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Get carrotmobbing with founder Brent Schulkin - Huddler Interview

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You asked Brent Schulkin, mastermind behind Carrotmob, all your mobby and carrotty questions.  And whether or not you've heard of this new (and briliant) organization, it's one that absolutely should be on your radar. 

 

The 1 sentence pitch is that they mobilize large numbers of consumers to combine their spending power to a product/brand/service that has committed to make the most significant commitment to sustainability compared to their competitors. The first Carrotmob involved a number of grocers/liquor stores in San Francisco - one committed to use 22% of their Carrotmob generated revenues toward sustainable improvements to their store and the Mob supported the store to the tune of $10k in one day! The plan is to apply the same principle to more businesses and products on an increasingly larger scale - we're pumped about it at Huddler.

 

They're going to do big things in the world of social and environmental responsibility.  We're lucky enough to have Brent sticking around for a few days - so if you've got any follow-up questions, don't be shy!



Q:  I see you're co-founding a for-profit company called Virgance.  What sort of projects to you plan for Virgance to oversee besides Carrotmob? (by dana1981)

A:  We have several ideas for other projects that Virgance will work on, but our main focus right now is Carrotmob. We don’t want to give away our ideas yet, so you’ll have to wait and see. The main thing that all the ideas have in common is that we are going to use the power of social networks for good. Carrotmob is a very social idea that involves coming together with your neighbors to make positive changes in your community. We’re working on ways that we can let that social idea flourish in online social networks. Sites like Facebook and Myspace have made it very easy for people to organize themselves in fun ways, and we want to harness that kind of behavior and use it for something more meaningful than, like, zombie games. Virgance may try out a variety of projects, but the overarching goal is to create positive change in the world.



Q:  What new Carrotmob events are in the works? Will it be specific to the Bay Area, or are you expanding? (combined question by dana1981 and Alejandro)

A:  The goal of the next Carrotmob campaign will be to make one of the casinos in Vegas agree to turn out all their lights. Hmmm. Ha. OK, we’re not quite at that level yet. But we are working on getting a couple more campaigns going. We want to see as many campaigns as possible, but rather than spending all our time planning repeated campaigns in this area, we’re investing a summer’s worth of work on making it possible for anyone to run their own campaigns pretty easily. So we will probably see another one in the Bay Area in the next couple months, and we’ll try to expand our horizons and do one in another area as well. But the real flood of campaigns should get started closer to the end of the year, and at that point we’ll be hoping to see them happening all over the world.



Q:  I live in a VERY rural area.  Is Carrotmob planning anything that people like myself could be involved in? (by herodrx1)

A:  Yes! Herodrx1, you will soon be able to plan your own campaign, and we’ll have some guidelines that will help explain what the pre-requisites are to pulling off a good local campaign. If you live in Antarctica (watch out for falling ice shelves) it may not be that feasible, but there are lots of ways you can be creative with the idea, so don’t assume it won’t work. But our eventual goal is still to do Carrotmobs with big, global brands. Right now we aren’t going to try taking on the big guys, because we want to build a huge grassroots base first. But someday you’ll be able to support the cause by just going to your local store and buying whatever product wins our Carrotmob competition. I should also add that we’re going to have a lot that you can do as part of the Carrotmob online community, which will come into existence in a couple months….



Q:  Brent - I loved the video.  How scalable do you think your carrotmob model to be? (by
MagdalenaC)

A:  Infinitely scalable. It worked for little stores. I believe we can make it work for big stores. Then little brands. Then big brands. I don’t really see a limit. Maybe in a ten years we’ll see all the NATO member countries saying, “OK. Look China. Look Russia. Saving the world from being destroyed by global warming is within reach, but not if you both keep burning your huge reserves of coal. Here’s the deal. We would attack you, except the carbon footprint of war is totally huge, so that’s out. We’re going to Carrotmob you. Which of you countries will agree to shut down all of your coal mines immediately? Whoever does this will be given a trillion dollars in aid, and all NATO member countries agree to create tariffs and tax incentives that will lead all the businesses based in those countries to trade with your country, and not with the other one. Do we have a deal? Winner becomes the dominant global economic superpower, loser faces imminent collapse. Think it over. If you could just let us know by Tuesday that’d be greeeeat.”



Q:  How do you see the distinction between for-profit and non-profit organizations coming into play with Carrotmob and Virgance? (by stins)

A:  Good question, Stins. Well our “product” is activism, basically. We all think of that as “non-profit work,” not because activism needs to be non-profit by it’s very nature, but because most of the activism we’re used to seeing is produced by non-profit groups or individuals. I think we are lucky enough to have discovered a way to run a company that produces activism in a way that’s profitable. And that’s exciting! But when I look for role-models in the world of for-profit activism, I come up rather empty-handed. Is anyone really doing what we want to do? And if not, why not? Well the whole idea of profiting off of activism just seems sort of suspicious. Like, here we are trying to save the world, but if we’re a for-profit we must have other motives, right? And that must mean we can’t be trusted, right? Well sure we’d like to make money off this project, but that only seems suspicious because we all ASSUME that making money off of it will somehow undermine the activism. But because of what our business model is, that won’t happen.

We expect to get most of our revenue from various types of online advertising. That will be possible because we will have lots of people (activists) using our system. They will only use our system if it does what they want, which is to empower them to do good, to create massive social change, and to make the planet more sustainable. In other words, if we do a good enough job that activists like to use our system, we will make money, and we can reinvest that into new projects that will empower even more activists. Now let’s take a moment to imagine a horrifying parallel universe in which the founder of Carrotmob suddenly stops caring about sustainability and starts only caring about making as much money as possible. This sort of worst case scenario would still be OK, because the most profitable thing for an immoral creep to do would still be to do good and improve the Carrotmob system, in order to keep the activists happy, in order to keep the money flowing. What it boils down to is that the incentives are properly aligned in this business. It’s not even about the for-profit/non-profit distinction. It’s about what the priorities are and how you can have trust in the institution. A non-profit can do a bad job and spend all its money on fundraising and bureaucracy if the incentives aren’t aligned. Conflicts of interest can happen just as easily in non-profits. We mainly chose the for-profit route after realizing how our incentives would be aligned, and because we knew it would help us get talented people and grow faster. We’re planning to codify our commitment to stakeholder value, not just shareholder value. We’re planning to be the most transparent company in the world. While doing all this we’re planning on pushing the for-profit/non-profit boundary one step closer to obsolescence.



Q:  What was your biggest challenge in organizing your first event? (by nitedreamer)

A:  The fact that I didn’t yet have a mob. There was no evidence that anyone would show up, other than my own confidence. And I couldn’t point to an example of my idea working successfully anywhere else in the past. Hopefully that challenge will no longer be an issue in future campaigns.



Q:  What is the best way we can spread the idea of Carrotmob campaigns to other friends, family, strangers with great ideas?  And will you also outline the steps one will take (using the tools provided by Carrotmob) to successfully start and manage their own campaigns? (by jessg)

A:  For now you can continue to pass along the video of the first campaign, articles about us, interviews like this, and so on. Join us on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and our mailing list. Then sit tight. In a couple months we’ll have great new ways to spread the word, and lots of resources for planning campaigns.



Q:  Brent - how can only one man (you) be so awesome? Seriously, what do you see as the most important, relatively low barrier of entry changes that businesses can make using money garnered through a Carrotmob spending spree? (by deej)

A:  Thanks Deej…you flatter me so…are you coming onto me? I have a girlfriend, dude. I’d say that the biggest “low-hanging fruit” is energy-efficiency, because becoming more efficient will save businesses money anyway in the long-term. Asking Chevron to clean up a rainforest is an example of something much more difficult, and that kind of campaign may come later. For now there are so many easy, win-win efficiency improvements we can do that we might as well focus on that. Energy-efficiency is right in Carrotmob’s wheelhouse, as they say.



Q:  If you don't have access to an energy auditor or equivalent person, how do you make sure the company you are "mobbing" holds up their end of the bargain? (by herodrx1)

A:  We’ll do our best to help you get access to an energy auditor or equivalent person. As far as enforcement goes, we’re just starting to research our options. It may be that contracts can be written that will allow us to enforce them by claiming “breach of contract” or fraud or something. But it may be more practical to rely on reputation. Businesses will be participating in Carrotmobs in part because they believe in the mob’s ability to give them a very good reputation. If they believe in that, they should also believe in the mob’s ability to destroy their reputation. Our need for formal enforcement mechanisms might decrease as our reputation increases. To cite another “mob-related” example, do you think Don Corleone ever had to write up formal agreements with small businesses in his neighborhood? No. His reputation made that unnecessary. Our activities will be far less sinister than those of the Corleone family, but it is my hope that together we can build a collective reputation that will entice businesses to do fabulous amounts of good without ever considering the possibility of trying to pull a fast one on the mob.

Thanks for all the questions you guys, and do stay tuned for our new system coming out in a couple months!
Brent



Edited by stins - Mon, 14 Jul 2008 20:10:25 GMT
post #2 of 2

I'm so wowed by the carrotmobbing idea to bring about social change.  As a retired teacher, I'm wondering how this concept could be applied to improve public schools.  There already exists an easy to find potential carrotmob of parents and teachers.  

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