How Sam Davidson Stumbled Into Entrepreneurship By Saving The World

by Tim Jahn on July 27, 2010

Many of the creative entrepreneurs I’ve chatted with here have had some pretty ambitious goals.  But when I sat down to chat with Sam Davidson, I realized his company Cool People Care might be the most ambitious I’ve encountered yet.

Sam and his community are out to save the world.  But Sam didn’t exactly set out to do this from birth.  In fact, Sam and his Cool People Care co-founder Stephen Moseley both had jobs in the non-profit sector that they were happy at.  Becoming entrepreneurs wasn’t exactly the plan all along.

So how did Sam find himself working to save the world?

Opportunity knocked, and of course, Sam answered.  He explains more of his unique story in our video interview above.

Transcript

Tim Jahn:
Why don’t you introduce yourself and give us your elevator pitch for Cool People Care?

Sam Davidson:
I’m Sam Davidson and Cool People Care is designed to connect people who want to make a difference with a chance to do that.  And so, what we offer is daily content on our website that we distribute through email, through RSS feed, and through our social media networks, that allow people to find one idea to make a difference in less than five minutes every single day.

And then while they’re on the site or while we have their attention, we also showcase our various non-profit partners around the country as well as local events.  We really want to be that one stop shop for people looking to take the first step into making a difference in their local community and doing something of impact and importance.

Tim Jahn:
Your site says that you’re more than a website, you’re growing a lifestyle. What does that mean?

Sam Davidson:
Yeah, for us, we think that caring and making a difference isn’t something that you just do for 5 minutes.  That’s our hook, that gets people in the door, that’s step 1.  But it’s really about all the decisions you make that make up your day.  So it’s how you drive, how you commute, it’s the kind of coffee you drink, it’s how you vote, it’s where you shop, and so we want to showcase caring as being made up of all those decisions.

The kind of content that we offer really covers the spectrum of consumer decisions, how you spend your free time, what you watch on TV.  You name it, we’ll talk about it, as long as it can make the world a better place.

Tim Jahn:
A lot of people start companies to make money or to get billions of users, but you’re trying to save the world.  You are a business, I assume, so you do probably have a few people you have to pay, you probably have some lights to keep on.

How do you make money trying to save the world?

Sam Davidson:
We do that a couple of different ways.  One is through advertising on our site.  Obviously, we have a growing audience and people want to reach that audience.  The best fit for us is non-profit brands and any kind of corporate social initiative, and so we showcase those.

We also do a fair bit of consulting and brand strategy for non-profit and other socially responsible organizations.  But what’s really grown in the last 6 months has been our merchandise line.  We’ve always offered our own branded products but this year we started doing more with charities and producing fundraising merchandise.

Right now, for example, we have a Gulf cleanup line of bumper stickers, posters, t-shirts, that when you buy that, part of the purchase price goes to 2 different non-profits – the National Wildlife Federation and Shareholders Alliance of the Gulf of Mexico, which is helping in various ways with the cleanup efforts.

And so, while we do send a lot of that income to charity, we also make a little on that, cover some of our costs, definitely, on that.

Tim Jahn:
How did this all get started? How did you start Cool People Care?

Sam Davidson:
I come out of the non-profit sector and that’s where I’ve worked most and most recently.  Me and my co-founder Stephen Mosely met while working at a non-profit organization where we worked with teenagers and leadership programming.

We again saw the need that I discussed and really saw the opportunity.  So, we just said here’s what we need to do.  And so, being on the inside of the non-profit world really helped us to see how those run, to see how budgets are made, to see how money is raised, to see how volunteers are recruited, to see the struggles, the challenges, the benefits, to really see it from the inside.

We definitely didn’t start something we didn’t know anything about.  I think sometimes entrepreneurs think they can make money somewhere but they don’t understand the industry, they don’t understand the market, and they just see the potential dollars at the end of the rainbow and they chase it.  And there’s frustration, there’s a learning curve, and a lot of them may not make it.

For us, it was obviously we think doing the smart thing and being in a world that we understood well.

Tim Jahn:
I think you’re right about that.  Did you have the idea in mind prior to starting it or was it kind of you were working in the non-profit sector and realized there was something there?

Sam Davidson:
We were working in the sector and saw this need of young people to connect with organizations.  For us, that’s how it really happened, in that kind of chronological order where we didn’t enter the sector just to learn about it.  We were there, had jobs, were happy there, but just saw the opportunity and jumped on it.

Tim Jahn:
You had jobs and you were happy.  That’s interesting.  So many entrepreneurial stories start with people that weren’t happy and needed to find something else.  But you were fine, you didn’t need to start your own thing, right?

Sam Davidson:
No, we didn’t expect it to become that.  When we actually launched the site, we weren’t incorporated as a business and I had no business plan.  We just wanted to create a website that these people will find and connect.

It wasn’t until about 2 weeks in when we had our first check from advertising that we said, ok, we need to setup something so we can cash this.  And then we said we think we have something here that we think can be really good, so we set up everything, wrote the business plan, started dreaming and really strategizing about how to grow it long term.

Tim Jahn:
That’s kind of funny! It’s like, one day, oh crap, we have a business!

Sam Davidson:
Exactly, yeah!  Which is a good problem to have, there are worse problems obviously.  But a lot of what we’ve done over the years is reactive, I guess.  It’s been, oh here’s an opportunity that’s come our way, should we jump on it?

That can be beneficial because we don’t waste a lot of time, money, and resources trying something.  We just sort of say here’s an opportunity.  Our merchandise line started that way.  That was not in the original plan but somebody said, hey, if you guys put your name on a shirt, I’ll buy it, so we said alright, let’s do it.

Since then, we’ve grown it into a line offering 25 shirts over the last 4 years in different shirt styles and products.  It’s something we hope to keep growing long term.

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