And you supported us and it was so meaningful to us. We’ll tell
you later when there’s going to be a short story for what happened in the end, because
Women in Austin now is in the the socially impact ecosystem for not long. But it also
made everything that we did and what we touched in a need for signs. We sent people to BuildASign
because that you cared about us. And there was this virtuous circle going on. We sent
we sent them to you as well. I I have to admit that most companies and I worked in startups
and was a part of startups for many years. Most companies, they’re just getting off the
ground would never say we’re in the philanthropy business and they’d say someday we’ll do that
and someday when we have time to do that. Did you have an agreement with your partners?
Did you all feel like even at the beginning before this took off, that you should have
a mission around philanthropy together? Dan Graham: It was honestly was
a little bit more my thing and the business unit model allowed it to kind of go to grow.
Its own steam and an limit less way as long as it was funding itself. There wasn’t kind
of a budget impact that had to be agreed on by all of all of the business partners and
owners and so that so that the business model nature allowed it to really grow wings and
fly. And, you know, I think also the realization of if we you know, if a nonprofit was going
to spend five thousand dollars on print products over the course of a year and we donated that
5000 dollars, then they get their products covered. But we’re out five thousand dollars.
But if we could leverage our business resources, then we could give them the same benefit and
it would cost five hundred dollars. And so we could do that 10 times over for the same
costs as donating money and still provide the same monetary value to the nonprofit ecosystem.
So there’s also this leverage that business can get. Businesses can get by thinking a
little bit more creatively about how they give. Jan Ryan: And little did you know,
you were discovering and creating some of those innovations that you’re using now. You
are actually disrupting your industry there. But you were also beginning to understand
how you were going to disrupt philanthropy, which I want to get into a little bit more
now, since you had a huge success with with BuildASign rolling the tapes forward. Lisa,
you were now beginning to do as you co-founded, Notley to understand not only just how to
give back, but how to help others and scale others impact and how you could help them
give back. Jan Ryan: You surely did not have
a playbook for this. Was this a little scary? Wouldn’t it? Tell us a little bit about what
those early days of not labor like. Because this is you were making this up as you went. Lisa Graham: Yeah. I would say it
was never too scary. And I would say we definitely had a luxury. Right. We had an influx of capital
that we are able to use. And that’s a luxury that I think a lot of people who are in startups
do not have. Most people don’t. And so that was nice to have that freedom. I think what
was interesting was, you know, as we started talking to other people about what we were
doing and what we wanted to do, we got a lot of really confused looks. And then people
would say, well, who else is doing that? And we had nobody to say, oh, well, go look at
this group or we are the Uber of X, right? We couldn’t say that. And so I think early
on it was more of a struggle to figure out how do we explain what we’re doing to other
people to get their buy into what we’re doing, because what we’re doing, we think is pretty
great. Jan Ryan: Were there any mistakes
that you can remember that you had to bumble through in order to truly find the right way,
as you say, you know, iterating through failure? How did that liquid was not? Lisa Graham: I mean, I think early
on I’m that and I wouldn’t call it I wouldn’t call it a failure. But, you know, we always
kind of say it’s a good pivot. I think that our initial structure of how we laid out our
company was not the best way to do it. And I think because the idea was we had for profit
and we wanted to work at the intersection of for profit nonprofit, how we originally
organized our company was we had a for profit arm and we had somebody running that and he
had his own staff and we had a nonprofit arm and we had somebody running that and she had
her own staff. And so there was a lot of communication issues. You know, some people didn’t really
understand with this arm was doing and they didn’t really get how they were overlapping.
And I think the biggest thing that we were able to pivot and do is to bring both of those
organizations under one group of management. And so. Right. And since that has happened
within about two years, we’ve grown from four people to almost 30. And now we’ve been able
to really focus and people are on the same page. They get it. And now we’re able to find
great talent who really understands this intersection of for profit and nonprofit. And it helps
us to talk about our mission and to communicate that with people as well. Jan Ryan: So your tag line is change
the rules and change the world. So in order to change the world, you have to change the
rules. Why did the rules need changing in this space and impact? Dan Graham: I think fundamentally
the the space that we play in is kind of at this intersection of entrepreneurship and
traditional philanthropy. Kind of looking at how do we take these really gnarly problems
that are out there in the world that the community is battling all over the country, all over
the world, all over our city. Dan Graham: And think about them
in the way that an entrepreneur would, which is how do we scale our solution to make the
biggest debt possible in attacking this problem? And how do we do that in a way that will be
sustainable financially? And that is just very different than than the traditional way
that we go about tackling community problems, which is much more through traditional funding
route. And so when we talk about changing the rules, you know, like one. One very simple
example is if you were in the business of selling a product and you had a sales person
to go sell that product for you, you could give them typically what you would see as
a compensation structure that would have some amount of base pay, an hourly rate or a salary,
then you would incentivize them to go sell that product with a commission so they’d get
a percentage of a sale or they get a bonus if they sold more than this amount. Because
you’re aligning the company’s profit motive with this individual’s income motivation in
the nonprofit world. If you try to connect compensation with fundraising in terms of
a similar incentive program, they will actually. There are industry organizations like the
Association of Fundraising Professionals that will kick you out of their network as doing
something that is unethical. Dan Graham: And so there is there
are there are a lot of traditions. Dan Graham: There are a lot of of
laws that we’ve put in place that make it very difficult for nonprofits to grow and
scale in the way that a business would to tackle big problems. Effectively, businesses
exist to tackle problems and nonprofits exist to tackle a very narrow type of problem. And
so when we think about these solutions, we’re trying to think of all the different ways
you might solve that as more or less an entrepreneur might think about solving a business problem. Jan Ryan: Tell us a little bit about
how you’re solving the problem of innovation, because nonprofits many times are not not
able to innovate because their shareholders are their donors and they don’t necessarily
want to take risks. Tell us a little bit about philanthropitch and what’s going on there. Lisa Graham: Yes, a philanthropitch,
which is a nonprofit and only staff said we put it on. It actually originated out of BuildASign.
And what it isn’t is the fast pitch competition for nonprofit executives. And they get three
minutes to pitch an idea. They get three minutes to answer questions from judges. And all of
our judges are local entrepreneurs and business leaders. And so we’ve actually been doing
this and often since 2012, 2013, and are now expanding that across the country. So we do
it in San Antonio, Columbus, Ohio. We’re about to do one in Philadelphia this next year.
And the idea there in terms of innovation is I like to say that we help to provide these
executives the freedom to start to think more creatively. And so giving them new lines of
revenue is what we try and I guess, reward in a way or really highlight at philanthropitch.
So we look for nonprofits who are doing on revenue models or they have really innovative
ways to create a technology to solve a problem in their industry. And our marketing that
in a really interesting way. And so the idea is how do you bring these ideas to the entrepreneurial
community, but also how do you start to communicate your nonprofit as a business? And I mean,
we’ve really seen to a lot of nonprofits, we had a nonprofit actually pitching the first
ever philanthropitch, which they pitched again two years ago. And in that amount of time,
they’ve created an entire software platform for Salesforce. The E.D. was a keynote at
Dreamforce a year or two ago, and it just got into a huge organization. Dan Graham: When they when they
pitched it, the first flight philanthropitch, they were mentoring about 300 underserved
students to help them get into college and then through college. And when they pitched
this last time, they were serving 600000 students. So over that period of time, because they
found a couple of different revenue models by looking at their stakeholders and saying
who’s about who, who is receiving value from this solution? Who can who’s benefiting? They
were able to put together some really interesting models. And we see that that’s very possible.
And not not that hard for most organizations to come up with different ideas, to go out
and pilot and try to hop one of the hardest parts. Beyond that, it’s getting someone to
fund the pilot. Jan Ryan: Exactly. Exactly. It’s
interesting. You know, Dan and Lisa are very humble and they talk about what they’re doing
in a very humble way. Jan Ryan: But I just want you to
get a sense for the scale of what they’re. I’m blushing in Austin. It was probably over
a year ago that I went out to to meet with them at their Center for Social Entrepreneurship
or Social Innovation sorry. The Center for Social Innovation and I had heard about this,
I’d seen in the press, but I didn’t know where it was really. I didn’t know what it was.
And I was driving out it’s an East Austin and I was utterly lost. And as you can get
and occasionally in East Austin until you know it. And I remember coming into this amazing
campus, which was just shocking to me on Springdale. And I was thinking to myself, I’m going to
pull over, maybe ask somebody, you know why. I know why I’m lost it literally. It’s a 10
acre, 15 building campus of well, I’m gonna let. I’m gonna let you tell us what it is.
It is housing, nonprofits and social entrepreneurs all over town together in a way that is, I
think, going to change the face is changing the face of of Austin right now. But tell
us a little bit about the Center for Social Innovation. Lisa Graham: Yeah, it’s. I mean,
that was a really good description. It looks like we have a cafe Medici now. yes. Now we
have a cafe, two cafes, and a bar. Great. Jan Ryan: But everyone is just coming
to this place that it’s amazing real estate venture at this point. Lisa Graham: Yeah. And I think the
Center for Social Innovation was one of the first really big projects that we talked about
when we started Notley. So back in 2015, when we were trying to think of what are some like,
you know, what are our big hags for, you know, our first year or so, what did it look like?
And having a center or a physical space for nonprofits and social impact companies to
physically be together was one of them. And so we were able to, you know, work on the
entire complex is also called Springdale General. So if you heard of that, it’s the same location.
And we develop the Center for Social Innovation. And like Jan said, it’s it’s one hundred and
sixty thousand square feet, housing, social impact, for profit companies, housing non-profits.
We also have coworking space that’s 10000 square feet. And then we have we have artist
space. We have galleries. Lisa Graham: And we also really,
you know, put its building on a studio tour. Lisa Graham: Was his top quarter
there this year and and in building the complex over there. We really did go out in the community
and say, well, what would you want to see here? What do you need? What do you want in
your neighborhood? And so there’s a barbershop. There’s several restaurants. There’s a bar
and there’s a tattoo parlor. Lisa Graham: So we’d like to say
that it’s a great parlor. Yeah. Jan Ryan: No childcare area? Lisa Graham: No childcare. Not at
the tattoo parlor. Yeah. So it’s a great place to make poor decisions. But no, it’s really
fun. Lisa Graham: And it’s great to see
a lot of folks and we see a lot of philanthropitch finalists are there as well. And it’s you
actually do see people like walk up to other people’s offices and be like, I get 10 minutes
of your time. Lisa Graham: And it’s made a big
difference in how a lot of people interact with each other. Jan Ryan: What is that like for
having all those nonprofits? I can remember so clearly in my years in Austin, nonprofits
were so fragmented and in many times duplicative in their efforts, didn’t even know someone
else was still, you know, was involved in that. What’s that like to have them all in
one place? And I’m assuming you’re 100 percent occupancy. This is is continuing to be as
popular as it is. It’s always been. Lisa Graham: Yeah, it’s really cool
to see it. I mean, especially I mean, it sounds a little cliche, but now the coffee shops
open like everyone kind of is a gathering space. So it is a great place to go. And you
really do see several nonprofit leaders in there at the same time having meetings. It’s
really energizing. And it’s also been cool to see especially having the different size
office spaces available. Right. Lisa Graham: So you can start at
a desk theoretically in the coworking space. And we even have a company that we’ve been
working with called Civic Tech that works to get people registered to vote. And they
started out with like four desks and coworking and they just moved into like a 3000 square
foot office in the center. And at some point they’re going to outgrow us. But we love seeing
that growth is well within the community. Jan Ryan: How many artists do you. Dan Graham: Oh, it’s a good question.
Quite a few. There’s there’s a there’s a retail art gallery that rotates kind of gallery space
in the front of the building right next to Café Medici. And then there’s like I think
three walk through galleries, but then a bunch of different kind of artists offices ranging
from branding to more purely visual arts. Lisa Graham: And creative action
is housed there as well. They have one of the entire buildings. And so we I mean, there’s
just so many great opportunities for how you then, you know, the kids who get to work with
creative action, how do you expose them in the community? Well, there’s 10 of them in
the center. So there’s a lot of synergies like that as well. Dan Graham: The landscape architect.
So a bunch of flavors of design and an art are there. Jan Ryan: So another couple of questions
for the boy, at least for Q and A. One is about culture and culture is the top of your
list. And so many things that you do. And then you’ve said in the past many times you
have a strong opinion about how a lot of founders don’t take it seriously enough and then end
up with the wrong people on their early teens. And talk to us a little bit more about your
culture at Notley and. In general, what do you think that entrepreneurs need to be very,
very careful about who they hire and if you’re buying into your value system that everyone
is on the same wavelength? Dan Graham: Yeah, I mean, I think
whether whether an entrepreneur wants to acknowledge culture or not, they are creating one and
they they have one. And I think there’s there’s there are functional reasons to think about. Dan Graham: I think about culture
in terms of people feeling like they have a place to speak up and speak out and add
value and contribute to the conversation and making sure that as a as a group we’re not
or in organizations not shutting people down or limiting those kinds of thoughts. Obviously,
the you know, the innovation really thrives in an environment where ideas clash and people
are comfortable sharing and throwing things off the wall as we have been talking about
in my journey. Most innovation is the result of a lot of failure. And so you you don’t
you don’t get failure and a willingness to fail in a culture that isn’t kind of open
to that kind of thought and feedback. And so knowing that you’re going to have a culture
in that culture will be developing around you as as you bring people into an organization.
It really makes sense to think of that as a an active process to engage and to make
sure that that is being shaped in a way that is aligned with the mission and values that
you want for your organization. And then making sure that as you’re hiring, yes, you want
everyone bought into the culture, but you also want to bring in people who are going
to add to that culture and help it develop and grow. And in a way that is not only something
that you want, but it’s something that the existing people at the organization want and
that ultimately is going to fuel whatever your mission is to the greatest extent possible.
And it is a hard thing to do because culture is not shaped by whatever you put on the wall.
It’s shaped by the everyday behaviors of the people who you bring into the into the team.
And that is a hard thing to direct. If you’re not super intentional about it. Lisa Graham: Yeah. I mean, I would
say like one of the things that we talk about a lot, too, is, you know, transparency and
trust. And I think that that’s something, too, that we really try and build. And I think
that, you know, when you know, on occasion it gets tested a little bit. And when we get
called out on stuff, it’s actually that kind of reminds me, like, OK, we’re doing this
right because we can now have a conversation. And so that’s always really nice. And I think
it makes our helps our staff to feel a lot more comfortable to do that. And I think also
creating this environment where people feel they can take risks, whether it’s just throwing
out an idea or acting on it. And we like to say to on occasion, we’ve had a few folks
where you come into a meeting like this really crazy idea. And a lot of times you’re like,
that sounds great. Tell us how you’re gonna do it. Jan Ryan: So what kind of people
are you looking for and what what qualities are you looking for when you’re hiring and
Notley? Lisa Graham: That’s a great question.
You know, we like a lot of people that we work with. They’re very curious. They’re very
passionate. They really, truly care about the impact. And that’s something that we revisit
a lot. So with a lot of our programs, we do we visit them regularly and say, is this making
the impact that we wanted to make? And if not, how do we fix it or how do we move on
so that we’re all continuing to do the work that we all signed on to do. And so I think
that’s those two things have been really important. Dan Graham: I think mission first
willingness to do things in an unorthodox way. And and then certainly we’re we’re doing
so many things, as you mentioned earlier in and moving so fast that we need people who
are able to self-defined their job as they go, as opposed to people who are looking for
their daily checklist. And daily task was because we just. Jan Ryan: Sort of autonomous thinkers. Dan Graham: Yeah, we don’t have
time to do that. And a lot there are a lot of organizations that that is what they’re
looking for. But for us, we’re looking for some people who can kind of run with things
and come up with the right path as they go. Lisa Graham: And I always like to
say to like I always look to hire people that are much better at things than I am. And so
I would say I’m very confident that everyone that I’m working with is doing their job better
than I would ever even be able to. Dan Graham: For me, that’s really
easy. Jan Ryan: Well, let’s let’s. Yes. Jan Ryan: Well, we’re almost to
questions. Your first, I want to ask someone as one more question just to make sure that
we’ve mentioned some of the the social impact system or social impact ecosystem players
that you have. I want to make sure that people know what’s inside of Notley. And if you could
just talk a little bit about the other things we’ve talked about philanthropitch, and, and
some other things. But talk about Divinc and women in Austin and and some of the other
things that you’re you’re nurturing and growing because what they’re doing is scaling different
nonprofits and impact organizations that need that help. Just as when I when I was moving
to my role here at the university, I didn’t have time in my give back to to run Women
at Austin. And Dan was was we remember when we were talking and he was saying that’s what
we do is we scale things because we had a thousand women. It was for women entrepreneurs,
thousand women in the network and and just not enough people to be able to run it. And
now they have hired an executive director and they’re there. They’re feeding fuel into
that. And the community is is prospering. So tell us a little bit about some of the
the different organizations that you’re helping. Lisa Graham: Yeah. So Women in Austin
is one of them. That one’s been so fun to work on and the staff gets very involved in
that. It’s really exciting. Jan created a great organization that was ready to scale
and take it to that next level. And so we did just hire a CEO about three months ago.
And so we’re providing educational opportunities for women looking to scale their businesses
and then we’re gonna be working on some other programing to really make that more robust.
So that’s exciting. DivInc. You also mentioned it is an accelerator for women and people
of color. And that was that’s been really exciting as well, too, because there’s a team
that serves for entrepreneurs. Yeah. And there’s a team that’s already been working on that
and building something really great. So I think we’ve been able to come in and provide
them services that they need, that they can really focus on their accelerator and grow
that program and hopefully expand it. I think they’re hoping to do that here in the next
year or so. We also do you’re going to have to probably jump in because have a lot try
to think what else? Just wrap it on my head. We do startup games, which is a way for corporate
businesses to get together and do some internal team building. And then they come together
for a day of light games and fun and then the money goes to charity. We have a fellows
program where we work with young professionals between the ages, I believe 23 and 35 who
are in the for profit sector and we introduce them to a lot of leaders around in the community. Lisa Graham: And then we in their
second year of the program, they have a community project that they work on and whether it’s
helping with the Notley initiative or if they have something that they’re super passionate
about, we throw some of the Notley weight behind them and help to make that a reality. Dan Graham: We’re we’re helping
launch a new research policy think tank that’s a new branch from the Austin Monitor, which
is a local media and news publication that follows all the local policy and politics.
And we also are launching Naturally Austin, which is a industry nonprofit that’s focused
on advancing healthy products through that through the early startup days and journey.
And then we do a lot of work kind of on a project basis with nonprofit organizations
that are looking to scale. We’ve like Black Fruit or Easter SEALs College Forward, we
mentioned, and a bunch of others as well. Lisa Graham: And then we do educational
workshops. So but with this nonprofit, it’s a nonprofit workshop with more of what we
like to say is a more for profit entrepreneurial bent. So we just had one on financing as opposed
to fundraising. Lisa Graham: Right. So like, how
do you look at your finances and try and sift through those in a way that’s a little different
than if you’re just trying to fundraise a certain amount of money to kind of meet your
goals. Dan Graham: It was really fun because
we did these surveys at the end of value. You got out of it. And the first time we did
one around fundraising. We approached it very much from a business sort of perspective.
It was all tens and one one and the one was this is not how nonprofits are supposed to
think about fundraising. And so I think I like to say we want all 10 zero ones. Jan Ryan: That’s funny. And then
you also do impact investing in for profit investing as well as well. So a lot on your
plate. Jan Ryan: I want to thank you so
much for being here and for participating with us and for helping us in our mission
at College of Fine Arts within the center of creative entrepreneurship, which is really
to help entrepreneurs and think like artists and artists, to think like entrepreneurs.
And so I hope I can get to know many of you as new friends. Thank you, Lisa. And Dan,
can we give them a round of applause? Jan Ryan: And be be safe driving
home tonight. Thanks, guys.

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