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Can Do Kids: Formula For Jumpstarting a Business and a Cause

Usually companies start supporting causes after being in business awhile. Now some are starting a business for a cause. Like Ethos, Newman’s Own and Can Do Kids. The “do good” message is central to the business model. The cause is as important as the profits. Coaching three start-ups was a joy. Can Do Kids energy bar ceo, Deborah Churchill Luster’s message appears everywhere in her business. Like Kris Bordessa, she believes in engendering self-confidence, cooperation and competence in young people. Making it fun too. I met Deborah, today’s podcast guest, when she was president of Annie’s Homegrown. Paul Geffner and I were on the founding board. Those macaroni and cheese boxes grabbed your eye on the grocery shelves, what with the rabbit staring at you from the green, red, yellow and purple packages. Many shopping mothers would pick up a box, see co-founder Ann Withey, read her “Be Green” message, then toss a couple of boxes into their cart.Deborah and others, including me, were seeking investors for the fast-growing start-up. We’d not done that before. It proved to be a priceless way to get to know each other. Since then, she’s married another entrepreneur and had four children.Then she took what she learned from that first venture, called on the contacts with whom she’s stayed in contact, recruited friends and family and started Can Do Kids. She and her team work part time to live the work/life balance part of their Can Do message.Here’s some of Luster’s “Can Do” lessons for growing your business and your cause:1. Have a specific message in which you passionately believe.2. Sell a high-quality product or service that complements and reinforces your message.3. Offer supportive products (books, DVDs, bumper stickers, online services) that:• Your competitors don’t offer, so your company becomes one-of-a-kind.• Enable customers to be a part of “our” movement and tell friends.• Attracts the media to the back story of your business.4. Don’t “just” donate to groups that matter to your customers, get active in them.5. Provide super easy ways for customers and others to make suggestions and learn what you’ll do about them. (Two suggestions: get rid of the peanuts and bring the price down.)6. Meet regularly, in person, with a small group of your competitors. Deborah meets with other Bay Area-based women ceos of food companies.Hear more in this podcast.

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