Ido Leffler | Crain's Twin Cities

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ido Leffler

Background:  

Yoobi is a school-supply and stationery brand sold at Target that matches each purchase with a donation to a school in need. 

The Mistake:

At a previous company I lost sight of the objective of our seed fund.

I have been an entrepreneur since day one of my career. Starting off as a young CEO is where a lot of people are finding themselves these days. My first CEO role was in my mid-20s, at Yes To Inc., a beauty brand (that makes face, body and hair care products). At Yes To, one of the first things we started was the Yes To Seed Fund. It was an amazing fund, to help communities to live better through self-sustaining food sources, and we were going to help them do that.

But very shortly, the seed fund became the “Whatever made Ido cry” fund. And it turns out a lot of things made me cry. What happened is we lost focus as I, as the CEO, started to dilute the message of what this seed fund was all about. And, in turn, my team didn’t know what the seed fund was about. And our customers definitely didn’t have a close connection to it because it was so sporadic.

It’s important for the team to feel they are doing so much more than selling a widget...

The Lesson:

It’s so important for every company today to have something that’s meaningful, in terms of a give-back component. It’s important for the team to feel they are doing so much more than selling a widget or creating a widget.

So when we started Yoobi, we made sure the cause was fundamentally rooted in the company. For us at Yoobi, it was a very simple problem. School teachers on average spend $486 each every year out of their own pocket on supplies for classrooms, and we have over 15 million kids who turn up to school with a lack of supplies, sometimes zero supplies. This was an issue that didn’t sit well with myself or my team. So we became laser-focused and didn’t let anything come even remotely close to diluting our mission of providing supplies to kids and teachers who need them the most.

For every Yoobi item we sell, another Yoobi item is donated to a classroom in need. It’s that simple.

That laser focus has meant that any new person who joins the company, on day one, that’s the first thing they are taught. At the end of the day they know what we are about. It’s about providing school supplies to kids who need them most.

The simpler the message, the less diluted the message [can become]. If you have a cause or a mission in your company, every single human being should be able to recite it in 20 seconds or less.

It’s also important because, when you start a company, there’s usually one or two of you, and then it gets bigger, and with every layer that’s added, the company gets progressively farther away from the original founding mission. The successful organizations are the ones that, no matter how far away from the originators, that message and mission are still something they feel as connected to as if they had been part of the founding team – whether you’re the last person hired.

At the end of the day you want your team to give a damn and to come to work with a real feeling that they can accomplish something that’s bigger than themselves. In Yoobi’s case, everyone in the building knows they are doing something that is going to help change the life of a child. We want our team to live and dream Yoobi because it makes them feel good, not because they’re stressed about it.

Follow Yoobi on Twitter @Yoobigives

Photo courtesy of Ido Leffler. 

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