Andrew Greer didn’t get into business to make money. In fact Purppl, his Kelowna-based startup, is structured so it legally has to give most of its profits to charity.
But when you build a company that’s trying to fix society’s most pressing social issues, you don’t factor getting rich into the equation.
“My first job was selling copiers for Xerox, and I made great money,” Greer said recently, speaking from the small boardroom that acts as Purppl’s office.
Working 60-80 hours a week and “selling more copiers than you can imagine,” Greer was once one of the top sales managers in Canada.
And then, he quit.
“You look at a job board and you’re like, ‘oh, do I want to sell Gatorade for the rest of my life?’ No. Nobody says that,” he said, smiling ever-so-slightly. “I would rather make less money and really enjoy what I’m working on, because why would you not spend your working hours on something you care about?”
The early stages of that journey for Greer started when he began working for Accelerate Okanagan, an organization that helps local tech companies grow (after five years, he’s still there today).
But even wrapped in the purposeful buzz of the tech community Greer saw wasted potential.
He said he saw lots of tech companies solving “great” problems, but just as many pouring resources into solving “vanity problems” that weren’t really benefitting society in any meaningful way.
Greer imaged the very likely case of a tech company inventing an app that streamlines delivery services and allows people to get their take-out 10 minutes faster.
“But then there’s a whole bunch of people on Leon and Lawrence [Avenues] that don’t have food,” he said.
Purppl, in the grandest view, is Greer’s way of getting those people food.
By bringing the lean startup principles of the tech sector to not-for-profit organizations, Purppl aims to give charities a sustainable business model that doesn’t rely too much on donations and grants.
Essentially, Greer does what Accelerate Okanagan does, but for charities instead of startups. He coaches them on how to streamline their organizations and helps them create sustainable business models.
“We get all these organizations trying to solve issues in our communities and they are stuck on these organizational models that are so dependent on grants and donations. But how can we expect them to solve our community’s toughest problems … on an organizational model that is tied to unknown priorities?” he asked.
He points to the local chapter of Big Brothers and Big Sisters, which raises most of its capital by selling used clothing to Value Village.
The organization hired Purppl to help better run that program, and Greer’s team taught them what a business financial statement should look like, what a proper business partnership looks like and how to better handle the logistics of such a large effort.
“They’ve been doing this quiety for 20 years and they just need some support,” Greer said.
Greer pointed out that there is a lot of “inertia” in the “traditional” world of social enterprise, because a lot of money gets funneled into social causes and “there’s some comfortable operators there that are happy with status quo.”
His big goal with Purppl is to disrupt that inertia, creating better funded social organizations that can do more good in their communities.
It might not be the most lucrative gig in the world, but at least he’s not selling Gatorade.
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