Want to start a creative business? There is no greater inspiration than those entrepreneurs who have boldly gone before you. At the Wix Lounge, a free space for creatives in NYC run by the super simple website platform Wix.com, we are inundated daily with incredible startups that are revolutionizing their fields through their innovation and drive. In the coming weeks, we would like to feature some of the Wix Lounge’s greatest startups in order to provide shining beacons of successful entrepreneurship. First on the roster is Ethikus, an amazing new company inspiring and incentivizing New Yorkers to consume ethically and sustainably. We sat down with founder Jeff Hittner to get his perspective on launching Ethikus and the hard work he has done to make the company thrive.
What inspired you to start Ethikus?
Quite simply, we were inspired by a need that we had personally. I wanted to “vote with my wallet” and use our dollars to support businesses (and business practices) that we believed in, but I couldn’t find an easy way to do it. Of course, I was also sensitive to the need because of my background in sustainability, and I realized that it was a lot more rewarding to discuss ways to make a small business owner more sustainable than a huge corporation – there was no bureaucracy standing in the way!
What is the company’s mission?
The whole point of Ethikus is to make sustainable shopping and eating fun and easy. We want to give people the information and tools they need so they can align their everyday purchases with their values. When enough folks begin to patronize the local establishments that do good with their business practices, it sends a signal that people want businesses to support community, environment and employees. We are here to help consumers articulate that demand, and create chain-reaction good by encouraging positive changes to business practices.
What have been some of your favorite projects?
Shop Your Values Week was definitely our favorite and most ambitious undertaking. In less than 6 months, on limited resources, we built a community of nearly 5000 New Yorkers, 30 community and non-profit partners, and 219 local businesses to all be a party of a city-wide celebration of the stores and restaurants that do good. We held fun events, had discounts and incentives at all participating business, and really raised the city’s awareness of all the great establishments that are supporting their community, environment and employees.
How do you think Ethikus will change the way we consume?
How? Simply by providing the information people want, by being an authoritative guide and source for what local businesses are doing what, and holding fun events to get people engaged!
What do you think is the most effective way to inspire others to shop ethically?
By showing how easy it is, and connecting with people through their passions. It works both ways; small business owners are also really passionate individuals, and when consumers see that, and share values with them, it just becomes a matter of telling them the address! But on a larger scale, we just would love to show a map with hundreds of pins across it showing Do Good local businesses with all their data, so when a person looks at it they think “hey, yeah, I can do this, there are so many it’s easy!”
Do you think you’ve had to innovate new ways to communicate with your community in order to achieve your goals and if so, how have you done that?
Yes, and it has been difficult. We’ve gone through several ‘catchwords’ and the earlier ones didn’t stick. Now we’re focusing on things like ‘simply doing good’ and ‘discover/explore’ to get people interested in the concept of shopping and eating better, then we explain the breadth of what we’re trying to do (in an ‘About Us’ section or something). We found that holding concrete events really helps engage early users, like Meetups and parties and free food, of course, to get them out and meet them in person is quite rewarding. And of course the usual social media and email streams have been helpful, but it was our community and organizational partners who really spread the word. We partnered with dozens of great organizations who emailed local businesses they had relationships with to get them on board for SYVW, and they reached out to their communities, so we had dozens of large organizations reaching out for us! Many of the participating businesses tweeted and posted on facebook about the event as well.
Compared to other sustainable initiatives, what makes Ethikus unique?
I think that we try to create change through partnership / collaboration. We know that changing buying habits is not easy – and reaching an entire city even harder. But we’re not doing it alone. If we create collaborative events like Shop Your Values Week and support partner initiatives in the same vein, then we aren’t starting from scratch and we can scale quickly.
Where do you see Ethikus going in the future? What are the big picture projects?
In the future we want to develop a great app so people can quickly and easily find participating businesses near them. We want to redesign the site to make it easier to discover places and to get new places to sign up. We are also totally in for another Shop Your Values Week and are really hopeful about getting it into new cities! We have many plans and ideas, so stay tuned.