Social entrepreneur Jasmine Crowe has certainly made her mark in an industry that lacks diversity.
Crowe has won praise from several quarters since founding Atlanta-based Goodr in 2017. The sustainable waste management app leverages technology to combat hunger.
Today Goodr is valued at $12 million. To date, the 37-year-old has successfully raised $2.7 million from investors. Under her leadership, Goodr has redirected over two million pounds of surplus food from restaurants, event centers, and businesses to millions of people who are facing food insecurity.
The startup’s clients now include Netflix, Hartsfield Jackson Airport and Georgia World Congress Cente, among others. In fact, Crowe has become one of the most recognized and respected voices in debates surrounding tech-centered solutions to food waste.
Earlier this month Crowe released a video in which she shared five key tips that helped her reach her goals as a social entrepreneur. Introducing the video she said: “I encourage all entrepreneurs to go for it- we need more people solving social issues.”
Be sure to check out the video and write-up on Crowe’s must-read tips for social entrepreneurs.
Although they do seek to make money, social entrepreneurs are driven less by profit margins and more by social impact and a desire to tackle some of society’s most pressing issues. Often passionate social entrepreneurs start their journey with a focus on a local or regional problem, with a view to expanding their enterprise nationally or even globally.
However says Crowe, that passion must come from a place of first-hand knowledge of the problem that the business was created to solve. Without it, she says, you lack the insight and experience to create truly unique products and services that make a difference in people’s lives.
“I would never have been successful with Goodr had I not started Sunday Soul in 2013,” Crowe says. “If I wasn’t feeding people who were experiencing homelessness and hunger on the streets of Atlanta I would never have understood the scale of this problem.
She adds: “You can’t just….see the problem and say ‘oh I’d like to solve hunger if you don’t know anything about the plight of people who have experienced hunger and you haven’t really walked that walk.”
If you are passionate about creating a social enterprise aimed at tackling a particular issue but don’t have much in the way of personal experience or contacts Crowe suggests a number of steps you can take.
“You can volunteer, go work at a shelter, or work with another social entrepreneur that’s trying to solve a problem you’re interested in. Never start a company that tries to solve a problem you’ve never experienced or worked in.”
In the wake of the pandemic, new businesses are launching at an unprecedented rate
According to the US Census Bureau, there were 3.3m new business applications filed in 2020.
However, statistics also show that over half of all new businesses close their doors within the first five years. Many entrepreneurs have said it before – running a business is not for the faint-hearted.
But, says Crowe, if you find your niche and prepare properly before launching, nothing can stop you from chasing your dream and doing what you love to do.
Speaking about the experience of raising funds for her company she recalls: “I entered pitch competitions because that was my way of funding Goodr for the first year and a half. I didn’t have any other way to do it. And I prepared so much. It’s the craziest thing when I think about it, but I pretended I was a rapper. I’m in Atlanta so at the time the Future song Mask Off was really popular. That song was about 3 minutes. Most of the pitch competitions I was entering would be anywhere between 4 to 6 minutes.
“I would play that song and I would start my pitch from the beginning. When the last chorus was coming on I would know that I needed to be getting towards the end of my pitch. If I messed up I would make myself start over again.”
She continues: “So I was prepared and so I won a lot of money, over $250,000 in prize money. It allowed me to get those first initial things done like the website, the logos, getting Incorporated, meeting with lawyers, having the conversations with app developers which was critical. You have to be prepared for the opportunities that are going to come to you so prepare, prepare, prepare.”
Most entrepreneurs know that getting the right people on board is critical to the success of their company. And the investment of time and effort it takes to build a great team is something Crowe says cannot be rushed.
“Don’t just go hiring your friends and your family. I definitely made that mistake early on. I hired a friend and who I loved dearly but didn’t have the experience in building a start-up. So for that role, I spent a lot of time and a lot of money on someone who didn’t give me a return on the investment. I hired not for experience, not for what they could do but from my personal love.”
She continues: “Your team is critical. If you’re going after venture capital, which is the route that I took, I can’t tell you how many investors you’re going to meet with who will ask you about your team. They want to know who’s leading products? Who’s leading sales? Who’s leading business?”
And says the entrepreneur, don’t be afraid to poach people from other companies.
“There are not a lot of big companies that are solving hunger at scale like Goodr so I’m often looking at waste management companies. I also look at ride-sharing companies and I think ‘Who can I talk to from DoorDash or Uber Eats who would maybe want to come and join Goodr’s team’ and who really understands our operations.
“Also if you’re solving a social issue you really need to build a team that cares about the issue as much as you do. I ask everyone I interview ‘why does hunger matter to you?’ Don’t do as I did and try to find people to be on record so you can say you have a team. You really need to find people who are just as passionate about solving a problem as you are.”
To be successful every entrepreneur has to be able to execute strategies that get them to the levels of achievement they envision.
According to Crowe a big part of being able to execute effectively is being organized and determined.
“I always say people have great ideas but they lack execution. One of the things that was really important to my journey was that I would create a to-do list and execute on that to-do list.
“I would meet with mentors and they would say you need to do a, b, c, and d. That could involve going to potential customers and asking how much would they pay for my service or figuring out what made me different.”
Being able to execute can go a long way to gaining the confidence of investors says Crowe. It helps position you as someone who can turn a great business idea into a reality.
“Mentors would always say to me ‘I’m so impressed that everything I told you to do you went away and did it’” she recalls. “One of my mentors was Jewel Burks Solomon, the former founder of Partpic which was acquired by Amazon. She also became one of Goodr’s first angel investors and gave me my first investment into the company.
“And I always say that a lot of that is because everything that she recommended or suggested I do I did.
“You have to execute. You have to make a plan, write it down, make it simple, and then go after it. A great saying that I love is plan your work and then work your plan. Tons of people have ideas but it’s what you’re going to do execute those ideas is how you’re going to get there.”
It’s often said that entrepreneurs need a lot of self-belief in order to overcome the various challenges they will have to navigate and stay true to their vision despite what doubters may think. Jasmine Crowe is no exception.
“There were people who had a lack of belief in my company but I never had that lack of belief in myself,” she says. Crowe tells two stories that illustrate her point.
“One story is about my parents. I love them to death but my parents have been working all their lives. My dad was in the military and my mum was worked in healthcare, always in an executive role.
“When I was starting Goodr I remember my dad saying ‘ maybe you should get a job’. And my mum would ask me what ‘exactly are you doing?’ and ‘how are you going to make money?’ And while they loved me I could tell that the belief in the success of a company wasn’t always there because they didn’t quite understand it.
“But if no one else believes in me I always believed in myself. I would always say to myself ‘Jasmine, this is going to work, don’t you worry about it.”
Crowe’s second story about the power of self-belief centers on her experience of being in a business accelerator program.
“It was probably the worst ever experience for me personally” she recalls. “It was a peer review model. There were 10 teams and I was the only black woman leading a company. Most of the other companies, with the exception of one, were led by white males.
“Every time we met we would review each other’s companies. And they would say things about my business like ‘oh it isn’t going to exit well’. They would rate me really low on things like a proof-of-concept, even though I had customers. They would rate me low on my ability to scale, even though Goodr is now in 10 States and 15 cities.”
Crowe continues: “I would get these reports back and just feel terrible. I’d think ‘I’m not going to be successful’.
Then I started thinking ‘what the hell do they know? They’re startup founders too. It’s not like these people have built billion-dollar companies.
“I had to remind myself who I was. And I had to believe that this was going to work. Hold yourself accountable for the times when you messed up. That’s a big part of that self-belief. Don’t always just believe that you are perfect. Believe that there is opportunity for improvement. Believe that you were the person that was put on this earth to solve this problem. Believe that opportunities are going to come to you, that great things are going to happen but be willing to put in the work to get there.”