I coach new social impact entrepreneurs around the world as they build impactful businesses. One of the biggest challenges I see social impact entrepreneurs facing is how to manage the ‘balancing act’ between the business and the social mission.
I’d like to introduce you to Peter Antonsson, founder of Anton Frans Sunglasses. Peter agreed to be interviewed for this story in hopes that his experience will help you if the ‘balancing act’ is something you’re struggling with.
Several years ago, Peter’s mom was sadly diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease. Peter is a lifelong entrepreneur, so for him, an incurable disease like Alzheimers was an especially devastating bit of news. As entrepreneurs, we’re used to being able to take on problems and solve them. Not so with Alzheimer’s. There is no cure, no easy answer, and no easy path.
At the time of his mom’s diagnosis, Peter was trying to figure out how to create an awesome sunglass company like his role models at Tom Fords and Ray Bans. So, he went straight to the factory that made them and got some sunglass samples to see what he could learn.
What he found would forever change his life’s direction.
Instead of seeing the news about his mother as an impossible challenge, he saw it as a tremendous opportunity. Why not build a business that would give back to causes his customers cared about, like Alzheimers?
His mom’s experience became central to his WHY: to create a revolutionary sunglass brand that also gives back.
And that’s how Anton Frans was born.
Revolutionizing an Industry
To be honest, when I first met Peter and he told me about his mission to revolutionize the sunglass industry, I wasn’t sure what to think. I’m sad to admit that I hadn’t ever really given enough thought to the sunglasses I was buying or how those companies were impacting the world.
But for Peter, it was an industry ripe for revolution.
When visiting those role model companies, Peter realized as he held samples of sunglasses in his hand that all the famous sunglasses that he had come to love were basically made in one place by one massive company. He felt cheated and lied to. He felt deceived. Despite all the marketing and branding out there that made those brands seem so different, they were really all just the same cheap plastic with different logos.
Worse still, the same company that made them all also controlled the entire chain of production. So, anyone looking to take on the industry would have to play by their rules.
He got around the unfair monopoly by completely revolutionizing the quality of his sunglasses. Because he made them in a completely new way, he didn’t have to march to the beat of that other company’s drum.
Balancing Mission and Business
But what about balancing the social impact that started with the story of Peter’s mom?
That’s the most beautiful part of the story. Peter realized that we all have a cause that’s near and dear to our hearts, so his business model embedded impact with each sunglass purchase.
To make this work, Peter developed relationships with a leader in each social cause space by connecting personally and explaining the benefit of partnering with him.
As a customer, you’re able to support a cause that has personal meaning to you. Simply pick the cause at checkout, 15% percent of each purchase goes to the cause you choose, and then you can start rocking your sunglasses.
5 Key Takeaways
If you’re building a business with an impact model but are struggling to balance business and mission then here are a few things you need to do:
- Lead with a cause that’s near and dear to your heart. Peter started with a cause that couldn’t be any closer to him: his mom. He then grew that to allow other people to support causes that were personally important to them.
- Weave your cause right into your brand as part of the model. It’s not enough these days for giving to be an ‘afterthought’. For example, Peter’s customers select their cause as they’re buying. It’s front and center on his website, his mission, his branding. You’ve seriously got to weave your cause in that tightly if you want to make it in this business.
- Be bold about the change you want to make. It took some major chops for Peter to take on an industry as entrenched as the sunglass industry. But, our movement is a rebellious one that’s all about challenging the status-quo.
- Help your customers become part of your story. People yearn to become part of causes that are larger than themselves. So, you need to make this easy for anyone trying to become your customer to also get involved with your social impact.
- Business and mission should coexist as one. Too often I hear social impact entrepreneurs trying to figure out how to ‘balance’ social and business missions when they really could just weave them together as one. Anton Frans and many others like it tie their impact indirectly with sales. In other words, the more their business grows, the more their impact grows. You should do the same.
The ‘balancing act’ between business and mission doesn’t have to be the daunting task we make it out to be. Consider the lessons shared in this article, learn a bit from Peter, and you’ll be well on your way to knocking this out.
P.S. Far from the ‘sunglass skeptic’ I used to be, I wear and love Peter’s sunglasses on the regular!