Thankyou Turns a New Chapter
26 September 2017 at 8:55 am
Thankyou cofounder Daniel Flynn talks to Pro Bono News about the success of Chapter One and what the future might hold for the social enterprise, as his unconventional first-hand account of how the organisation got started sells 100,000 copies at a pay-what-you-want price.
Unless you’re willing to break the mould you will get lost, Flynn says.
Certainly Chapter One, which is printed “the wrong way around” in landscape format, and sold at a pay-what-you-want price point, aims to challenge traditional thinking.
The book, which was launched in February 2016 with the goal of raising $1.2 million in 28 days and gives Flynn’s account of the highs and lows of starting a social enterprise, has now secured it’s place on the bestseller list.
In the first three days, the book was selling at an average of two books per minute.
After 18 months on the shelves, the venture has generated more than $1.8 million in profit to fund the future business goals or “chapter two” of the Thankyou story, something Flynn tells Pro Bono News is “huge”.
“We were told the equivalent of one of the best sellers in that year in the business books section had hit something like 60,000 or 70,000 books, so even [our initial] 80,000 target was incredible but now we’re at 100,000 and beyond and it is still selling, which is really encouraging,” Flynn says.
More than a way to shake up the status quo, Flynn says the unique price point is a “bet on humanity” that people are more good than bad.
“It’s this idea that I think a lot of people view society as becoming more and more selfish, more and more insular and self-focused, but really we think deep down people want to make a difference,” he said.
“It’s about getting the opportunity and pay what you want is essentially a way to say ‘hey, however much you can and want to be involved, we’d love your support’ and so for some people that’s not much money.
“We joke about it but some people have paid 5 cents, they’re probably testing out how low we would go on pay what you want, but we honour it.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the highest amount paid for the book was a staggering $50,000.
“[It] absolutely blew our mind,” Flynn says.
“To have that happen 18 months after [we launched], the whole journey is really remarkable.”
He dismisses criticism that it was “too soon to write” the book.
“There’s an unspoken rule that you’re not meant to write a book until you’ve ‘made it’, and though we’ve had some great wins, we’re a long way off from that,” he says.
“My heart with Chapter One has always been to show people what it’s like to step out in spite of fear and to push through challenges. Our story is written to be a launching pad to inspire people to go after their dreams and goals.”
He said the “big idea” for him with the book, which aims to share the lessons the team learned along the way and inspire the reader to “challenge the status quo to make their dreams a reality”, was to make it relatable.
“Often when I read books, I feel a little bit like this person or this company is so successful, here I am sitting in my little bedroom at home wondering if I’ll ever make it, and I think there is a lot of people out there like that,” he says.
“We do find the inspiration and encouragement from books but they can also be a little unreachable sometimes. They are full of the highlight reel with a couple of challenges mentioned but Chapter One is different.
“Chapter One is a really open view of all the challenges, the highs and lows, and really to say we haven’t made it yet, we’ve started and here is what we’ve learnt from starting. I hope it helps you start whatever you want to do, and just inviting people to come on this journey with us.”
Flynn says it is a side that people are sometimes afraid to show.
“It is human nature, we love putting our best foot forward and we like to let everyone know that everything is all good, we’re all good, even when you look at social media culture, that sort of individual level, often people will post things [about] the best parts of life, the darkest parts they’re keeping to themselves,” he says.
“I think that is just general human nature, but I think we all love it when a person or an organisation is willing to open up and let you in, because to the audience or to the reader, it is like ‘so that’s like me’.
“It is kind of like the elephant in the room, we’re all struggling, we’re all a little bit insecure, we’re all still trying to figure it out. Why not tell others? It is probably only going to help humanity versus putting on a show.”
He says vulnerability has the “power to break down barriers and make us all realise we’re human”.
“I’ve been told by a doctor, ballerina and university student that Chapter One inspired them to dream for the first time, or dream again – that to me shows the power in sharing struggles and strengths and the success behind the book,” he says.
“That’s how I like to communicate to the team and family and the people around, like I always loved the open, authentic view of everything. I think sometimes stages and microphones and books can create the illusion of grandeur, things are grand and amazing but there’s a lot that goes behind it, and we love unpacking that at ThankYou because it makes it more realistic for people and reachable I think.”
He says one of the biggest learnings he has made on the journey, which is now taking Thankyou into New Zealand, was to stay focused.
“I would say one of the hardest things but the most important things was around focus,” he says.
“So if you want to set out to change the world, and you’ve already got a vision – and look vision is the starting point, you need an idea, a vision, something that you can work towards, but if you’ve got that – it is around focus.
“Because we’ve learnt at Thankyou that every successful idea has taken so much more focus than we ever thought it would. With our New Zealand launch our plan, between you me and anyone reading this, was to launch in New Zealand like last year, but we’ve delayed the launch and it ended up being two years after the book launch.
“And that is because the more we’ve got into the project, the more focus it has taken, because any idea takes often more time, more resources and more focus than you ever thought, and I would just encourage people not to get caught up in doing too many things, focus on getting stuff done right and then once you’re successful focus again on another goal and go from there.”
As well as giving away Thankyou’s secrets, Chapter One also addresses a fundamental challenge in the social enterprises business model – that it gives 100 per cent of profits to fund aid and development work around the world.
Profits from Chapter One solve this problem by turning those who buy the book “into social investors” and helping fund the next steps.
Flynn says social enterprise is a “really interesting space”.
“I think that there’s a lot of great intention in it and I think everyone, ourselves included, are still trying to solve some big fundamental challenges like how do you really get to that mainstream kind of tipping point and also how do you fund it sustainably,” he says.
“These issues are forever around and they are going to take creative solutions.
“I think probably a little bit of momentum may have been lost in social enterprise, or people are just starting to go ‘man it is hard’, because it is hard. I mean we’re finding it hard at Thank You, we might be the only people, but when we’re competing in a very commercial world, against very commercial brands and we’ve got this social cause, it is tough.
“But I think also what is happening is those that are in the space, really because it is hard, they are more committed and they are staying more focused and hopefully the space continues to thrive with people who genuinely want to be in it long term.”
Flynn says the next steps for Thankyou include launching a baby category and launching into New Zealand.
“Beyond that we’ve got some other big ideas but we really want to get New Zealand launched and make sure we’ve got the idea sustainable in two countries and then from there we’ll see what happens.”
In terms of what success would look like for Thankyou, Flynn says it is about staying true to the core of the business.
“I think success is staying true to our core value and idea and purpose and not getting caught up in the hype or opportunities or growth just for the sake of it,” he says.
“Internally we talk about our purpose statement around empowering humanity to choose a world without poverty. Our focus is how we empower more people, through more products and more ideas and how we truly end extreme poverty, not just doing handout solutions but really empowering change in developing countries and here in Australia.
“Success would be that purpose statement lived out for the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years and then the impact that follows it should be huge numbers, huge impact and hopefully a little further beyond our shores than Australia and New Zealand, but we’ll see where that goes.”
His main advice to budding social entrepreneurs is to break the mould.
“I think the market is saturated with so much of the same and there is so much clutter and unless you’re willing to truly stand out, unless you’re willing to break the mould, the rules, the status quo, you will get lost, you won’t be noticed, probably worse than being noticed, it’s not remarkable, and when I say remarkable, I’m talking worthy of remarking about,” he says.
“It is when you challenge the system, it is when you flip things on its head, its when you do things that others don’t expect, that people start remarking about it, ‘oh did you check this out, can you believe so and so did that’, and it’s those sort of moments that we look for, because that is what helps you truly cut through a very crowded market.”