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Tribute: What is Social Entrepreneurship? Balancing People and Profit in Brooklyn, New York | Andrew Horn

What is Social Entrepreneurship? Balancing People and Profit

Social entrepreneurship can be difficult to define.

There are also many misconceptions when it comes to social enterprises. 

People think that a company with a social mission can’t be as successful as a purely for-profit business. 

However, Andrew Horn, Founder of Tribute, a socially conscious company that helps people build video tributes for their friends and family, believes this is simply not true.

He defines social entrepreneurship as a business with a dual or triple business goal, a balance between people, profit and the planet. A social entrepreneur strives to build businesses that are not only profitable, but have genuine impact on people’s lives.

In today’s episode of Small Business War Stories, we explore this topic and more with Tribute CEO and founder Andrew Horn.

Listen to the podcast:

Show Notes

A summary of our interview with Andrew Horn from Tribute is below.

You can use the links below to jump to your interests.

You started a company called Tribute and I want to start by saying that I used Tribute recently this past week for my mom’s 70th birthday and we did an amazing, amazing tribute for her with people from all over the world recorded videos for her telling my mom how much they loved her. I was on the phone with her and she was crying. It was a very emotional moment, which I’m sure is something that you aim to do with your product.

Can you tell me a little bit more about Tribute and what you guys do and what inspired you to start this?

Andrew Horn: Tribute was inspired by a gift that I received three years ago. I walked into my apartment on my 27th birthday, my girlfriend had planned a surprise party so everyone jumps out, gives me this massive hug. Halfway through the party calls everyone into the living room, she puts up this big projection image on a screen, and hits play on the projector. I’m sitting there and what I didn’t know is that my girlfriend had reached out to 20 of my closest friends and family members. Got them all to submit a one minute video telling me why they love me.

I remember I came out of that experience and I said, “Wow, I just watched my eulogy at 27.

Then I looked at my girlfriend and I said, “This is the best thing I’ve ever received. How did you do it?

She looks back at me without blinking an eye and says, “Well, it sucked.

I was like, “What do you mean?” She was like, “Hundreds of emails emailing folks.

She said, “Collecting files through Dropbox, Drive, text message and editing it together in iMovie.

So, literally in that minute, I knew that this was the most meaningful gift that I ever received, and the only reason more people don’t get it is because the technology isn’t there to do it easily. So Tribute was born.

I started doing it by hand, selling them and then found an incredible co-founder, CTO and launched what is now the best collaborative video editor on the planet. The New Yorker just called us Hallmark 2.0, we were featured on the Today Show, and have had 50,000 tributes.

How do you measure the impact and success of your Tributes?

Andrew Horn: One of the craziest stats about Tribute that we’ve been tracking for about two years now is TOJ (Tears of Joy) and believe it or not, we run at about 80% of our recipients saying that the person that watched the video cried tears of joy.

It drives us to do what we do, man. It just reinforces that what we’re doing deserves to exist in the world. It’s having an impact on people, connecting them with their community.

What does social entrepreneurship mean to you? I’m sure that through Tribute you feel like you’re making a big impact on people’s well being much more than through just having a business, right?

Andrew Horn: 100%. I mean, it’s why we do what we do. Again, the first two words of our mission statement are magnify and gratitude and meaningful connection in the world. That’s why we’re here. When we think about design, when we think about marketing everything comes back to that. Is that we are creating a product that is amplifying humanity in a really powerful unique way.

What is the most inspiring Tribute you have seen?

Andrew Horn: You know, there’s been so many, man. What a beautiful dilemma to be able to try and find one in there. I’ll say one that happened recently that really touched me.

There was a young man named Spencer. His mom recently reached out and she said, “You know, my son’s been diagnosed with a very rare brain condition.” Was just set to go in for, I think, a third of what would be a fourth operation to essentially cure this illness he was battling. She writes us this story about after he had gone into the operation she had created this tribute for him to, again. gather words of support from his friends and family all over the world.

So literally when he came out of his operation he had lost a lot of motor function, so all he was really able to do was, he had this orange stress ball and he was holding this orange stress ball in his hand. She said, “While he couldn’t talk. She put the tribute in front of him and he’s watching these videos of his family, his best friends. Every single one of them saying, ‘I love you. I’m here for you. You’re going to get through this.” She said, “He can’t talk, but every time someone he recognizes comes on the screen he’s just taking the stress ball and tapping the screen.

That’s an example right there where you have someone who’s going through a difficult medical journey and you just palpably feel the power of a community connection. A feeling like you have people there who believe in you, who support you. That’s the power of Tribute. You don’t need to be in the midst of a difficult medical journey to feel that kind of power. To be uplifted. To be transformed in that.

What is the wackiest tribute that you’ve seen? Like the craziest oddball or one that made you scratch your head a little bit.

Andrew Horn: Totally, I think, probably one of the best ones, in terms of wacky, silly. We did a tribute for the outgoing composer of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. He had been there for, I think, 20 years with some of the best musicians on the planet. All of these people who had such a close relationship, not only were they cracking jokes on this guy, but also imagine 40 of the best musicians in the world playing these solos for their composer.

And it’s like, again, the beautiful thing about Tribute is it’s this context on the Internet where people feel safe and compelled to share the silliness, the love, and the gratitude. That’s not the language of Snapchat, of Instagram, of Facebook, where everyone’s posturing. Tribute is different; it’s an authentic place to communicate with the people you love.

What would happen if somebody wanted to do a Tribute for somebody who you thought were a terrible person? Let’s say, like a serial killer or somebody who has harmed many people. How do you see that?

Andrew Horn: I would say that any single person who is surrounded and supported by people is more likely to be a good person.

So, if someone is a bad person, is my goal to criticize this person? Should I denigrate him or to lift him up? I think that our role here as people and as leaders is to lift people up. It’s to see how we can help. It’s to empathize. It’s to have compassion, and compassion is simply wanting the best for someone.

What if the Tribute was made up of all negative messages about harming other people? As somebody who is socially minded, where do you draw the line?

Andrew Horn: I’ve seen frat bros create a roast tribute, which is their buddy’s getting married. Let’s talk shit about our friend for 20 minutes. I saw that one and I was a little heartbroken, but at the same time, maybe that’s their language of love. Ribbing each other and doing that stuff. I don’t judge on that.

We set out to create something we’re passionate about. What want to serve people and their higher selves but ultimately, it’s a technology and it’s open to anyone. People can use it how they see fit. We just understand that the general way that people are going to use it is going to make them feel amazing and connected.

Social entrepreneurship is a term that can be hard to define. Some people may say, “Oh, you’re a social entrepreneur. Your business doesn’t make money.”

How do you see social entrepreneurship and how do you define it in terms of what you’re doing?

Andrew Horn: I think, that social entrepreneurship is the idea of defining either dual or triple business goals, which is people and profit. Then if it’s triple bottom line, then it’s prioritizing people, profit, and the planet, the environment.

I think that true social entrepreneurs don’t prioritize one of those any more than the other, they are all business goals. If our business is financially successful but we are ultimately harming the planet, we’re harming people, we’re not doing them a service that we, generally, feel is good for them, it’s not a successful business.

That’s what social entrepreneurship is all about. We want to build businesses that are profitable, that are financially solvent, but that are genuinely having an impact in people’s lives.

So that means that you could potentially forgo a dollar profit in exchange for maybe a benefit in one of these other areas?

Andrew Horn: Yeah, absolutely. Again, it’s not to undermine any of these things because you cannot be a social entrepreneur without profit. You can run a non-profit or you can run a benefit organization, but to be a social entrepreneur, the essence of it is that you have to build a business that works. When you build a business that works, that’s self-sustaining, and you’re able to magnify your impact.

I think, that what’s so fortunate is that we live in a time where social entrepreneurs are being lifted up, are being celebrated, are being hailed. It’s cooler to help a billion people than it is to make a billion dollars.

I think a shift happening. You see that what is truly fulfilling, what is rewarding is not money, it’s not the boat, it’s not the car. That stuff is flashy and exciting, but the people who have the coolest lives and the coolest friends are the people that are serving the planet.

You look at TOMS Shoes, who created one of the first giveback models. We have seen a lot of iteration and evolution towards things like Conscious Capitalism. People are starting to understand that the easiest way to tap into fulfillment is helping another human being.

It’s not just a way to impact the planet, it’s a way to find motivation because if you’re just building something for financial gain, once you reach financial gain you’ll get there and you’ll say, “Oh, I want more of this. It’s unfulfilling.

What are some of the myths and misconceptions that you hear about social entrepreneurship, and how are those similar or different from your experience?

Andrew Horn: The first one is that people who have a social mission or classify themselves as social entrepreneurs aren’t going to be as successful as someone that’s pursuing a purely for-profit entity. But again, I think, that that’s been disproven time and time again where you look at Adam Grant’s book that just came out “Give and Take.

If you look at the Fortune 500s, the individuals who are giving back the most through CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs and through philanthropy are precisely those organizations that are retaining the best employees, that are growing the fastest.

You realize that having this kind of purpose laid in your organization and in your mission is the most effective way to retain good people. To sustain motivation over the long run. That’s how I debunk that first myth.

The second one is that you truly need to be a direct service organization to be a social entrepreneur. Meaning a non-profit that’s doing development work in Africa or doing sanitation.

The reality, again, is I think that you can make chairs in downtown Brooklyn. If you make chairs and you employ 100 people, but you define that as: “Hey, I employ these 100 people and we make chairs.” People need chairs. People need a place to sit.

If the CEO of that company says, “I’m going to take good care of these 100 employees. Their families will have healthcare. They will have access to workout programs, mental health programs, and other benefits. And we are going to recognize their success and their growth effectively.

Then essentially what he’s doing is he’s creating a service that is sustaining these people, sustaining their families. He is helping them elevate to grow as human beings. In my mind, that is a social entrepreneur.

That’s a great definition because I think a lot of our audience and a lot of people who run small businesses in America are like that. They have a tremendous amount of pride in their work product and a tremendous amount of pride in their employees and the impact that they have in their community. So what I’m hearing from you is that that dovetails really nicely with the idea of social entrepreneurship and making a positive impact and having these multiple bottom lines.

Andrew Horn: Absolutely.

When is a time when you made a decision as a social entrepreneur that would have been different had you not been a social entrepreneur?

Andrew Horn: Yeah, absolutely. I think, one that probably comes to mind is we believe that this service can have such a transformative impact on the lives of the people that are using it that at the end of the day, we want to make sure that people can access it. So, we have developed a pro bono philanthropic initiative with hospitals.

What we’re doing right now is we’ve made the Tribute platform completely available, free of charge, to our hospital partners.

One of the reasons that we did that, again, is because we realized that there was a lot of red tape, a lot of bureaucracy to actually get to hospitals. It was a very difficult thing to allocate new funds for something that was unproven, that was a for-profit endeavor. We said to ourselves, “You know what? We think that this can have such a transformative impact on the lives of patients, people like Spencer, that we’re going to give this away for free so that you can experience it.

It’s been fun too, you do those kinds of things for a philanthropic reason and then we end up on CNN because we’re doing this thing that is inherently good. Again, the reason why social entrepreneurs are those that succeed is because they are the people that the world wants to support and partner with.

How do you see yourself as a part of the Brooklyn or the larger New York metro community? Where do you see Brooklyn going and how do you think about Tribute’s involvement with the community here?

Andrew Horn: Yeah, I try to stay fairly active within the New York and Brooklyn tech scene. We launched our beta site with New York Tech Meetup, the largest Tech Meetup here in New York City. It’s definitely a changing face. We’re here in Williamsburg, where we have seen a lot of gentrification; the whitewashing that’s happened is very real.

But the world doesn’t look like that. If you’re trying to build a truly global product and it’s being run by a bunch of white men, you lower the odds that you’re going to be thinking from a place that’s going to connect with everyone you want to reach

I think it’s important to implement diversity principles in your recruiting practices to seeking out a diverse workforce. We want to make a personal commitment to incorporate voices, opinions, viewpoints, that are different than our own.

Where do you see Tribute going in the next 10 years? How do you want to build your brand?

Andrew Horn: Totally. You know, when the New Yorker ran that article and called us Hallmark 2.0 I thought about, what would that look like? Hallmark 2.0. The reality is if Hallmark were to create themselves again today, they wouldn’t do it with physical greeting cards. They’d probably do it with video because that’s the communication mechanism of the future.

Really, what we want Tribute to be and what we’re growing into is the video platform for meaningful video messages. You think about all these occasions, a child gets born into the world, your mom has a 70th birthday, one of your best friends just passed away. All these moments when you want to share love. When you want to share gratitude. When you want to share the stuff that matters with the people that matter to you. Right now, there’s truly no way to share those meaningful video messages if you want to.

We will be that company because paper products come up short with handwriting, and greeting cards never really filled that promise and were never compelling. When you watch a video from one of your friends, it is emotional. It’s personal. It’s their voice. Their mannerisms come across.

So creating a context for creativity, for comfort, for emotionality on the Internet is our ultimate goal. So that anytime something important happens you want to celebrate someone, you know that Tribute’s where you go for that.

Where can our listeners find you if they’re interested in learning more about Tribute or if they’re interested in learning more about you?

Andrew Horn: Yeah, so go ahead and visit the site at www.tribute.co. That’s .co not .com. You can also check us out on all social platforms at WeTribute. We’d love to hear from you guys. We’re going to have a special promo running for listeners of The Small Business War Stories podcast. 

For $25 off a tribute, use promo code “proven25“.

This offer is only valid for tributes created in February 2017.

Final Thoughts

Social entrepreneurship is about building companies where the business’s social mission is equal to their financial business goals.

Amazing companies like Tribute are showing that you can build a financially successful company while still being good for people and the planet.

They are helping challenge what it means to be a successful business. Success should not be defined purely in terms of financials because if it is ultimately harming people and the planet to have financial success, than we should not feel good about it.

If you have any question or comments about social entrepreneurship or about this episode of Small Business War Stories, please leave a comment below.


Pablo Fuentes

Pablo Fuentes was the Founder and CEO of Proven. He was also the host and producer of the Small Business War Stories podcast. Pablo is currently the Founder of makepath, a spatial analysis firm. He is a graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and UCLA. He loves dogs, film photography, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is also a blues guitar player and builder.

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