What Can We Learn From Today’s Hottest Brands?
More and more, the playbook for building a business includes doing good. Here’s an inside look at the approaches of four rising-star start-ups, including Robinhood, co-founded by Vladimir Tenev (above).
Sixty-six percent of Young Innovators around the world see social responsibility as essential to the success of their business, according to a FedEx study conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit. And those qualities — bringing business goals together with doing good — are gaining importance in building a brand. Here are four up-and-coming companies that have built loyal followings in record time thanks, in part, to their inventive take on the issue of good. Read what their leaders had to say at the Fast Company Innovation Festival last fall in New York.
Paying It Forward
With backers such as Elon Musk and partners including Facebook, online payments start-up Stripe has clearly struck an important chord. As the back-end brainwork behind transactions for Apple Pay, Alibaba and Lyft, among other heavy-hitters, it’s simplified once-complicated systems into technology easily embedded into websites and apps. And because the steps are virtually invisible to the end user and Stripe takes just a tiny cut of transactions (there are no other fees), the company is building a loyal customer base, even among small developers. Empathy ranks as a top employee value and extends to everyone the company connects with, Co-Founder John Collison said. “Following your values-driven approach can lead to a good place commercially — it’s valuable for competitive differentiation,” he said. “The problem is what happens when people optimize for short-term metrics.”
“Consumer protection champion” isn’t the typical role a start-up takes, but that’s exactly how “clean cosmetics” brand Beautycounter has differentiated itself and developed a loyal following, especially among millennials. “There are certainly economic advantages to using toxic chemicals, no question,” CEO Gregg Renfrew said. “We may not enjoy the margins of some companies by using safer ingredients. But at the end of the day, we have a commitment to the consumer to create safer products.” That includes lobbying for laws that ban cosmetics with toxic ingredients. “It’s not really a trade-off,” she said. “It’s part of our mission to operationalize our brand.”
Investing in Confidence
Value of Robinhood transactions since the company’s founding in 2014
Robinhood’s simple, intuitive interface focuses on four components — ticker symbol, stock price, a chart showing stock activity over time and a “Buy Stocks” button — a design that’s helped many first-timers ease into investing. A no-fees, no-commissions structure also appeals to those customers, 78 percent of whom are under 35 years old. Having a relationship with a brand is especially important for this segment, and Robinhood’s leaders have ensured that relationship is as close as possible to the one people have with social entities such as Instagram. “Anything that you would be able to get walking into your local Bank of America branch office, you should be able to get faster, better, cheaper, with a much better user experience, from Robinhood,” Co-Founder Vladimir Tenev said in an interview with Fast Company. That experience goes far in helping customers gain the confidence they need to invest, the company’s leaders say. With 2 million users and $75 billion in transactions since Robinhood entered the business in 2014, it appears the approach is paying off.
More Than Just Ketchup and Mustard
Condiments made entirely from real ingredients landed Sir Kensington’s on shelves at Whole Foods, in meal kits for Blue Apron and at restaurants nationwide. “We don’t have to cheat in order to win,” Co-Founder Scott Norton said. “If you educate and entertain people, then actually consumer demand is going to shift away from ingredients that are high in sugar and fat and other things that have a disastrous effect on human health.” He and Sir Kensington’s are certainly on to something — Unilever acquired the company in a multimillion-dollar deal in 2017.
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