How to Build a Social Enterprise with No Investors


Thankyou’s co-founder Daniel Flynn discusses their revolutionary business model


“I don’t think every person needs to be the game changer to change the world – but I think we can all be a part of it. The great leaders of the past, the Mandelas of the world, they spearhead game- changing moves, but it only works when literally millions of people back it,” says Thankyou co-founder Daniel Flynn. “And I think that’s the reality – together, we all change the game by doing lots of small things as part of something bigger.”

This is the driving force behind the Thankyou brand, the company with a social conscience. You’ve probably seen their products – from muesli to hand wash – in stores like Woolworths and Coles. And you’re likely to have noticed they have a very different business model. Since the launch of Thankyou water in 2008, Thankyou (which was rebranded as such in 2013) has generated millions of development dollars for water, food and sanitation projects in 16 countries by feeding 100% of their profits back into development projects globally. But this is only the beginning.

Their newest endeavour is a book that operates on a ‘pay what you want’ basis. This book will help fund their expansion into New Zealand which of course, in turn, will help them to be able to continue funding their international development projects.

“We’re writing a book, chapter by chapter,” explains Daniel says of his recently-released first book, Chapter One, which, he says, is just the first instalment. “The book is a way that people can invest in the future of the movement,” says Daniel. “We have no investors – we are not open ever to investors because we want to keep all profits going to the cause. So to do big-growth stuff – new countries, new markets – we have to get creative. And this book is a cool way to involve everyone in the process.”


Daniel Flynn with Chapter One

Daniel is the first to admit it’s not the easiest (or most lucrative) way to fund organisational expansion, yet it’s not due to a lack of interested investors (there have been plenty of offers). Bringing people on board through the book is a natural extension of Thankyou’s consumer buy-in-based model. It was the groundswell of social media support that saw the then-fledgling company secure its first place on supermarket shelves and those same supporters, unified by Thankyou’s quirky, disruptive marketing campaigns, have pushed it into a market-leading position.

That’s not to say that playing by your own rules is always easy. Take convincing their new book distributor to jump on board with the pay-what-you-want concept, for example. But changing the game is core to Thankyou’s approach – and their success.

“The reality is you don’t know [how an idea will be received] until it’s live, and it’s scary,” says Daniel. “We talk a lot about continual refinement. We have an idea, then we go through scenario after scenario and try and think of everything and how it will make people feel, until hopefully by the time it launches it’s pretty solid. The other element of each move we make is that it’s usually quite bold – it’s either going to work or not work in a pretty public way. But I think people really do look for that boldness and people rally behind it.”

Boldness is certainly a key feature of Thankyou’s second phase, which involves starting again to build Thankyou New Zealand from scratch, and expanding into a baby and toddler range to fund a new suite of infant and maternal health projects.

By comparison, the choice to expand into the relatively small New Zealand market seems out of character for the ever-ambitious Thankyou. But as Daniel explains, it’s all about sustainability.

“There’s been some massive global offers in all the big markets we all dream of – but as much as we love big, crazy exponential growth, we also want to be built to last as an organisation. We could have jumped three or four years ago to the US, UK markets, and rolled one or two products out at a stretch – but instead we’ve tried to really focus. So we’ve got the food, water and bodycare range and that’s growing successfully, and now we want to take the entire range, and prove that it can start in a new country from the ground up. It’s almost like a second proof of concept. New Zealand will validate that feeling we all have that Thankyou could be global, but we need to take it one step at a time.”

It’s hard to imagine the Thankyou juggernaut losing momentum anytime soon, and they are determined to take Australia, and the rest of the world, with them. The end goal is world change – something we can all be part of.


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