It was another workday before Christmas. Client gifts amassed on the kitchen counter. Leeatt Rothschild, a corporate social responsibility consultant, felt something was missing in those piles. If businesses and consumers alike bought more thoughtfully, she mused, it could have a real impact on society.
Rothschild couldn't just gripe about it. She had to do something. She took her holiday misgivings and built one of the fastest-growing private companies in America. Packed With Purpose, the socially conscious gift-box business she started in the year following her light-bulb moment, landed at No. 149 on the 2021 Inc. 5000 list.
This is the story of how a one-time Peace Corps volunteer grew a vague grumbling into a company with more than $4 million in annual revenues in 2020, the latest figure available. Rothschild's journey shows how a business idea can become a viable enterprise and scale with quick prototyping, shoe-string market research, and a focus on partners and clients.
Building the Prototype
First, Rothschild built a prototype. She found a designer on the freelance platform Fiverr and created a $99 logo. She bought boxes and assembled a few products, including soy candles from Bright Endeavors, a Chicago company that offers survivors of homelessness or abuse career advancement opportunities, and snack bars from Detroit Food Academy, which offers business and leadership training to young adults. They're still in her gift boxes today.
By March 2016, she had what she called a "crappy first version." She gave the gift boxes to friends and family members at her daughter's first birthday party.
She told them she would follow up to get feedback.
Initial Market Research
One thing her friends said was they wanted to see more of the story of the gifts and their impact. That feedback inspired Rothschild to create an impact booklet, telling the stories behind the products and the businesses that make them, as well as the good they do. She includes one in every gift box.
"This is a low-budget market research," Rothschild says of these early efforts. "But it works, and the business still benefits from their advice."
Rothschild launched Packed With Purpose three months later with $150,000 of her savings. Now with 18 employees, the Chicago-based business counts among her clients such multinationals as Amazon, Microsoft, Bank of America, and Pfizer.
Gift boxes cost from $25 to $250 each. The gifts range from snacks from Washington, D.C.-based granola brand Together We Bake, which provides workforce training to domestic violence survivors, to wood-bound journals from Minneapolis-based Woodchuck USA, which plants a tree for each product sold. One popular box, for example, is a $100 bar-gift set, which includes such niceties as hand-blown-glass drink stirrers and sparkling grapefruit tea. It supports family- and Black-owned businesses, youth recovering from gun-violence trauma, sustainable production, and other causes.
While her biggest competitor is gift-basket giant Harry & David, she has plenty of company in the impact niche. Rivals include Seattle artisan-made home good brand Give a Damn Goods, Louisville eco-friendly online marketplace EarthHero, and untold, a Los Angeles gift company that helps entrepreneurs of color.
Packed with Purpose has 140 supplier partners. Drawn from 33 states and 16 countries, all are consumer good brands that focus on sustainability and the environment, workforce development, women's empowerment, youth development, health and well-being, or are diverse or women-owned.
Packed With Purpose's competitive edge, according to Rothschild, is its dedication to suppliers and responsiveness to clients. The company buys the products outright, and partners don't pay to participate.
"We affectionately call our product suppliers our 'impact partners,'" says Rothschild. "That's because we really think about them as partners, and as they grow, we grow."
Packed With Purpose shares their stories broadly. In addition to its impact booklets, it promotes its partners across its marketing channels and on its website. Buyers can shop by "impact categories," including Black, Indigenous, and people of color; women; and sustainability. What's more, the company helps its partners redesign their packaging to better tell their stories and cut shipping costs.
On learning that some clients, particularly those in the financial-services industry, faced a challenge in storing gift-recipients' addresses, the company created an address-collection service, which helps them keep track of confidential information but protects the recipient's privacy.
As a growing company, Packed With Purpose's biggest challenge has been to stay nimble as business conditions change, says Rothschild. Throughout the pandemic, supply-chain delays have disrupted the company's sourcing and shipping. For example, a candle manufacturer couldn't get the glass vessels from Asia for its candles and had trouble fulfilling its orders. Packed's team reached out to partners with similar products that could offer a substitute. In addition, Rothschild says, her team informs partners in advance to give them a sense of what demand is like, so that it can secure the products ahead of time.
Rothschild says her next step is to invest more in tech offerings, specifically in tools that can make the company's order-management system more seamless for returning customers. She is also looking to invest in development talent who align with the company's vision. Further on, she is assessing whether to bring on a software-development agency or hire a full- or part-time development expert.
While her business is often about offering a token of thanks to customers and employees, Rothschild is big proponent of Slack channel public shout-outs or one-to-one private words in person or email. "No one ever tires of being appreciated," she says.