Every once in awhile I hear the story of someone whose desire to do good is the main driver of their work, which serves as a gut check for my own path.
Can I go home at the end of the day feeling proud about what I do? I’m at that point now, but it wasn’t always the case.
I worked in a stock brokerage firm when Japan was devastated by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011. Everyone in my office gasped collectively as their client portfolios dipped to all time lows, and then began the dozens of contingency meetings discussing how it would affect the market in the long run.
I was sick to my stomach; when had it become my job to have such a monetary reaction to human suffering?
As you can see, I’ve shifted gears quite dramatically. In this job I’ve been able to meet people who are passionate in their work for the greater good, and I want to share the story of someone in particular.
Andrew Ryan founded the company Benefit in 2013 after recognizing a problem among his friends and peers. Many of them had a desire to live healthier and physically active lives, but lacked the incentive to follow through on serious lifestyle changes.
“Your daily activity is such an internal motivation,” Andrew said. “You want to look better. You want to feel more confident about yourself. I thought, how interesting would it be if you could add external motivation so it’s good for others as well?”
And taking it one step further, what if burning your own excess calories meant giving them to someone who actually needed them?
His vision was that by reaching your daily exercise goals, you could donate money to the crisis area of your choice. Andrew decided to narrow in on disaster relief as a cause because it is something he has been passionate about since his own experience in an earthquake as a young child.
At only 8 years old, Andrew’s entire neighborhood was devastated in the Northridge earthquake north of Los Angeles.
“I woke up in the middle of the night to (what felt like) a freight train running through my house,” he said.
Rating 6.7 on the Richter scale, it was the biggest monetary disaster in U.S. history until Hurricane Katrina.
Andrew was traumatized. He slept in his hallway for months after the fact because he learned it was the safest part of the house.
Due to his personal experience, Andrew developed an interest in disaster relief. In fact, he was part of the volunteer wave to enter New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina.
Initially he came down in December 2007 for a week. He liked the idea of doing good while trying something new.
“I had never volunteered for anything before and so I didn’t have much experience,” he said.
Andrew felt invigorated through the whole process. He went back to Kansas, packed up his belongings and returned to New Orleans the following month.
He volunteered this time for a year and a half, and has remained in the city ever since.
It was when he was working on the management team of a FEMA grant for Hurricane Isaac that he started to rethink what he wanted to be doing.
“I didn’t feel like I was making an impact. It wasn’t feeding me at all,” he said.
It was at this point that he developed the concept of Benefit and decided to move forward. It has undergone several business model changes since inception, but the very spirit of what he is doing remains.
Here’s how it works: Every Benefit participant is given the goal of reaching 10,000 steps per day, which is approximately five miles. If they reach their goal, they are entered into a daily drawing for prizes, such as free or discounted fitness apparel. The more consecutive days a person reaches the 10,000 steps, the more likely they are to win. The objective: Encourage a long-term lifestyle change.
Andrew found that the “lottery model” was working, and there was a consistent group of users returning every day.
At the same time, he was determined to maintain a disaster relief component. On select days, rather than choosing a lottery winner, Benefit donates a certain amount of their own money to a specific cause.
Here’s the cool part: People get really excited about it, and on days where goal achievements will increase the pledge that is donated, the campaign sees a record number of submissions of the 10,000 steps. Participants were even thanking the company for offering an outlet to help.
“Companies that survive are showing themselves as humans and not as businesses. That’s what I want this to be,” Andrew said.
Having had to make drastic changes along the way, Benefit has found a way to motivate people to live healthier lifestyles, while periodically offering an opportunity to help those facing disaster.
Andrew has had an exciting ride as an entrepreneur working toward a greater purpose, but he admits the day-to-day work can be tedious.
“People think being an entrepreneur is sexy, but it’s really not. Sometimes I hate what I’m doing, but it has to get done,” he said.
And this is why I am sharing Andrew’s story.
Even if your imminent to-do list consists of work you don’t find particularly meaningful — maybe you have to research webinar platforms, or email out yet another event invitation — but in the grand scheme of things, you’re working toward the really bad ass mission your association has put forth. It’s important to remember that.
I have a challenge for you: Go to your association’s website and look for your purpose-driven message. It’s usually one succinct sentence explaining exactly why you exist. Chances are you’re doing something for the greater good of humanity, and it might help pull you through the minutiae if you remind yourself of it.