Abigail Smith

Do the Work. Trust Your Process - Abigail Smith, Thai Harvest SOS

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with Abigail Smith, who a year and a half ago established Thai Harvest SOS. An amazing organization that has, in just a short time created a process that is able to safely redistribute more than a ton of food a day to more than 20 communities in Bangkok.

For Abigail, she sees this time as a pilot for building the process, systems, and support needed to take this to the next level, and in my conversation with her we discussed a wide range of different systems that she is focused on, trying to nail down, or is struggling to bring to scale.

There is a lot of valuable content in here, even for the most experienced leader, and I hope you will enjoy watching this conversation as much as I (we) did filming it!

This interview is about identifying a problem, and building systems that address that problem and bring a measurable impact.

About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.

About Abigail

Thai Harvest SOS is a charity dedicated to the reduction of food waste and the redistribution of food fit for for consumption but not sale to those that need it.

Thai Harvest SOS collects non sellable but consumable food free of charge and sends it to communities where it can be of use. Food not fit for consumption is sent to local farms for composting.

Abigail Smith, originally from the U.S., is the group's operations director for Thailand and is responsible for driving its mission to "reduce food waste and use it in the most meaningful way."

Follow Abigail
Website: https://www.scholarsofsustenance.org/thailand
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/abigail-smith-44a25681/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thailandsos

About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
[email protected]

Full Interview Transcript

RICH: Good afternoon everybody I'm here with Abigail from Thailand Harvest SOS. We just had the most amazing interview and I think you're going to love this one. We covered everything from having a laid to like process to focus on your organization. The myth of the administration costs and just going from getting through one day, to one week to one month to changing the world. We hope that you enjoy this episode. I know I sure as hell did and if you do, please like, share and comment on her Facebook page. On every Facebook page. Thank you Abigail, this has been hysterical.


RICH: Tell me about your operating plan. How many trucks do you have and how much food do you process?

ABIGAIL: Twenty one food donors right now all over Bangkok. We're processing anywhere from, it's averaging out to about 900 kilos a day. Cuz we do get some bulk in every once and a while and 900 kilos a day and about 22 recipient communicates throughout the city of Bangkok.

RICH: And do you move it, do you like you get it that afternoon and it has to be out your door by the evening?

ABIGAIL: Pretty much. Anything that my trucks, So I've two vehicles. I have one compost vehicle and one edible vehicle. They start at 7:00am and then they are parked back on premise by 7:00p. If any of the food...the compost is all managed within a day. If any of the edible comes in after 2 or 3:00pm, that's what our storage coolers downstairs is for and that goes out the next cuz we've got get it to the community in time to prep dinner. Otherwise it's going to go to waste for them. Also we're working though a lot of agencies that don't have the fridge storage.

We've done food safety training but we would rather manage it for as long as possible. A, to save them on the storage costs and B, to ensure that it's of the highest quality that we can give it to them and it's served at the highest quality that we can predict to the best of our ability.


RICH: So how do you look at your system? Like, what are the flaming hot risks that you try to manage every day?

ABIGAIL: The flaming hot risk of course your first one is food safety. So we don't take cooked rice. We don't take anything cooked with coconut milk. It has a high volatile right after it gets heated. It kind of like goes on this crazy spectrum of bacteria within almost 45 minuets.

RICH: So, don't eat cold curry on the street.

ABIGAIL: Really don't. But it's just one of those things that we know that's a hot point especially here in southeast Asia that's a lot of foods made with it. We do not take cooked seafood, at all. We do not take frozen shellfish, at all.

RICH: Because?

ABIGAIL: Because it's just, those are your biggest risk factor categories for sure. The next is I guess cultural sensitivity with the food a lot of Hala communities. A lot communities that wouldn't eat the food that we were given. So we spend a lot of time trying to match out. You bring a Thai family a box of bad Ghats, they don't know what to of with it so it's ending up in the landfill anyways. You bring Vietnamese refugee a box of baguettes, they thrilled. Same with we cater a lot of...yea, we cater a lot of post large Indian weddings. This is a huge Indian wedding hub. Pakistani refugees, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, all love it. But my Vietnamese are like whoa, why what is this? I don't want it. So that's how we deal with a lot of that.

Then the other hotspots are of course just being sensitive with the people that are receiving food. We want to treat them with dignity right?


RICH: Did you start with one community and move out? Did you always do everything like it, how it started?

ABIGAIL: It started pretty much one community, one donor, two donors, two communities and now it's blossomed and it works. Now what we need are more vehicles. That's really our next step. So in our first, we're about a year and half old. Locally founded in March 2016. I've kind of looked at everything we've done still even almost up to this January as a pilot, as proof. Now, what we've been able to do is, we've been able to physically prove is that the food waste is there and that you know when I walk into a hotel and an executive chef says I have no food waste, that you do. You do and it doesn't matter if it's 10 kilos or 100 kilos, it's still food waste and the more on people I get on board, the more 10 kilos matters and so forth and so forth.

So I've proved the food is there and the waste is there and that it's not a hard process. Actually we've found that like some of the stewarding teams in hotels we're making their jobs easier because they have less, wet heavy garbage. Ya know.

RICH: Right, so they save money from that.

ABIGAIL: Tesco Lotus is built into their KPIs for the store managers to donating. Things like that. We've proven the food is there. We've proved that the process is not impossible and we've proved the need and the hunger is there and maybe there aren't staving people, but they will take the cost off that. They will take being remembered. It's kind of fun and that they enjoy the difference in their diet and the variety that we are able to bring. Halfway home I got 100 kilos of frozen salmon from a restaurant that was changing menu. We brought it out. We mad fish balls. They've never had salmon before. So it was like this really special moment for them. Ya know, so it's ya we're providing meals and nutrition, but we're also ya know just....

RICH: Like a nice night out in a way.

ABIGAIL: Yeah, it's like they see our truck coming and their like, "oh my god, maybe it's going to be a really cool desert today." Or something different than they have every day.


RICH: Legally, how difficult was this? Were there laws in place? How open is the Thai society, Bangkok, a foreigner coming in and setting this up?

ABIGAIL: We do it before. We have a mixed Thai foreign board. We are locally registered. We are a Thai foundation. That process to get a local registration start to finish was bout 9 months and as we say, Phaeng mak, very expensive but well worth it. So Phaeng mak, mak. I'm the only westerner on staff. Even like my one American staff, she's half Thai, she grew up in a Thai household and she's fluent. I'm the only westerner on staff. I try to stay off the camera as much as possible and like when we do local news articles that it's featuring the Thai staff. In Thailand, as much as like I don't, there's also a respect with the foreign foundation.

Now for me, I'd also been here for four years. I'd also worked in hotels for four years and could speak a little bit of Thai was kind of able to win over respect and that a lot of our corporates that were going through most 5 star hotel executive chefs are European here. Right? So I set it up and then my Thai staff comes in with their Thai staff and knocks it down. Then working with the mixed refugees who are used to working with UN, with asylum access, which has a.... So they were pretty used to it already. Some of our biggest blockades have been, I don't want to say Thai, I want to say Southeast Asian here perception of what food waste is. Changing language over to surplus that it's not dirty.

I feel like culturally all over the world, we have this big problem where...Oh my god if we donate food you're going to sue us...everybody's going to get food poisoning. It's an Urban Legend essentially it really doesn't happen. One of my partner foundations has been operating in this fear for 14 years over 1 billion meals served and not a single claim. They've also been able to change the laws in Australia to get food donors under Good Samaritan. It's something that we're looking at doing here.

Right now, I offer contracts to each food donor that guarantees that we accept liability if there is an issue and we can do that cuz honestly, there isn't going to be an issue. I really firmly believe that.

RICH: You don't worry about it.

ABIGAIL: We do have global insurance, but I really firmly believe that we're not going to have an issue.


RIGH: Even though it's potentially the hottest thing, it's something that you don't worry about.

ABIGAIL: I mean I worry about it, but we practice ____ some standards. I'm _____ (9:15) certified. I have a full time food hygienist on staff. We don't take the right things. We train the people donating food. We trust our process.

RICH: So you trust your process.

ABIGAIL: We trust our process. We train our communities receiving food as well. It's not....there is nothing half-assed about this. It was really thought through. It's been really well thought through in other programs in the world. You trust your process and honestly, you can get food poisoning order at the table at a 5 star hotel just as easily as you can get it in street food, just as easy as any where in the world. So we trust our process just as much as you do sitting down at a restaurant and ordering a meal.


RICH: How do volunteers support your organization? Who makes the best...like, do you use volunteer on a regular basis? How are they part of your....

ABIGAIL: We done on couple..first off we take interns. Usually the interns are admin, are Facebook, social media, like doing cute little projects that we want to do that are itching in the back of our head, but like nobody had time to do a sliding scale, so our staff can see how close we are getting to our food capture goal. They bring a lot o f light and energy to the office to normally and so it's great to have some. So internships have functions really, really well for us. We've taken volunteers on web design and on different projects like that which functions pretty well and is fun.

We are having problems. I don't even know how to say it. We're absolutely having problems. We are having problems having people cancel last minute. We're having problems of people taking photos of the wrong thing and posting it on social media. Then we need to..

RICH: What's the background of your average volunteer? Are they Thai? Are they foreign?

ABIGAIL: College students born here, but maybe a foreign background is a huge section of the population. Thai people returning home is a huge section of the population. Then all of our refugees want to volunteer, which is amazing. So we kind of use refugees volunteers on site to help sort, pack and distribute. That works well. But they can't go out on the truck all day really.

We've also found some great success volunteer from spousal expats. So they're on a spousal visa, so they can't work, but they can only give so much time to it legally. It's complicated I guess finding good volunteer help is not easy.

RICH: What are some of the challenges that you face, like how you...because managing volunteers is a process. It really is. It's no different than budgeting. You ask for five people, you're going to get three. How do you, what's the process you try to create?

ABIGAIL: We've tried to create by month volunteer trainings, which happen right in this living room. Ten to fifteen kids come in, we pull out a wipe board, we sign them up for days. We go through food safety food standards, safe lifting, community sensitivity, all of that kinds of stuff. They sign up on the wipe board, we follow-up with email. Um, I learning that, that might not be a great process, so it's not enough and honestly, I would love something like what you do to help us managing volunteers. It's really... It's really hard man.

RICH: Yes.

ABIGAIL: I thought it was supposed to make my life better, but it makes it worse almost every single time.

RICH: That's the irony of volunteering.


RICH: So, how good are you with your cash flow? Like how in touch with you are and I found this out like two years ago I nearly spiked my non-profit. I had about a four month window and I mean we were headed straight for the earth. I realized there's a big difference between sales and cash flow. Like it's huge. So, how do you know that?

ABIGAIL: I do all the forecasting. I am on it. I am picky about receipts. I am watching it all the time. Know when I say that we have x-amount for this program, for this month. There is usually a buffer in there. I build buffers all over the place. I always when I look at fundraising, I forecast on the fact that what this person that's gonna to do this campaign for me, he's going to raise me a million Baht, I put in my forecast, 25,000 Baht. You know what I mean? I don't put anything in my forecast until I have ink on the paper. There's no pipe dreams in it.

RICH: I have three sheets. One that is current and this is what I booked and I have exact numbers for. There is realistic what I'm pretty confident I can sell through. The other is potential. This is not just the revenue side, but it's also how many people can I add. Like when they want a raise, I have to bake the raise in. That way I can figure out how many months do I have at present. I sort of hyperventilating under 6. I started loosing hair at 3. Sort of my doctorate at...
ABIGAIL: Yeah. When I do my end of 3rd quarter books, I mean I just...I just like to be hiding under my table with a bottle of wine going I have to fire everybody.

RICH: At least you don't end that sentence with again. Right?

ABIGAIL: Again, no. It never...and that's what buffers are about right? There's guarantee, their bonuses aren't guaranteed. Now are they all siting on my forecast like they're all going to happen at 100% at all times, yes. Then that gives me another, that gives me a whole another month lets say something goes horribly wrong, that gives me another month. There's things in there, there's stuff in there like we know that our refrigeration is often unkind. Or we're working on getting trucks in Kind now. But I still build my budget and forecast like I'm paying full price for that. That's a lot of ways that I manage it. By telling my staff that we have less money than we do.

RICH: This give us the idea of scale. I think we'll close it out here. Everyone's like you got scale, you gotta do more. Bigger impact. More people. More trucks. More this, more that. How do you, how do you approach scale?

ABIGAIL: How do I approach scale? I mean...

RICH: Because this is a pilot right?

ABIGAIL: We're still in pilot and I'm like looking at the real thing like I've proven it. Now we know stuff like for every US dollar we spend I can provide 4 meals. That's the fuel I need for fundraising. Now I know that I've done operated for almost over a year and we haven't had any food poisoning cases. Now I can say that. Right? I can really say that so now I can sell it stronger and better. Chicken/egg is a huge problem in what I'm doing here. Do I have the truck waiting in the wings and the staff sitting there with nothing to pick up while I'm out pitching to hotels? Or do I get the hotels on board and tell them I can work wonders and then when they call me and say can you start on Tuesday and it's Monday and say, hey who can go buy a truck today and hire a staff. So we're kind of balancing on that right now. I'm at the point where I'm at capacity and I'm still selling and the program to more food donors.

What I'm saying is that I'm going to get another truck, which we are. In the beginning of 2018 and then we would like to start your program on this day or this day. I also don't pick up new communities and new food donors at the same time. For example, Hilton started on the first. Chatruim will start on the 15th. We've got a new recipient community starting on the 25th once I know that that's all there and ok.

Because so that's kind of the stuff that I'm doing. Just praying, there's a lot of praying. I say to the kids, I call my staff the kids, everyday I kind of walk in and put my purse down and I'm like alright, what are we doing to get to the end of the day. If we can get to the end of the day, we can get to the end of the week. If we can get to the end of the week, we can get to the end of the month. Then eventually we are going to get to the end of the year and if we just keep doing the right thing every day...and if we just keep communicating and if we just keep pushing ourselves, our other team members, our donors, our recipient communities appropriately and just a little bit, we're going to make progress.

If you're doing the right thing, the money is going to come. The stuff is gonna come. I know it feels like ______________(17:35) I talking to you just like my staff talk, like I know today felt really hard, but we did it. It wasn't impossible, it wasn't maybe graceful, but we got to the end of the day, so now when this problem comes up gain, we're going to be able to get to the end of the day with a little more grace. Then we're gonna be able to prove our numbers and then we're going to get more.

For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.

Karen Farzam

Know What You Want to Build, Iterate, & Build Community - Karen Farzam, wHub

In this episode of Entrepreneurs for Good, I speak with wHub founder Karen Farzam about the work that she has been engaged with developing a community of entrepreneurs in Hong Kong and in changing the perceptions of women (and girls) in STEM and tech through conversations with academics and families.

It is a journey that had no plan, has had several iterations, but over the course of the last few years has grown tremendously, and I hope you enjoy our conversation about the work that she is doing.


About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.

About Karen Farzam

Karen Contet Farzam is the co-Founder of WHub, Hong Kong’s biggest startup community. She is a community builder, connector and passionate about Tech and Startup.

Karen is a founder and board member of the FinTech Association of Hong Kong, international speaker (Vivatech, Web Summit, RISE,), a French Foreign Trade Advisor, ambassador of the FrenchTech, community leader for Techstars and mentor for several accelerator programs.

Follow Karen
Website: www.whub.io
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/karen.farzam
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karenfarzam/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/chleozam

About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
[email protected]

Full Interview Transcript

Welcome back everybody, Rich Brubaker. I'm here with Karen here, who has started a couple of organizations here in Hong Kong. A Hub platform for startup entrepreneurs, but also she started or was part or core to the woman's echo system here. Fantastic conversation about her own journey as an entrepreneur, but then also aspiring and learning from that process. So, thank you very much Karen, this has been fantastic.

KAREN: Thank you very much.

RICH: So thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate your time. I know this is a busy city. You're a busy person. Do me a favor and give me a little of your background and what you do in Hong Kong.

KAREN: Ok, so I am French. I grew up in Tokyo and I'm an engineer, studied computer science. I moved back to Tokyo for JP Morgan to be an creative electric trader. Then moved to Hong Kong, switched to web development and build my own startup.

RICH: Before you made the jump, do you spend time with the ecosystem at all? Or was it a complete like there's a whole different pool and I'm going to jump in. What was your process to get into this?

KAREN: Basically, totally randomly we, the co-founder and myself, met a lot of entrepreneurs and they were so passionate about what they do that you know, we were like ok it seems they need a lot of help to recruit or to get new users, early adapters. How can wee help them based on the passion that they have? Because when you hear an entrepreneur, you want to help. You're totally into it. So that's why we build Whub


RICH: What are some of the things you've seen over the time since you started that because when you started it was a very different time. How have the needs changed? Was your first idea the right one?

KAREN: No, my first idea was definitely not the right one. We iterated a lot like every startup. You really need to be flexible, but in terms of the ecosystem. So when we started them it might have been maybe one event per week. Less than 10 co-working spaces. We didn't really know who was doing what. Which is really why we build Whub. We are not talking about syntax or edutech or anything, it was more just about tech to start with. People were saying that 3 years ago there was about 1,000-2,000 startups and on the platform we have like 1,700 startups. Just ya know, on our own platform. It means that it grew so much over 3 years, it's just amazing.

RICH: How many of those startups are going to be foreign backed? How many of them are going to be local,Hong Kong backed? Is there a difference between the two in terms of their own, like the access to resource or the challenge that they face?

KAREN: So when you are looking at the ecosystem you feel like there is about 50% local and 50% foreigners. I think we all face the same challenge. The difference is where you want to expand whether you want to go to China because you have your own connections or whether you want to go to Southeast Asia. Because at the end, Hong Kong is just a spring board for something else and a good place to ya know, start, iterate and test your product or service.

RICH: Why not just go into Shanghai, Beijing where they have a real deep....

KAREN: I agree. I think if your end goal is to target China, you need to go and start directly in China. But you know sometime its a matter of also connection, and who you meet that will lead you to once place or another.


RICH: So you are the founder of Woman Who Code. Tell me a little bit about what that is and why you started that.

KAREN: So basically I switched from you know, really financial background, into web development. I attended when I started a lot of web development events and there was like 50 guys and 2 women. So we were just really were wondering where all the girls were because there must be like more than that. That's why we founded Women Who Code.

RICH: So what is it..like how were you trying to promote, or what were you doing to maybe build the ecosystem and what's the output sense?

KAREN: Basically for Women Who Code is was really here in Hong Kong about bringing more women into web development. Because you know its the sectors that is really booming, a lot of job opportunities and a lot of women who were considering it. They wanted to have more information about it. So they came to us and that's where the knew their first started to code and learn about new things. So that's really how it got started. Then it was also going to universities and talking to students. Because it needs to change from there as well.

RICH: Ok, sorry. It's a little bit younger than say...what I would see in the press about women and tech and the challenges that women face.

KAREN: Yeah because Women in tech was more studied in Europe or US where you have more mature system, but here tech was just starting so it was a little bit different.


RICH: So, what was some things that you found maybe in the education system, or in the culture or in general that were holding women back from getting into.

KAREN: I think at the end, we need to education the parents. You know that actually it's good to have your daughter try to code, maybe it's not for her and it's totally fine with it, but just to try and you know to think that it's not only for boys. I think that this thing even when it's high school and you have a coding class and suddenly it's like 99% guys. That's really a problem for me. I never felt any discrimination here in Hong Kong or in Asia. The truth is that you have less women studying STEM class anyway, in general. So it's more about telling them that they can try it, but it can also be for them. They need to have more roll models.

RICH: What do you think is behind that? Because in many it's up to the individual to sign up for the classes in school, right? So why do you think that there's a disparity? Is it?

KAREN: I think it's just this pressure that we have without even knowing it. It's always there and you feel like it's just not for you. I think that's one thing. It's how the media also advertise. When you have a women you know raising 20-30 million for a startups the title is like "a woman in tech raised like money." It's not like...whoa, there is a new startup with this amazing product that just got released. You know, it's all about the fact that it's a women. That for me is really an issue.


RICH: So, like at the tactic level, how are you trying to deliver that to the communities that you are trying to reach? Like what was the things that worked really well?

KAREN: I think going to talking to university works well. Even when you're talking to 50% and only one them you know after that is writing to you saying oh this was great I'm going to look into it. I was not sure I could try, but this is something that could change. You have the Woman foundation which is doing an amazing job. You have a lot of small communities that are really making a big impact. I just think that it takes time. It's difficult.


RICH: So when you got started albeit with the hub or with the network, did you have a plan for either one? Like how, like what were the things that you started off doing and how did you know when you need to iterate?

KAREN: So for womanhood there was absolutely no plan. It was just like there must be more woman in tech or codding somewhere, let's try and grab them. Thanks to Facebook. So this was one thing.

For Whub, it was more like about really gathering a community and trying to showcase all this passion for entrepreneurs. Then we ya know expanded with like job opportunities. We did talent database with an event we were organizing and more partnership. It's always about you know, finding new way to reach more people.


RICH: How do you do that? You know because you mentioned Facebook. But in both cases there communities that are surrounding that for support. How did you, what were some of the things that you did that really worked to bring community into your cause or onto your platforms.

KAREN: That's a good question. That's a very good question. I don't know. We organized alot of events. We were very present within the different communities here in Hong Kong. There were like small communities, but they were all very fragmented. For us it was more like how can we bring it all together. Without doing what they were doing. How did we do that? I cannot have a real answer. It's time.

It's like ok, for example. I'm a runner and I think what makes a difference is being very consistent. I think it's exactly the same thing. You are consistent week after week. You keep trying. You keep pushing. You keep making new connections and trying to bring very great content. You need to make a difference. It's not just the talking, but really doing something that can help people, in real. I think that's really what makes a difference and really that why you know, people came to us and how we grew also.

RICH: Are there certain things that you have to remain consistent on all the time and some things that you can....

KAREN: There are some things that you can pivot. I mean for example, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. You need to try them and see. You cannot do it all. It's impossible. It's way too much work. So you need to try them and see which one will work. Which one won't work and for like which purpose. Then you can just push it so definitely you're not doing the same thing again. It's about really having KPI from the start knowing what you are going after from the beginning. Otherwise you will feel like you are always getting it.


RICH: Like if you just have Facebook, you're developing your community. What are the some of things you did early and look back like, oh wow that was really not helpful. But then what are the things you did that you actually started to learn. Like what were the key lessons from there?

KAREN: I think we tried a lot of different things, different type of inspiration of talks or tagging and some of them really didn't work. I think also in terms of blogging, so like we switch at tome point to medium instead of having our own we have help also to promote. I think it's really having a strong branding that people can recognize from the start. And it's evolve (??? 10:46) When I look at the first design of the website I'm like oh my God!


RICH: So, need to learn. What was the biggest I mean, learn from failure. What was your failure that you think that you learned the most from?

KAREN: I think sometimes you need to learn to say no. Because at the end of the day, it's just 24 hours a day. I have two kids and you cannot say yes to every event, every coffee, every lunch, every new connection. You cannot do it. So you need to learn to say no. You need to learn to delegate not to do everything by yourself. Because when we start, I mean when I start my co-founder so we really doing everything. Which was great because it's the best way to learn and to you know, to try to get it right. But then you know you grow, you have a team so something's you need to let go, you need to trust people they do it in a different way. You need to say no.

RICH: What does balance mean to you?

KAREN: The good thing I think about what I do now compared to trading is that I can do it from anywhere. So I just my laptop and that's it. So I can go back home at 7, spend time with the kids and go back to work at 9. So this is really, really great in terms in finding balance and finding the right time to work. So I think now with new technology, you can definitely find it.


RICH: For anyone like watching this video, we have aspiring entrepreneurs, we have want-trepreneurs, we have mid career entrepreneurs who are trying to make their way through the weeds. What are like a few pieces of advice that you would give to someone about getting through it? About growing? About, ya know achieving, driving impact?

KAREN: I think first is that when you're an entrepreneur you have a lot of people giving you advice. At the end you need to make up your own mind. it think that is one thing that is very important. Always list listen, but in the end it's your decision and you have to be actually liable for it. So that's really one thing.

Second thing, whatever you have in mind it's going to take more time. Whatever you have in mind. But it's good to have a target, ya know? That's the second thing.

The third thing is, it's really a rollercoaster. I mean you know people say it all the time I know. But it's true. Sometimes like oh my God it's amazing things are going so well and sometimes like why am I doing this? It's never going to work. So I think what really makes a difference is to be surrounded by the right people. It's life changing. My co-founder is also my best friend. My team its people that, we've met we had relation with and really grow together. There is a huge trust. We're really going in the same direct. That's what is the most important.

It's really the people that surround you. When you are surrounded by amazing advisors or mentors or people that are really pushing you up, that makes a lot of the different. I know it's what everybody says, but it's true that and one thing I'll tell you that you cannot do alone. It's so hard. Being able to find the right partner for this is really key.


RICH: You mentioned advisors,. You mentioned giving good advice. Can you give me some insight to that? Because there is a lot of good advice that's actually not applicable. How do you find your mentors? How do you find your advisors or do you really just pick and choose?

KAREN: It's really about your good feeling. The one advisor that I have, the first day I met him it's like we clicked so well. It was such a connection. He really saw exactly what I was going to do, the missing, where we were going to be in 5 years, the whole plan I had in my head, he saw it right away. So we have a really like deep connection. I don't know it just works super well.

RICH: Then how much do you, how much information do you get about the business so he can make a good decision for you or give you, like do you give him the financials or...

KAREN: Yeah, I can share everything.  You need to trust people. Also the thing is that when you're talking to and advisor or somebody who's like, they're' not as emotional about your business as you are. Because for you everything is so personal. So they can...how do you say in English when you step back and it's good sometimes to speak to people that can step back from your business and say, ok take a deep breath an look at the whole picture. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? That's also what is important because when you're working on it like all the time, sometimes you just need to breath a little bit.

RICH: If you're gut doesn't agree with what your advisor say?

KAREN: I won't do it?

RICH: You won't do it?

KAREN: No because at the end, it's still my company right? I mean me and my co-founder of course, but at the end we take the decision. So advisor are there to advise, they are not there to run your company. So at the end as I was saying, it's your decision.

RICH: Any last words you want to give to our aspiring entrepreneurs?

KAREN: I think being an entrepreneur is just really great, but I think also we need more people that join startups. Not all of us have the right ideas, the right time, and even though its really exciting to build your own company, there are still a lot of companies that are recruiting and that need talent and still be part of an amazing adventure by also joining a startup. It think that's also really important as I was saying it's all about the team. Like me, myself alone....like it just would never be this. It's because of the people I'm surrounded with. It's really important.

RICH: Anything you would say differently to a woman entrepreneur? Or an aspiring woman entrepreneur?

KAREN: It doesn't matter if you are a woman or not. So that I think that's really the first thing is like just don't take it...right now, it's good to be a woman because right now there is a lot of things to apply for, diversity so lets just embrace it and you know, go for it.

RICH: Thank you very much for your time.

KAREN: Thank you very much.

RICH: That was fantastic.

For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.

Arch Wongchindawest

Change the World Everyday | Arch Wongchindawest, Socialgiver

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with Arch Wongchindawest, founder of the Bangkok based platform Socialgiver, who shares with me his vision for where philanthropy is broken and what he is trying to do to built a better path for financial sustainability in the third sector.

This interview is about wanting to change the world, being surrounded by great people, and learning (fast) from mistakes

About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.

About Arch

Named to Forbes “30 under 30” list, Arch Wongchindawest is a force for innovation inside Thailand’s burgeoning social enterprise sector.

A former consultant for the UN Development Program and UN Environment Program in Asia Pacific, Wongchindawest has launched several highly successful social enterprises, including IDEACUBES, Food 4 Good and Wipe the Tide.

In 2013, he co-founded Social Giver, an online platform that allows consumers to shop and donate a portion of funds to charitable causes. Social Giver recently won first place in the Singtel-Samsung mobile app challenge in Indonesia.

Follow Arch and Socialgiver:
Website: https://th.socialgiver.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/boomw
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/archw/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/socialgiver
Twitter: https://twitter.com/socialgiver

About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
[email protected]

Full Interview Transcript

I'm here today with Arch from Social Giver in Bangkok, Thailand. I just had a phenomenal discussion about what he's been trying do in converting the mindset around how you give. How to build an organization and like getting through the headaches, but maintaining that vision. Making sure your impact and your revenue align that you can have an achieve everything you want. So, thank you very much Arch for your time. This has been fantastic.


RICH: Tell us a little, tell me a little about yourself and then Social Giver.

ARCH: My name is Arch Wongchindawest. I am from Thailand. I run a social enterprise called Social Giver. We are a lifestyle and travel company that raises funds for local charities. So we work with over 160 leading brands in Thailand from hotels, restaurants, bars, activities, events, airlines and we work with them to convert their best services into charitable contributions.


RICH: What was the big challenge? What was the idea that was, wait a second...we've got a problem here and we need to fix it.

ARCH: I started off working in the social sector. I raised funds for a lot of charities and I noticed that when I raise funds for one charity, it most of the time takes away money from another charity in the sense that someone who just donated money, would not donate again to another charity. So I try to figure out a better solution. What I was trying to find out was how do we convert this, ya know, consumer spending power, which was huge and have a portion of that become new revenue for the social sector to help sort of grow the sector that has been overly reliant on donations alone.


RICH: How have you been reaching out to potential buyers then? Because you are turning a donor into a buyer. How do you reach them and how are you changing that mindset? That they are not just donating, that they're actually getting a value for the product.

ARCH: Yeah, actually that's a difficult question that we have to sort of answer because, ya know our motto is quite new. When we first tell people that you buy on our website and you get the best deal and the business doesn't take any money, they donate it to charity. It sounds unbelieveable. Like people have the tendency to not believe it. So, that's a big one of the challenge that, ya know, that we have to overcome. So we usually end up having to explain the whole idea, like with the capacity. Like if they don't use it they're going to waste it so they'd rather give it to you and, ya know raise funds for charity or then not use it at all.

RICH: On that note, I'm even thinking usually, there's a lot of almost push back right now if you're profiting off of this space in any way. Like, the Dan Pollotta book the Uncharitable. Like you take 30%....you're taking a free thing and then you're selling it. How many people question you on that? Even in the industry and how do you respond to that?

ARCH: There are definitely a few, but as..there are I think equally like people who think that 30% is a lot and there are people who think 30% is to little. Usually the finance ones will think 30% is to little. The social ones, the ones that are usually donating money will think that 30% is al lot, then we would just have to explain to them, hey, like when you go on holiday, how many percent of that goes to charity and....not a lot. What we are offering is 70 as opposed to almost zero, which is actually a much better deal if you look at it from a consumers point of view.

The bigger problem that we have actually is not when people understand the model an question, but it's when people don't understand it and make a judgment. As for example, they see oh donate profit to charity, they probably going to donate 1% or something. Or someone who would just see tomorrow and think hey, they're trying to use donation to market these businesses. So they don't realize that actually these business are giving away their service for free, but they don't know that because they haven't read it, but they are making a judgment call right in advance because this is a new model. But they don't know it 's a new model. They just think it's the same as everyone trying to sort of promote. Trying to do good.


RICH: How big are you guys now?

ARCH: Our team is 12, 12 people. Sort of about subscribers we have 68,000 subscribers. Our Facebook fan page we have around 40,000 fans. We've just started sort of tying to build our Instagram page up and mostly our Instagram is posting nice photos from the businesses. We have around like 4,200 fans/followers.

RICH: Then how many deals? How many transactions do you have on an average week? A month?

ARCH: So right now, we have like more than 160 business and the deals that we have live on our website should be around 100 right now. We don't have that many..as much transactions per month as I would have liked, but we're growing continuously. We sort of like year on year we are doing pretty well around 300-500 % growth. So, we're sort of, yeah, trying to push that up more.


RICH: A lot of charities particularly struggle with how do I create social. Like I only got 32 likes, I only have 100 likes, like what does it matter? What were some of the techniques you use that you realize like wow, we got 50 more we got 5% and not just they click through. What were the things you learned through social?

ARCH: Well, it always changes.

RICH: It is a bit of a whack amole right?

ARCH: Right. But, I think that the most important thing is quality content and I mean its...it's an easy word, but it's one of the most difficult things to do.

RICH: It depends upon who is....Social Giver or something else.

ARCH: Yeah. Having quality content is probably one of the biggest factors to getting people to share. Then when people do share, like how do you get, how do you make sure they like your page as well. So that's more difficult.

RICH: So if you look at the content that you put out and you said it has to be good content. Now obviously that is in the context of social givers own business model. I talk a lot about you shouldn't put crying babies as the lead image, right? You should inspire people.

ARCH: Although that does work. But we try to avoid it for a lot of charities that actually works very well. In Thailand especially, a lot of charities go through..like with drama. They create drama. Like, this big rich company is about to close down this house, which is like could be a museum, let's raise funds for it. That raises loads of funds. Or like a charity that has been working to protect elephants is now 60 million bhat in debt we need to close down. Then suddenly, people donate like 100 million bhat to it. So, you know what I don't know. I think these ya know sad stories sometimes work and work very well.

RICH: But can you do it over and over and over or can you only use it once?

ARCH: I think if you over due it, like people would sort of like kick you for it.


RICH: How do you then position content? How do you try and inspire people to be engaged?

ARCH: We, ya know, I think like there was a time when I thought about these two ways of advertising and the first way is promoting the cause. Sort of like if I promoted the cause, I would be targeting people who already cared .

The second way is promoting the deals. I think like the reason we decided to go with the second option is because I felt that by promoting the deals, what we are essentially doing is getting people who might not have cared to suddenly now donate money to charity. When they do, and we provide them the content of ,ya know you're last vacation put a child through school and this is what happened. I'm betting that this will have an impact on them, on them becoming a socially conscious consumer in the future. So, we see this as more of a long term bet where we're building sort of the community of people who will eventually care more about society. That's sort of what I'm very interested in, like creating change.


RICH: Why choose this? What's going on here that made you say I have to do this?

ARCH: Um, I think it came more because like I decided that this is what I wanted to do with my life. Like, many, many years back before I joined the social sector to help other organizations, I sort of felt like I wanted my work to be meaningful because it is something that I would have to do as a majority of the time that I spent of my life. So I sort of, my goal or my mission was I wanted to change the world. So I, so I look for ways that I thought would be best for changing the world and I think I believe that this is it.

RICH: What are some of the headaches that you've had that...lets' just say the ones you've learned the most from, but only in reflection.

ARCH: Actually I think my biggest headache was building this model. Because we needed to build a model that was a win/win/win for every party that got involved. This sort of development of this took me about 2 years. Ya know, at the time I was doing other things, helping other organizations and getting paid by other organizations to sort of consult for them. This was sort of something that we tested out and redeveloped and rebuilt.
The biggest headache when we were building this actually besides the model now that I mention, is the website. In the beginning we outsourced the development and we had to build 3 different websites before it was something we could use.

RICH: Was it because you over engineered it?

ARCH: Yeah.

RICH: I have the same problem. What do you got planned going forward? What do you hope to achieve?

ARCH: So, we are planning to launch an app in November. Right now we have an app, but it's a sort of mobile version of our website, but...


ARCH: Honestly I don't know. But we have a native app coming on the iPhone and Android in November. So I am really looking forward to that because we've sort of seen like most of our users shifting to using our website on their phones. So now, around 65% use Social Giver on their phones. So, I think we're sort of moving in an a direction is that our customers are using us more. We have a few pending deals from big companies that we're planning to close soon. It might be possible that we might have a car on our platform.


RICH: That would be cool. What keeps you going? I mean you got a bunch of headaches. You're building an enterprise. You got staff...they're not even working over here! They're just eating chips in the middle of the interview! So what keeps you going on a daily basis? Like entrepreneurship is hard.

ARCH: I think the biggest thing is having a great team. Our team is actually very cool.

RICH: I can tell!

ARCH: As you can see.

RICH: That's good, that's good.

ARCH: When you have a great team and everyone is sort of working together toward one really cool goal, that sort of is inspiring by itself. Us having that ya know, big vision that we want to change the world. Sort of seeing that, you know what this is possible from what we've done so far and from what we've achieved so far, sort of gives us hope that ya know, that we might actually get there. But it's still a risk.


RICH: So I have a question just generally of what's happening in Bangkok with social entrepreneurialism. Ya know, Singapore's been a hub. Bangkok's tried to be a hub. Shanghai we've got a little bit. So what's happening here in Bangkok. How's the echo system, is it more Thai than foreign, is it more foreign that Thai? Like' what's happening here?

ARCH: I think the social enterprises are mostly Thai's doing it. But the sort of tech startups. There's a lot of foreigners coming in to do tech startups here in Thailand. I think social enterprise in Thailand is growing, but it's not..I think it was growing, but it might have stalled a little bit in the past two-three years, two years.

RICH: Because of?

ARCH: I think that's just a lack of success with the existing social entrepreneurs. I feel like we don't get enough support from the government. Not even as much as startups get. So, a lot of social entrepreneurs have sort of jumped into startups instead.

RICH: Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur or a tech startup?

ARCH: We are both. Lucky for us!

RICH: So you got the good and you got the good.

ARCH: We have both. I think, yeah, I think that!


RICH: That's really a romantic idea that sucks a lot of people in. Their like I'm going to change the world too. So if you have a viewer here that is like, I want to change the world...what would you tell them to do? Because wanting to change the world and changing the world is very different things. What are three things or five things that if you're going to get into this space, you have to know and do as daily practice.

ARCH: I think the biggest thing is asking yourself what would you give to change the world. A lot of the times you're going to come up with, come up against challenges that you never thought you'd have to face.

RICH: There's a story in that!!!

ARCH: Yes, there is! Yeah,

RICH: You're on video, why don't you tell it?

ARCH: Sort of you need to be able to, ya know, pick yourself up and sort of remember that hey, this is what you'd said you'd do. Really believe or really, yeah, really believe that you will actually sacrifice all these things for it. So that's one thing.

The second thing is I think you need to test out the idea with a lot of people and that sort of involves talking to as many people as you can. When I started out, I thought man this is such a great idea. I'm not going to tell anyone about it because someone else is going to steal it. Then, ya know, up to the point I was like damn, I can't keep doing this anymore ya know, I gotta tell people. Then I realized that the more people you tell, the more people want to help. So we get like loads of people coming in offering help all the time.

That sort of is to test whether one, you're idea is good enough yet. Two, whether you can find enough sort of super fans or advocates who will help make this happen. Because I think on of the biggest factor to a startup success is how viral could it be and how viral could it be is sort of dependent on how likely that it is that someone will recommend you to their friends. Sort of telling people is the best way to test that. Then you know when you get more and more people sort of telling more people about Social Giver, then you sort of see that, yey, this is starting to stick. People are starting to talk about it. That's the second thing.

The third thing is to test if you are impact and revenue model works and if its aligned.

RICH: Are you actually helping anybody, right? If not, get out!

ARCH: Ha, right. If your impact model does not work, then just become a business. Then you can donate your profits. If your revenue model doesn't work, just become an NGO. If both of them work and if both of them are aligned, then you can run a social enterprise. Sort of having these two be aligned is very difficult actually, much more difficult than you'd imagine.

RICH: And if none of them work, go get a job.

ARCH: Right!

RICH: That's great. Thanks very much.

For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.