Gonzalo Riva, COO & Lead Strategist, Twenty One Toys, Toronto, ON

Twenty One Toys, founded by Ilana Ben-Ari in Montreal, Quebec, designs and makes a new category of toys, re-imagined as serious learning tools for all ages. Our creations challenge players to hone and practice complex skills like empathy, creativity, failure, communication, and collaboration. Our first product, the Empathy Toy, is a tactile 3D puzzle already in the hands of hundreds of K-12 educators, parents, and facilitators in over 30 countries.

Here is the best advice we’ve gotten so far about starting and building a socially-minded business:

  • Ask for a slap in the face, not a pat on the head.
  • Ask for the sale, if only for the data.
  • You can talk about social mission all day. But then I hope your revenue model is to line up book deals and speaking gigs.

Translation:
Most people are nice and when you’re in your early stages of your business, they want to be pleasant, encouraging and open to possibilities. It isn’t hard for someone to agree with a social mission like enhancing empathy, innovation, creativity, or communication. But for us, the key always seems to be to concentrate on the “business” part in a social-purpose business. When we lose sight of the need to make our business and sales models work, we fall in love with our rhetoric and over-build things that might be unnecessary. When we stay focused on how to succeed commercially (alongside our mission), that’s when we know we’re making things people care about – and responding to our customers actual needs and wants.

So the best way to keep that focus and cut through the feel-good stuff is to ask people:

1. What is wrong with this? How can we make it better?
2. What stops you from buying it right now? Why isn’t it valuable enough to be worth your money?

People don’t normally articulate what their “problem” is in classic start-up lingo. But if you ask them these questions often enough, you’ll get a better understanding of their problem, and figure out whether you’re close to providing a good solution to it.

Click here to learn more about Twenty One Toys.