What do you when you find yourself $25,000 short on your Kickstarter funding goal with only few days remained before deadline? Most entrepreneurs will start thinking about plan B (maybe it’s time to get in touch with that rich uncle of yours who once said he believes in you) or wonder if the whole idea of starting their own venture wasn’t just a big mistake. Not Will Baxter. He decided to get on a treadmill, vowing not to get off until the campaign for his social venture I AM. was funded. Period.
And it worked! Backed up a social media campaign entitled ‘Don’t Let Will Die’, Baxter succeeded in raising $28,411, surpassing the original goal of $45,000 in just a little more than two days. After 50 hours and 26 minutes that were streamed live online, he finally got off the treadmill, exhausted but also happy that he managed to meet his goal and stay truthful to his pledge to do what’s necessary to make plan A happen.
You might think that the inspiration for this act came from Gandhi or other self-sacrificing role model, but no – it came from actor Will Smith. Baxter said he was inspired from a quote of the actor that he had on his wall: “I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked. Period” This metaphor, Baxter explained, represents for him “determined belief in a vision or an idea: the confidence that comes with knowing you can make anything happen because you’re prepared to do anything.” So when Baxter saw that his Kickstarter campaign was falling short and he risked losing all the donations he’d collected, he decided to take it literally and get on the treadmill.
I don’t know Baxter personally, but from what I’ve read this move certainly suits his passion about social entrepreneurship. Baxter became social entrepreneur after working as a financial advisor with one of the world’s leading professional services firms (PwC) in Melbourne, Australia. His career was on the rise, but he felt emptiness and decided to take a year off. He traveled around the world and eventually got to the beautiful Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala.
In one of the villages around the lake he took a yoga teacher training course and met there Nadja Vormann, a fashion designer from Germany. Inspired by Muhammad Yunus’ book ‘Creating a World Without Poverty’ they read there, the two started talking on how to use the power of business to make a difference. They didn’t have look too far – across rural Guatemala, thousands of Mayan women depend on traditional backstrap weaving to support their families, but as cheaper machine based textiles have flooded the market, this art, and their livelihood, is dying out. Baxter and Vormann decided to create a social enterprise that will channel the power of consumption to support these women and will assist to conserve their traditional artisan work, and I AM. was born.
They decided to focus on yoga gear, designing products from traditional backstrap-woven and naturally-dyed fabric and bring them to the developed world. According to their plans there’s no factory, so the Mayan women are able to continue working from home. I AM. will provide the women a steady, sustainable and higher income for their own work. In addition, half of all I AM. net profits will be given back, invested into the communities they work with and the social needs they endeavor to address.
Their main product right now is a yoga bag, created from naturally-dyed, hand-woven cotton fabric, a lining made of recycled textiles, and as I AM. emphasizes it is designed by yogis, for yogis. The bags are priced at $69, which might look a bit pricey, but this is almost always the case with artisan work as we can learn from other social enterprises that support artisan work, like Siw Thai Silk.
Baxter did a great job on the treadmill, attracting about 6000 visitors and accomplishing his mission. Now he has the funding for taking the project off the ground, building a dyeing facility and investing in the production of the 2011/2012 inventory. Although the treadmill challenge is over, Baxter will probably find out that the many new challenges, some of them might be even greater, are still ahead of him, such as building the operation and getting yoga lovers to understand and appreciate the value of the products I Am is selling. But if he could survive 50 hours on the treadmill, I’m positive he will not be outworked, no matter what challenge he’s facing.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.