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Rahim Kanani, Skoll World Forum: Since founding GOOD magazine in 2006, what were some of the major milestones along the way that reflect how the company has since evolved, right through to the recent transformation last September – turning GOOD.is into an online community platform?
Ben Goldhirsh, GOOD: The company has evolved a great deal, and the journey has been about doing, learning from it, and doing more with that learning in mind. The key milestones that reflect this:
- October 2006: Our first issue of the magazine “________ Like You Give A Damn” is released. This was a huge effort by the entire team, making sure that we put out an awesome magazine that correctly reflected our mission and vibe. Casey Caplowe, co-founder and creative director, really lead this charge and nailed it within hours of going to print. It captured the ethos that we went forward with from that day on and is still reflected in what we do today.
- Our launch parties in NY and LA. Turns out we weren’t alone in wanting a more accurate reflection of doing good – one that moved from sacrificial to badass. Turns out there is an entire community of people who believed in our mission and wanted to connect with us and each other. Over 5,000 people showed up for these parties and really started the GOOD community. Seeing this community in person was an incredible validation.
- Engagements – the kind that led to weddings. A number of folks have gotten married from meeting at GOOD events, and this showed us that our value wasn’t just about reflecting an emerging sensibility, but that the brand could actively connect like-minds in a deep and meaningful way. This was the beginning of the evolution to GOOD as a global community and one where people wanted to make lifelong connections.
- 1,000,000 – when www.good.is passed the one million monthly unique visitors mark. Our subscription numbers and our local communities really validated our mission and approach, but elements in a movement were realistically only going to get so big. Passing this web milestone felt like the spirit of GOOD was wide and was shifting from a niche effort to a cultural movement: like we were really onto something that a large number of people dug and were getting behind.
- Maker – after working with Pepsi Refresh, we built GOOD Maker, a tool to fund projects from GOOD people around the world. Here we started realizing the desire to move from thought to action, and this laid the groundwork for our community not just being about learning, but about learning, doing, and celebrating.
- September 19, 2012: (Re)Launch Day. We pull the trigger and re-launched good.is as a place for our community to collaborate around driving progress by sharing what is good to learn and do. In addition to our editorial voice, the voices and efforts of our community members are properly represented and activated for the first time. 150k new members join in the first 4 months.
- February 2013, GOOD Local: 1000+ people apply from all across the globe to start local GOOD chapters in their community. GOOD Local aims to provide a way for members of the community to drive progress in person in their own communities. Applicants from China to Chile, Mexico to Morocco, and Indianapolis to India, validate that this desire pulses from around the world.
Has the vision and mission on which GOOD was founded on changed in any way, or are you still guided by the original North Star?
GOOD was founded on the mission “to do the most GOOD”, and that remains true today. In fact, what’s most exciting about where we’re taking the effort is that I think we are more aggressively, directly, and successfully pursuing that mission than ever before.
The first step was redefining the notion of “good” and what it can mean to “do good.” The magazine and first website helped reframe that, and we’ve been part of a major cultural shift to that end. The next step is convening and empowering the community that we’ve developed over the years and giving them the tools to better collaborate. The strength of the community is in its potential for large-scale impact made possible by working together as a team, so we are building to connect that team online at www.good.is, and offline through GOOD Local.
With the re-launch of GOOD.is, what’s at the core of this new community platform, and how are you measuring the success of it so far?
While there is a growing suite of tools that make up the platform, the core is the community itself. We see the platform as a place to aggregate our community, and allow people to better work together. In that regard we’ve been inspired by problems—in society, problems are remarkably interconnected: education problems lead to job problems, which lead to tax problems, which work well with infrastructure problems. At GOOD, we’re working to build a platform that better orchestrates how solutions work together too—connecting like-minded people working towards the same goal of individual and collective progress across a range of issues.
The fundamental approach to this collaboration revolves around sharing and engaging in what’s good to LEARN and DO. Since the launch this past September, over 130k people have joined GOOD, set up accounts, and started sharing things to LEARN and DO. Being able to measure these accountable actions – who learns what, who adds what to their to-do lists, and who eventually does it is very exciting – not only does it allow us to prioritize features to further facilitate such activity, but we can also begin to reflect back to our members the good they are generating at both an individual and collective level.
When you think about bridging online and offline citizen engagement, which is perhaps one of the toughest nuts to crack, what kinds of strategies or approaches are you taking to narrow this divide?
This has always been a critical piece for us and is a big component of what we’re doing this year. One major effort is GOOD Local, which brings the tools and support of the good.is platform to local communities via Local Leaders. We put out a call for applicants for these volunteer positions earlier this month and were overwhelmed with 1,000+ responses from all over the globe. Local chapters will be organizing monthly events and convening GOOD members in local communities, and will help bridge the gap between what is organized online and what is brought to life offline. The toughest nut to crack is not allowing the gravity of normality to pull this effort back into a more staid traditional siloed approach, but rather keeping this effort aligned at the primary values of “giving a damn” and support whatever manifestations flow forth.
With GOOD having been through incredible growth and transformation over the past many years, what are some of the leadership lessons you’ve learned looking back?
- Everything is an education. Without that perspective, the failures and mistakes are too painful to deal with.
- There are 50 right answers to every question and what’s most important is to pick one, go, learn from it, and iterate accordingly. It’s too easy to get paralyzed with discussion at the starting gate.
- There is success in the effort. Having success be solely a derivative of outcomes undermines the joy of the hustle.
- 5 people on the same page are better than 50 people with 5 on a different page. Debate is fundamental and must be supported, but debate is only effective if there is a shared sense of vision. Find a unified context, debate, try, learn, iterate.
- With vision in mind, get dirty, get busy, get on the grind. Accept that with the exception of those awesome few who get it right on the first swing and ride downhill, most of us are involved in efforts that are complex, confusing, evolving, partly broken, never perfect, and always needing improvement, so just keep the candle burning with the dreams, and then go try like hell.
While we’ve grown and transformed much during the past 6 years, we’re beginners, and so I write the above not from a place of wisdom or achievement which I hope we attain one day, but from the midst of the effort, thinking that all of us who are out there in the mix have experiences and learning that might be of interest to others who are similarly tackling tough challenges.