What's your gift to the world? It's the question we all face, at some time between birth and death. Are we living our bliss, giving our gift to the world with as much courage and strength as we can muster? Or are we toiling away at the status quo, revving the engine but never really moving anywhere? I know a man who went from the latter to the former, leaving soulless money-driven ideals behind for a chance to create a system for generating good that, over time, now leaves behind an exponential impact on the world. His name is Brent Freeman, and I'm proud to tell you his story.
I met Brent at a meet-up in Santa Monica for the nonprofit StartingBloc, which sends young people aged 29 and under to a 5 day intensive Institute for Social Innovation in Boston, New York or Los Angeles. We started chatting, and the conversation immediately turned into one of those rare exchanges where each person sought to connect the other person with people in his network, to help that person achieve his goals. It was a selfless conversation, and I'm willing to admit that Brent was more polished at this dance. He had reason to be.
In another life, Brent was a commodities trader. Straight out of business school at the University of Southern California, Brent and two friends leaned into the wind and almost walked away instant millionaires, as a 10 million dollar deal for his firm had landed on his table. One decision made differently, and Brent might be living in Singapore right now, trading steel and construction materials in front of a row of computer screens. Numbers would flash by, and they would mean something to him. And that would have been his meaning. Numbers.
But Brent's soul wouldn't allow this money-driven mission to continue. It felt wrong, and somehow void of meaning. As he called it, it was one of the most "unfulfilling moments in life." So with $50,000 in his pocket, he left the money on the table and returned home to Los Angeles, intent on creating something that would fulfill a purpose, and allow Brent to do what he loves every day. His story isn't common. And that's why it must be told.
Brent knew that it would always be entrepreneurship for him. Brent breathes business fundamentals. He speaks the language of "customer pain points" and "market opportunities." And so when he stumbled upon the social entrepreneurship movement, he understood that first he had to be successful in business, and only then he could combine this acumen with a desire to do good. So Brent started. In his words, he "let go of perfection", with the understanding that by taking action first, the idea would naturally evolve to its best and highest-performing state.
So what could Brent do that would infuse the DNA of a social enterprise into a proven business model? He started a daily deals site, called Roozt, and he built up a list of well over 10,000 people who would get his daily emails about products infused with the soul of humanity. In other words, each product was tied to some cause, to making a difference in the world in the areas of "humanitarian", "eco-friendly", "ethical", and "community".
As Roozt developed, Brent realized that there was an enormous market pain that was going untreated. Individual offshoots of the social entrepreneurship movement were created, with brands you may have heard of like TOMS Shoes and Falling Whistles, and with brands you probably haven't heard of yet, like Oliberte, WeWood Watches, This Shirt Helps, and Indosole. These companies were forming around the world in order to do good through business, combining the best of business with the best of philanthropy in a new mixture called social enterprise. Brent saw these brands, and he knew that he could help them succeed.
He started featuring some of these brands on Roozt's daily deals site, and many of them sold, but Brent knew that there was another stage in the evolution of his business model. So he put the site on pause, turned to his team, and created a best-in-class marketplace that aggregates the best social brands, combining it with a shopping experience that is fully in tune with the Millennial, Gen Y consumer - social, interactive, and gamified.
What emerged was more than just a store for good products. Roozt turned into a real-time incubator for more than 100 do-good brands with over 3,000 products, allowing companies to use the platform to test new products, and get real-time analytics to see where customers were making purchases or were just looking. He created a "visual data" analytics system for each company to see how it performed, and where it could improve. Perhaps the company would want to run a daily deal, but the new site became so much more than that. Brent and his team had built a full-on marketplace for social good, democratizing sales for brands with an ecommerce outlet that would grow their businesses, connect them to social media, and give consumers incentives to contribute to a better world with each conscious purchase.
New users to Roozt get a $5 credit that they can put to use immediately, and they earn points for sharing purchases and products with friends. The more you buy, the richer your social experience. But Brent wanted to do more than just create a shopping experience, however enlivening it may be. Brent wanted to change the conversation.
He wants to put the conversation of social good into our everyday culture, with people sharing their stories of how the clothes they wear and the products they purchase contribute to a better world. This is his "why behind the brand." Brent's second, and no less significant contribution to the conversation lies in his personal story of meeting the day with both grace and action, and seizing each moment, truly living each inhale, and every exhale.
In Brent's mind, everyone has a catalyst. He was changed forever when he lost his mom at age 6. From then on, he knew that every day was a gift. And he also grew to understand that most of us know what we don't want far before we know what we want. And in going through the rough, soul-searching patches, Brent emerged living his passion - meaning that every day he wakes up and doesn't work - he lives for a living.
You'll never be Brent Freeman - your story has unique origins, and your life is mixed with happiness and tragedy in a way that only you can claim. This is true for all of us. But if you seize your larger purpose, and place the enrichment of your soul over the fattening of your wallet, you too can create something - join something - or even write about something that is making the world perpetually better. May this treatise serve as inspiration, and even a challenge to be your best self. That's what Brent Freeman is, every day.
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