JJ Ramberg is surrounded by entrepreneurs, with parents, grandparents, and siblings all in the business. Ramberg, who lives with her husband--also an entrepreneur--and three children in Brooklyn, New York, joined forces with her brother Ken 11 years ago to launch their company, Goodshop, to help consumers raise funds for causes they support.
Ramberg is also the host of Your Business on MSNBC and the author of It's Your Business. Her children's book, The Startup Club, is due out in August. And she's in high demand as a speaker.
Goodshop's new app, Gumdrop by Goodshop, is a browser extension that searches half a million coupons from across the web and applies the best one when you check out. With sites including Macys, 1800Flowers and Staples, it's a powerful tool for shoppers--and it donates a percentage of each purchase to a user-designated cause.
Ramberg traces the company's origins to her youthful sweet tooth and love of the outdoors, which led her to discover Ben & Jerry's and Patagonia. She may have been drawn at first to the ice cream and fleece, but she was soon even more impressed by both companies' commitment to creating great products while carrying out a social mission.
The seed was planted, and it stayed below the surface through her time as a broadcast journalist at NBC and CNN, her work for microfinance organizations in Uganda and India, and a stint at Cooking.com.
The idea for Goodshop grew out of a conversation Ramberg had with her brother--who had already started one company with their mother--about the success of the (RED) Campaign, which partners with top brands to fund AIDS research. What if they could do the same thing, but with virtually any product at any store? And what if the shoppers could support whatever cause they wanted?
Eleven years later, Goodshop transactions have raised more than $12 million toward everything from homes for stray dogs to wells to a children's art program. The company's mission has grown to include helping shoppers save money--and Gumdrop by Goodshop has already saved users more than $100 million.
Through growth and change, Ramberg stays connected with the company's original values. She remains in touch with a woman whose son received treatment for a life-threatening disease in the early days of Goodshop.
"It's the personal stories that make this business worth waking up for," she says.
JJ Ramberg shared with me, the five most important lessons she learned in building Gumdrop by Goodshop:
1. Partner with someone you trust. Ramberg says she had no idea how much, and in how many ways, she would depend on her brother. "Having this trust makes the easy times more fun and the hard times easier," she says.
2. Socially responsible companies still need an A+ product. If Gumdrop by Goodshop wasn't able save money for users, it could have never been successful at raising money.
3. Some things you launch are not going to work, and that's OK. Ramberg recalls a number of products that never took off, including GoodTVAds, where users could raise funds for a cause by viewing an ad, and GoodTrial, which provided donations after users tried a new product. "So we took those efforts as a lesson learned and killed them in order to focus our attention on what our customers wanted," she says.
4. Strive for simplicity in your processes. "As your company gets bigger and more people get involved, inevitably things get more complicated. It's important to take a step back every once in a while and do an audit on your processes. Inefficiency can really slow things down," Ramberg says.
5. Always be willing to step in and help the team. When there's an all-hands-on-deck crunch time--and there will be--always be one of those hands, Ramberg advises. "You can't expect your team to go the extra mile during those times if you aren't willing to do the same."
Building a business is a journey. Make sure you're traveling with people you like and trust, and believe in what you are doing. Whatever product you're putting out into the world, you are lucky if you can wake up in the morning and be excited about it, while paying it forward for a meaningful cause.