June 17, 2016

24 hours with Jeremy Meltzer

Jeremy Meltzer is the founder of i=Change, which gives participating online retailers an easy way to donate money from every sale. He came up with the idea of giving $1 from every sale to a development project while in New York promoting Yellingbo Gold.

Jeremy Meltzer is the founder of i=Change, which gives participating online retailers an easy way to donate money from every sale. He came up with the idea of giving $1 from every sale to a development project while in New York promoting Yellingbo Gold, the extra virgin olive oil he produces with his father.

Launched in 2014, i=Change has so far attracted fashion retailers Nine West, Esther and Fabrik Store, stationery designer Cristina Re and Dumbo Feather magazine, who are giving $1 from every sale to one of three development projects, mostly in support of women’s and girls’ development.

Customers get to choose which project their donation goes to, with real-time trackers showing how much has been raised and the impact.

7.30am: I wake up at our olive oil farm near the Yarra Valley, where Dad and I produce Yellingbo Gold. I make a cup of chai and do a short meditation. The farm has been in the family more than 25 years, and one weekend Dad planted several thousand olive trees. He was working as a lawyer at the time, but decided to follow his dream of becoming a farmer. We waited seven years for the first harvest, which we cold-pressed into our first extra virgin olive oil. We now produce about 8000 litres of oil each year and sell all of it.

8.15am: Today I’m organising the logistics of a new shipment to the US. We distribute from our office in Richmond and were the first Australian olive oil to sell into the US. It was a challenge initially, because no one had heard of Australian olive oil. I’ll never forget arriving in New York during a major snowstorm and pulling a suitcase of olive oil through the snow, going door to door to gourmet stores such as Dean & DeLuca and Wholefoods. Everyone who tasted the oil seemed to love it.

The idea for i=Change came that night of the snowstorm in New York. I woke up at 4am with the idea that we’d make a donation of $1 from every sale, and let our customers choose where it goes – effectively doing the opposite of the airlines and almost any business that engages their customers in donations. It was an exciting way of making the business personally more meaningful by supporting women’s and girls’ development, which I’ve been passionate about for many years.

At the time we had a small, quite devoted customer base in Australia, and within two months of going live with this donation platform there was a 6 per cent increase in sales. Hundreds of people shared the giving activity on social media, becoming brand ambassadors. And I thought, “What if we could build this into a separate plug-in for other brands, so they could give
back as well?”

11.30am: After driving back to Melbourne, I drop off some oil in Richmond and have a quick scan of emails. I fire off a quick message to the Akilah Institute for Women in Rwanda. I was there recently and met with the director. It’s a remarkable school that’s preparing girls for professional careers in tech and entrepreneurship. We’ve just started including them as one of our charity options. Only $8 provides a student with school lunches for a week – and for most students this is their only meal. In Rwanda, women and girls are rebuilding their country after the genocide. It’s so inspiring.

This is one of 12 development projects we’re supporting around the world. We focus on supporting women and girls. Beyond being something I care about, you actually get a higher social return on a donor’s dollar when you invest in women and girls. This is now well proven. As much as possible, I visit our NGO partners to understand the work they’re doing. We’ve quite a unique model in that we don’t take any fees from donations. We give 100 per cent. That frees us to conduct due diligence and focus on supporting a core group of charities doing some of the best work in their fields of development.

12.30pm: I drop by to meet with Cristina Re in Collingwood to discuss the launch of i=Change on her new website. They’re about to go live and are excited to tell their customers they’ll be giving back with every sale.

Cristina tells me i=Change takes all the pain out of doing good and engaging her community. In fact, more and more retailers are interested in cause marketing, giving back and the business case for doing so – particularly considering more than 77 per cent of Australians say they prefer to buy from brands that give back, and 25 per cent say they’ve switched permanently to a brand that does.

1.00pm: We go to South of Johnston, a Collingwood cafe, for lunch. Afterwards I visit Nine West. We were lucky to have Nine West onboard early – they’ve been a great partner and we’ve been able to incorporate customer feedback into improving the i=Change platform. I remember asking Jaki Lew, who runs Nine West, if she’d meet me for a coffee. She was so generous and understood the concept and value straight away. She said: “I love it. Let’s do it.”

Nine West gives $1 from every shoe sale online through our platform, which pops up on the ‘Thank you’ page post-sale, where customers choose where to send Nine West’s donation. There’s also a ‘Track our impact’ button that sends you to a live Nine West giving page, to see in real time how much they’re raising and where it’s going. The whole idea is to create this inspiring, 100 per cent transparent experience for the customer.

3.00pm: I head back to the office to answer some emails, respond to retailers and NGOs, and to admin that never quite seems to end! I also tackle a presentation I’m giving next week. I get a lot of requests for public speaking, and do as many as I can. It’s an excellent way to raise awareness of what we’re doing. I also set up some meetings with retailers who are potentially interested in signing up to i=Change. As it’s often a CEO-level decision, setting up these meetings is never easy.

The bigger plan is that when we have more than 10 brands onboard, i=Change can also become a marketplace for consumers to find and shop brands that give back. An even bigger goal is to create a “new normal”, where if you’re not giving back with every sale as a retailer, you’re no longer competitive. We also have plans to take this to the US and hopefully build it into a global platform.

5.00pm: I make some more calls and catch up with our IT team, who are implementing constant improvements based on feedback from our retailers. I initially outsourced the tech build overseas. Let’s just say it didn’t work. So I invested a lot of money – everything I had at the time – to rebuild it locally. Sometimes you literally have to throw in everything you’ve got, if you believe enough in the dream.

7.30pm: By now my brain is completely fried. I’ll usually go for a run or to the gym; however, tonight I have to fly to Sydney. Tomorrow we’re bringing together one of the NGOs we support – Adara Development – and Esther. It’s at Adara’s Sydney office. We support several projects run by Adara, which help prevent trafficking of girls, provide an education for children rescued from trafficking in Nepal, and provide medical care for premature babies in Uganda.

Audette Exel, Founder of the Adara Group, is one of the most intelligent and inspiring people I know. She talks passionately about the work Adara is doing in Nepal, which was devastated by the 2015 earthquake. Audette estimates it will take 10 years to get the country back on track. (The following day, nearly everyone in the room is in tears by the end of her talk. The owners of Esther tell me they’re even more committed to giving back with every sale, now that they deeply understand the importance of their donations and the impact it’s making.)

11.00pm: I’m normally in bed by this time. It’s long hours, but i=Change is the realisation of a childhood dream to give back.

This article was first published in Business View magazine (Issue 21).

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