Inheriting the 'Entrepreneurial Spirit'
Ben Goldhirsh felt the media were shortchanging a growing community of smart, engaged young people who cared about the world and wanted to make a difference. Last year, the 26-year-old launched GOOD Magazine, an edgy bi-monthly focused on social, political, and environmental issues with a bold strategy of donating 100 percent of its subscription revenue to non-profit groups. So far, the West Hollywood, Calif.-based magazine has raised more than $250,000 in just three issues.
GOOD, which has also produced several feature films, is currently developing its website into an online social network that will link this young community with its corporate and non-profit partners. For Goldhirsh, it's all part of a broader strategy of doing well by doing good. The son of Inc. magazine founder Bernie Goldhirsh, who passed away in June 2003, he's currently the director of the philanthropic Goldhirsh Foundation and a board member of Millenium Promise, a group dedicated to the United Nation's goal of ending extreme poverty by 2025.
Son of Rambow, GOOD 's first major movie, was recently bought by Paramount Vantage at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Ahead of its national release this summer, Inc.com spoke with Goldhirsh about where social entrepreneurship fits into today's competitive media market.
GOOD magazine gives away its $20 subscription fees. How is that working as a business model?
We look at our audience as a reflection of us, and we knew that none of us responded well to traditional distribution and marketing methods. For instance, none of us respond well to direct mail. Instead, we wanted to activate a marketing structure from the organizations that our customers already believed in. So, the idea was that we would incentivize consumers with the added benefit that their money goes to charity, incentivize these charities to reach their constituencies for the $20 donation, and enjoy the added marketing and public relations that would come from having an innovative strategy.
Most magazines lose money acquiring subscribers. If they're spending $30 to get someone to spend $20 on their magazine, their net loss is $10. By giving away the entirety of our $20, then, the only additional marketing cost to be competitive is $10. As it is, we're actually enjoying a more efficient and more cost-effective circulation drive than most magazines, and getting a real valuable circulation by creating a relationship with our market that's distinct. I think people really appreciate what we're doing.
What prompted you to expand into films?
Just as we felt there was a hole in the newsstands, likewise we felt there was a hole at the theaters -- and in live events and online. The film division actually started before the magazine. One of our first films, Son of Rambow, was sold at Sundance to Paramount Vantage. It was the biggest sale in the whole festival and the second biggest sale in the history of Sundance. That was a big deal for us in kind of validating our taste. We're a bunch of young men and women, and a lot of us are in this business for the first time. Seeing that we're not crazy is valuable.
Social entrepreneurship is getting a lot of attention these days. What does the term mean for you?
The way I originally learned the term, it was specific to the non-profit space where NGOs [non-governmental organizations] had revenue streams to operate without a loss, making them sustainable and able to afford their own growth without pursuing funding. I think it's expanded to now include anyone whose entrepreneurial activities pursue both a social and financial return on investment. And I'm fine with that definition evolving. It's exciting to see a concept like that move from the periphery to the center of society.
I think it's indicative of a real trend to see any sort of social entrepreneur -- or any person who wants to do good for the world -- employing solid business practices to do that. That's a thrilling shift.
As founder of Inc. magazine, your father, Bernie Goldhirsh, helped provide guidance to countless entrepreneurs for more than a quarter century. What's been his biggest influence on the way you run your own business?
He's the key influence in terms of what I'm trying to do with all this and the way I'm trying to do it. The entrepreneurial spirit was celebrated every single day, all day, at my house growing up. Inc. magazine was a constant reality. I was seeing entrepreneurs doing all these interesting things, and I got to witness how Inc. as a media company not only did well for my father and my family, but also did well for the employees that worked there. It also did well for the whole entrepreneurial sensibility and pushed that word into the mainstream. I think that's what gave my father his greatest joy, and it really shed light on how valuable that kind of effort can be. If there was an entrepreneurial spirit that my father celebrated, we have a pragmatic idealism that we celebrate in trying to do well by doing good. That's an emerging idea in society right now.
Everything Bernie did I hold dear to my heart and I think about him everyday when I'm doing business -- wondering if he would be happy with my decisions. I think overall he would. Though there's certain decisions he'd probably say, "You're a moron."