Why an Australian Social Enterprise Lets People Pay What They Want Using Shopify Plus

Why an Australian Social Enterprise Lets People Pay What They Want Using Shopify Plus

It’d be easy to ignore a phone call in the middle of a movie.

Especially after years of rejection, Daniel Flynn, the co-founder of Thankyou, an organization hell bent on ending global poverty in this lifetime, had no reason to believe a call from an unknown number would be laced with news so good it’d change the world.

Take the call or ignore it?

In Thankyou’s home of Australia, the majority of consumer goods are purchased at just two supermarket chains. It means getting valuable shelf space there can make or break someone like Flynn itching to sell water, food and body care products that gives 100% of profits to help people in need.

For four years, the supermarkets had rejected Flynn’s overtures.

Take the call or ignore it?

In 2013, the Thankyou team tried something different. Rather than pitching again to the supermarkets to stock their ranges (which they had done numerous times and been rejected), the company turned it around and asked Australians to jump on social media to tell the supermarkets that if they stocked the Thankyou products, they’d buy them.

That’s really all the supermarkets want to know with a new product; will consumers buy it.

“We went straight to the people,” says Wesley Rodricks, the Head of Creative Design at Thankyou. “We asked Australians to tell the supermarkets that they would buy these products if the supermarkets would stock them.”

The people responded.

Helicopters with messages urging the supermarkets to listen flew above the grocers’ corporate glass-windowed headquarters.

Take the call or ignore it?

For some reason, Flynn stepped outside the movie theatre and answered the call.

It was a supermarket executive, and she wanted to talk shelf space.

Here’s exactly how the conversation went per Flynn’’s account in his book Chapter One:

“I wasn’t sure if I recognised the number or not but I had that feeling, that gut feeling, that I should answer the call. Should we have really been in a movie straight after a meeting this big? I ran up the back of the cinema and out the door and took the call. It was the supermarket we’d met with that morning and I was on loudspeaker with more than one person; they asked if I had a second to chat.
I found a quiet space outside the cinema and they continued, “We wanted to put a call through to say that we loved your presentation. We thought we should let you know that we’ve decided to range your water and food products nationally.” They added that they would consider the body care range, although they couldn’t commit to it then and there, but wanted to let us know their decision on water and food straight away.

As our conversation wrapped up, they asked if they could announce their commitment that day.

I hesitated and asked if I could call them back. My head was spinning. “What the heck had just happened?” I asked myself.
This was not part of the plan. There was meant to be two or three weeks (or even months, some experts warned) of meetings, negotiations and waiting as they considered our proposal. They weren’t meant to say yes after five hours!
I ran back in to the movie and was barely able to talk due to my state of disbelief, so I just told Justine we had to go. Hugh Jackman could wait for another day.”

Give Away 100% of the Profits?

In just a few hours, the supermarkets had agreed to do something they had been resisting for years.

The movie would have to wait.

Flynn was on his way back to Thankyou’s headquarters to deliver the news where his team was less than optimistic. “We were bracing for more rejection,” Rodricks concedes. “We were just hoping that if we flipped the dynamic and derisked the proposition by proving the products would sell, the supermarkets might give us a chance.”

While Thankyou’s cereal, snacks, and body washes may look like normal everyday consumer packaged goods, the causes they’re associated with are anything but. Born in 2008, Thankyou is a social enterprise committed to donating 100-percent of its profits to causes aimed at ending global poverty and saving lives:

  • Profits from bottled water sales donated to those without safe water
  • Profits from food sales donated to those who are hungry
  • Profits from body care product sales donated to those in need of hygiene and sanitation services
  • Profits from baby care sales donated to families in need of maternal and child health care

With investors seeking a return uninterested in a company that gives away all of its margin. And in light of the skepticism Thankyou says many Aussies have regarding charities and how donations are spent, the team figured it might be able to make a bigger impact by creating a for-profit company that sold everyday items connected to specific charitable endeavors.

“I think there's a part of everyone that wants to help people in need, but the reality is it's not always financially viable,” says Thankyou’s PR Manager Melissa Morris. “With Thankyou, people can purchase everyday items like hand wash, nappies and muesli that they're going to buy anyway and we give 100% of the profits to water, sanitation, food and maternal and child health programs to help end global poverty."

It was a company Daniel Flynn, wife Justine Flynn and best mate Jarryd Burns had started with little more than three bottled water products being sold in 7-Eleven stores that was on the cusp of potentially selling 14 different products on major supermarket shelves.

When Flynn made the announcement to the Thankyou team…

He was initially met with deafening silence.

“We were in shock,” Rodricks recalls. “It took a moment for it to sink in because we had braced ourselves for the worst but once it did sink in we began celebrating.”

But there was a catch.

What would normally be a six month process of getting the products to market would have to be done in half the time.

Oh, and there’d be one more mountain to climb.

After winning the war for shelf space in 2013, Thankyou would need to raise more than $1.2 million dollars to fund its operations in 2016 and beyond.

And it had just 28-days to earn it.

Name Your Price

"We operate as a business - the more we make, the more we can give. That's why we focus on making epic products. I mean why would you make regular nappies when you can make cool ones with monochrome prints and load them with quality ingredients. We have an innovation team dedicated to making sure our product is remarkable and better (we think) than what's on the market so our community wants to buy them."

“Our 100% business model while incredible for making an impact on global poverty has its challenges when it comes to scaling. We know from experience that when we grow Thankyou, we increase the amount we give, but finding a way not just to grow once, but ensure continual future growth was challenging, but not impossible, we just needed to get creative, and that's where Chapter One comes in."

The idea was to raise $1.2 million in four weeks to fund the business and its expansion starting with a nappy and baby care range that needed $600,000 and launching Thankyou into New Zealand that needed another $600,000. In a nutshell, here’s the plan co-founder Flynn and the Thankyou team came up with:

  • Write a book detailing Thankyou’s journey and lessons learnt and invite people to join the movement
  • Title it Chapter One and allow people to pay whatever they want for it
  • Use a robust ecommerce platform to power & fulfill orders
  • Commit to packing books in a warehouse that gets demolished in 28 days and invite people to pack with you
  • Make a seven-minute one-take video walking backwards through 12 sets

Here’s the inspiring promotional video Flynn shot in one take, which is impressive after noting how actively he uses his surroundings:

Tens of thousands of people were inspired.

But difficult technical work remained. After finding an application that would allow people to actually pay whatever they wanted, Thankyou had to modify the app to ensure it could handle the spike in traffic the company expected when the campaign launched.

It would also need an ecommerce platform with which the app and the company’s accounting and shipping software could easily integrate. Remember, the Thankyou team had just 28 days to make it all happen before the warehouse gets knocked down. It’s why Thankyou chose to partner with Shopify to power its ecommerce efforts surrounding the book launch.

“Shopify saw what we were trying to do, believed in us, and even offered the platform to us at the reduced charity rate,” Rodricks says. “They really backed us when we needed them.”

That would never be more evident than moments after the launch.

Demand for the book was so great, big hearted donors overwhelmed the Chapter One site during the first night of the campaign. Immediately, Hayley Kyte, Thankyou’s merchant success manager at Shopify, assembled a team that instantly upgraded Thankyou to Shopify Plus, an enterprise ecommerce solution for high volume merchants.

The site was back up in a just a few hours.

“We could not have done this on any other platform than Shopify,” Rodricks says. “We didn’t have a big budget or a staff to focus on stuff like server maintenance. With Shopify, you’re free to focus on what matters- like raising the money we needed to change the world.”

Over the next 28 days, the Chapter One campaign easily exceeded its goals:

  • Thankyou raised more than $1.4 million dollars
  • More than 54,000 books were sold
  • The site converted at a rate of 7.5%
  • The campaign gained over 120 mentions in the media

People, which include families and groups of students who contributed as much as $1,400 for a single book, even showed up at Thankyou’s warehouse and volunteered to pack the books for shipping.

“It was really humbling,” Morris says of the public response. “We're a team of passionate perfectionists. We quite literally give everything we have to every facet of a campaign. So when it launches, you can feel quite vulnerable and open - your heart and soul is in the news and being discussed on social media. To see hundreds of thousands of people buy the book and share the video was just surreal for us. We had a few moments while packing books with people who had flown from around Australia to pack with us, where we’d stop and go “Whoa, guys, we did it. This is really happening!”

Campaign Team

The Chapter One campaign team: L-R back row Steph Bal, Wesley Rodricks,
Justine Flynn, Daniel Flynn, Jarryd Burns

L-R front row Melissa Morris, Sarah Prescott, Rebecca Chua

Diapers That Save Lives

Against steep odds, Thankyou has successfully butted heads with industry giants, earned its way onto store shelves, and provided life-saving services and care to people across the globe:

  • More than $4.6 million in profits have been donated
  • More than 200,000 people now access to have safe water
  • More than 300,000 people now have access to hygiene and sanitation
  • More than 100,000 people now have access to food

Thankyou sells Chapter One world-wide online at thankyou.co/chapterone.

You’ll have to visit a brick & mortar Australian retailer to purchase the water, food, body care and baby items it sells. Or shop.thankyou.co for gift sets (AUS only). The baby range that they raised $600,000 for was recently launched and 100% of profits help get child and maternal health services for families in need globally.

“For parents who are going to buy nappies or baby care products like wash or lotion anyway,” Morris says. “Now the result of that purchase means they’re restoring dignity, hope and quite literally saving the lives of mums and babies, while using a product on their baby that’s great quality and looks cool. Imagine what the world could look like by the time that child has grown up.”

Demand for Thankyou’s products, combined with a popular site feature that allows customers to track the impact their purchases are having on people in need across the globe, has even sparked very preliminary internal discussions about whether to sell other products besides the book online.

For now, though, the company is focusing on its expansion into New Zealand which is also being funded by the money Chapter One raised. “We used Shopify to help us raise more than a million dollars which illustrates how powerful the platform is,” Rodricks says. “Beyond a doubt, it’s the most robust piece of software I’ve ever used- it’s rock solid.”

So too was co-founder Flynn’s decision to interrupt the movie he was enjoying.

To take a call that is already changing the world.