CEO and founder of the GiveWith, Paul Polizzotto, joins us today in order to explore environmental businesses along with the biotic community. Paul focuses his business intentions on social good and has become a leader within the industry.
Protecting Bay from the Pollution
Paul grew up in southern California, in a small little coastal town in Los Angeles. And during his time, the area was polluted, so they were often sick despite playing healthy sports. His background induced him to understand which types of activities near their environment contributed to stormwater and pollution.
Then he found out that it was the contractors cleaning adjustable sight facilities, some even continuously purchasing infectious wastes, and a hospital washing the pollutants into the storm drain going straight to the bay. He realized that’s not merely about pollution issues, but a discharge in violation of the little clean water act.
Paul imagined his first company to be a professional type that produces and applies to protect the bay from contamination. And so he found operational changes that ultimately pioneered the zero discharge process. He wanted to work for the United States of Animal Protection Agency to create those methods.
Non-Profit Community Projects
He was immersed in the biotic community while working with the board of supervisors. Paul started working on community projects with non-profit operations. However, they needed finance or fundings to accommodate their products. His goal was to get those projects done, leading to a successful environmental business.
Paul realized he’s been doing the same operations in business as an agent for positive social change. He could compete with his nonprofits but brought new funding incrementally. He came up with a significant bag exchange at the client acquisition budget with the utilization of their marketing and advertising, corporate communications, and events conferences that have incentives.
Social impacts in communities that improve environmental health education in the world as an incentive are more valuable to the buyer and the seller than those other sales. The industry that he represented was becoming increasingly commoditized and competitive.
Retrieving and Repurposing Plastics
It would not be great if every time you told the consumer that your product is made from ocean plastics. So they founded an organization that was retrieving and repurposing plastics in real-time and did not ask the consumer for money. Instead, they could just underwrite the social impact on behalf of the consumer based on the occasion.
The entire campaign was a series of Facebook posts and custom videos with the display unit that says, “this ad cleans oceans as you click and we will raise funding for the waterkeeper alliance.”
The organization protecting the planet’s waterways was able to provide two projects, one in Mexico and Costa Rica, to retrieve and repurposed ocean plastics. They raised awareness about the work that the barkeep relays were doing, and they were unable to increase engagement rates for doubt on a much more significant engagement rate on intending to purchase
Energy Efficient Retrofits
They utilized the sale of a commodity in a 30-second ad unit to find solar panels on schools that define energy efficiency retrofits in planning organic gardens inquisitors. They could grow and cook their own food. At the same time, they’ve attached their education to solar installation. The students could conduct a starter science project energy forecasting as to why the solar panel sticks on where energy.
The 30-second ad unit to fund solar panels on libraries, parks, and city hall of Miami became the first big city hall to be powered by renewable energy. It was all written by transactions with no taxpayer dollars in that project, so that joint venture won the 2009 award of excellence US Conference of Mayors.
Among public-private partnership in the nation, CBS purchased his company, and they went on to use social impacts to bring nearly 600 million dollars and redirected more than a hundred million dollars for funding and resources to non-profits, and positively impacted the lives of more than 60 million people by leveraging transactions so that was true that the lead-up.
Establishing New Business
On a small setup of the starting kit, they would want you to keep running the business trip hunting because the organization was always operating. They created a new business without a history of going into a business partnership with executives, so they did something that they had not done before, which is entering and funding into a 50-50 parachute.
When they launched it at the united nations on April 10, 2018, they added a conference call concerning the transformation of commerce through advancing social impact and businesses. And it made a lot of sense to launch its united nations because of their technology and applied business value to fulfilling the 17 united nations sustainable development goals. Paul discovered a series of new opportunities since the successful launch.
Advice to the Youth with the Same Aspirations
Paul said that individuals must ensure they love what they are doing, especially becoming a business, social entrepreneur. However, there are a couple of things that need to be taken care of as an Entrepreneur. And it’s not just about an individual and their investors’ relatives, but a beneficiary restores benefiting from your success. There is a beneficiary counting on you that keeps you in the organization, including the lives of people less fortunate.
People learn more about things when they are ready. And as an entrepreneur, if Paul can be of service to anyone in the audience, he would like to be helpful and a resource outside his work. The circumstances are given with a good thing that Paul enjoys most, which is working with the next generation of brightest minds.
From there, they could finally add and create innovative business models, with a process that is a system crucial to the lives on this planet, either sustainably or more equitably. Yet, Paul mentioned that he was optimistic and believed in the next generation of business leaders’ minds to solve these issues.
Hello, everyone. I am here with Paul Polizzotto, the CEO and founder of Givewith. How are you doing today, Paul?
I’m doing great. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
For sure. Before we dive into Givewith and your story about selling to your previous company, tell us a little bit about your background. What brought you into Givewith?
Well, I’m 32 years a serial social entrepreneur. I started my first social enterprise when I was 25. Now, they didn’t call it social entrepreneurship back then or social enterprise back then. I don’t know when those phrases were coined. We just started businesses to solve problems that we felt needed to be solved, so we just set out to really make our communities better. My background in social entrepreneurship started related to my days surfing. I’m still surfing. I grew up in Southern California. I grew up in Manhattan Beach, small little coastal town in Los Angeles, and in the ’70s and the ’80s, Santa Monica Bay was really polluted, and so here we were involved in this really healthy sport, but we were sick all the time. I was trying to understand what types of activities were going on in Southern California and in the LA basin that were contributing to the stormwater and urban runoff pollution that was polluting the Bay and making us sick.
What I found was that contractors were cleaning industrial sites, manufacturing facilities, parking lots, even bio-infectious waste areas at hospitals and washing the pollutants into the storm drain, which ultimately went straight to the Bay, and I said, “Wait a minute. That’s not only polluting the Bay and making us sick. That’s illegal. That’s a non-stormwater discharge. That’s a violation of the Federal Clean Water Act,” and so I pioneered some methods to do that compliantly and pioneered something called Urban Watershed Cleaning and a process called Zero Discharge where that type of work can be done compliantly and could protect the Bay from that pollution. I won an award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency for the creation of those methods and my first company became very successful.
What happened was here I was now immersed in the environmental community. I was working with mayors, county boards of supervisors, governors, and non-profits. I started being exposed to really amazing projects, community projects, where cities, counties, states, and nonprofits had brought a lot of the money together, but not all the money. They need a little bit of gap financing to get these projects fully funded and off the shelf and into the community, so really, the origins of EcoMedia, I started as a nonprofit. My goal was just to win grants to fill gaps and get those projects done because I had a successful environmental business and what happened was I started winning grants and started filling gaps and realized that, “Wait a minute. I’m taking a grant out of an existing grant buy. This grant would have gone to another nonprofit had I not taken it,” so it was kind of a zero-sum game.
What made matters worse was that some of these nonprofits were being run by my friends. They were the executive directors and my friends were like, “Hey, we think this is super cool what you’re doing, but you’re taking our grants. You’re competing with us now,” and that’s where my whole career shifted. For 22 years, I’ve been doing the same thing. I’ve been leveraging business-to-business transactions as an agent for positive social change, so my thinking was, “What could I do that wouldn’t compete with these nonprofits, but rather, bring new funding, incremental funding, funding that these nonprofits would have received had it not been for the work that we were doing?”
What I found was that I looked at sellers, I’m talking about business to business, I’m talking about large suppliers and buyers. Instead, there’s something missing from the seller’s toolkit. Sellers have client acquisition, budgets, they have marketing and advertising and PR and corporate communication, events, conferences, white papers, they have the other incentives that you know about, which is free shipping and blamed discounts and rebates and extended warranties, so they have all these client acquisition tools. I said, “There’s a client acquisition tool missing, and what’s missing is the idea of social impacts as a sales incentive, that if a seller underwrites social impacts in communities that improve the environment, health, and education in the world as an incentive for a buyer, that that’s more valuable to the buyer and the seller, then those other sales incentives.” The first industry that I applied that to was the industry of advertising because it was becoming increasingly commoditized and competitive.
There were two things going on in advertising that got my attention, because I’m not from advertising. I was not from advertising. First was 22 years ago, I started seeing the idea of cause marketing, okay, so that was going on. I was looking at cause marketing and I’m like, “Cause marketing looks historical. It looks like something that happened in the past, that a brand did in the past that had nothing to do really with the consumer, but the brand wanted to tell you about it, anyway.” To me, it looked like a one-way monologue between a brand and the consumer. I was thinking, “What if cause marketing could be forward-facing, where something new and tangible and measurable and meaningful could happen in the world as a result of the brand and the consumer agreeing?” When the brand and the consumer agree, great things happen for brands. I was really interested in this idea of story, empathy, action in real-time, the idea of brands underwriting human empathy, and that when brands underwrite human empathy, great things happen for brands. I mean, when they do it authentically, then something tangible, measurable happens as a result of that.
I’ll give you a more modern example of what I’m talking about. Dell. Dell comes out with their new 13-inch laptop. 25% of the packaging of the new Dell XPS is made from ocean plastics. I think that’s really cool. It takes me back to my roots and I said, “Well, wouldn’t it be great if every time you told the consumer your product was made from ocean plastics, we funded an organization that was retrieving and repurposing ocean plastics?” Talk about it and do it in real-time. Let’s not ask the consumer for money. I’m worried about donor fatigue. Everybody’s figured out a clever way to ask you for money. I was like, “No, no. Why don’t we just underwrite the social impact on behalf of the consumer based on engagement?”
And so what we did is we created the entire campaign where it was display units, Facebook posts, landing pages, custom videos where the display unit says “This ad cleans oceans. You click, we’ll give,” and what we were able to do is raise funding for the Waterkeeper Alliance, which is a fantastic organization protecting our planet’s waterways. We were able to provide $50,000 for two projects, one in Mexico, one in Guatemala, no, I’m sorry, one in Mexico, one in Costa Rica, to retrieve and repurpose these ocean plastics. We raised awareness about the work that the Waterkeeper Alliance was doing and we were able to increase engagement rates for Dell, much, much, much more significant engagement rates, intent to purchase, et cetera. It was a really a fantastic campaign. That’s a modern version of story, empathy, action.
The other thing that was going on in media 22 years ago, it was becoming increasingly commoditized and competitive. I thought, “Well, we could use social impacts to help differentiate one broadcaster from another.” I entered into a joint venture with CBS in 2008 and 2009 to show them how social impacts as a sales incentive could help them win business away from ABC, NBC, and Fox. That shift towards CBS helped us underwrite a green schools initiative around the country. We used the sale of a commodity, a 30-second ad unit to fund solar panels on schools, to fund energy-efficiency retrofits, to plant organic gardens and teach kids how to grow their own food and cook their own food. We even attached STEM education to the solar installation so that the students could, as part of their science projects, do energy forecasting as to why did the solar panels take on more energy in May instead of December. We use the sale of a commodity, a 30-second ad unit to fund solar panels on libraries, parks, and city halls.
The city hall of Miami became the first big-city city hall to be powered by renewable energy and it was all underwritten by B2B transactions. There were no taxpayer dollars in that project whatsoever. That joint venture won the 2009 award of excellence from US Conference of Mayors for being the number one public-private partnership in the nation. CBS purchased my company in 2010 and we went on to use social impacts to bring nearly $600 million of additional ad spend to CBS. We directed more than a hundred million dollars of new funding and resources to nonprofits and positively impacted the lives of more than 60 million people by leveraging B2B transactions, so that was the lead-up to Givewith.
CBS acquired the company and you mentioned that you’d actually done a deal afterwards when you were starting Givewith. Can you talk a little bit about what that was like when you sold the company? You worked with CBS for quite some time. Then can you talk a little bit about the transition there?
Yeah, it was really interesting. I’m smiling because when CBS wanted to buy my company in 2010, ‘kay, I hadn’t worked [inaudible 00:10:54] since I was 25 years old. They say, “We really love your company and we’d really like to purchase your company and have you come here and run it,” and I was like, “You mean like work here?” They’re like, “Yeah, like work here.” I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know. I got to be able to invent and innovate and dream.” They’re like, “No, no, no, no, no. You’re going to be able to keep doing that. Don’t worry. We’re not going to change that,” so I go back to my friends in Manhattan Beach and I said, “Hey, CBS is going to buy my company and they’re going to let me keep dreaming.” They said, “Oh, you’re dreaming, all right. Oh, you’re definitely dreaming. Paul, you don’t know anything about corporate America. They’re never going to let you do that. That’s not how it works.” But sure enough, they did and I had a really prolific time while I was there.
As I was seven years in and found the work that we were doing enormously gratifying, I really enjoyed my time at CBS, it was enormously gratifying, but seven years in, it occurred to me. I said, “Well, we’re using social impacts to help an advertising seller sell to advertising buyers. What’s so unique about CBS? What’s so unique about an advertising seller and an advertising buyer? We can take this proven solution of adding social impacts to make B2B transactions more valuable for sellers and buyers for everybody selling everything and everybody buying everything. We’ll use technology to do that with precision and at scale.”
I’m smiling again about this, the setup of me starting Givewith within CBS. They’re like, “Well, we want you to keep running the business you’re running,” because it was very successful, and I said, “Well, I’ll do that, but why don’t we start this new business?” They did not have a history of going into business partnerships with executives, so they did something that they had not done before, and we entered into a 50/50 partnership where I put in 50% of the money and they put in 50% of that money and we launched it.
We launched it at the United Nations on April 10th, 2018 at a conference called Transforming Commerce: Advancing Social Impact Through Business. It made a lot of sense to launch it at the United Nations because our technology applies business value to fulfilling the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the 17 UNSDGs, or the global goals. We launched it there very successfully. Then I through series of events saw the opportunity to purchase the other 50% and then elements of my first business, EcoMedia, put them both together, EcoMedia and Givewith, and now they’re called Givewith. We’re a social impact technology company leveraging business-to-business and business-to-government transactions as an agent for positive social change.
Nice, nice. You really went 50/50 and then came back and bought them out, which-
The big five-O.
… that’s pretty amazing, so the inventing continues. The inventing-
Can’t help myself. That’s the thing about being a social entrepreneur. Being a social entrepreneur is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is you find it immensely gratifying. The curse is you can never shut it off. I’m constantly thinking of new ways to bring funding, to taking on the pressing issues that we’re faced with. Can you just think about 2020? I’m out here in the West and the West has been on fire and we’re dealing with a global pandemic. What you’re seeing is that this list of global challenges is simply growing and intensifying, and so in that, I’m doing everything I possibly can to bring resources to tackling these challenges.
… Nice, nice. Let’s talk about the team at Givewith. How did you start? Did you find a business partner? I mean, obviously, you had CBS originally. Did you pull people from CBS to start? Did you hire people externally? How did that process go and then where are you guys at now in terms of size?
Yeah. Yes, the first thing I did was I brought my team over from EcoMedia and the team that was Givewith and I brought them all over. Some of these people, I’ve worked with for decades. We’re not a startup, we’re newly independent. This team that I brought over has generated $600 million in revenues. It’s a proven team of revenue-generating, profit-making, social-impact-facilitating team, but the team has changed in the sense that we are a technology company and more of our hires are engineers, front-end, back-end, full-stack folks that we brought in. There are about 60 of us, so 60 of us. We have offices in Los Angeles, New York, and London.
Yeah, great team.
What’s next for Givewith? Are you guys rolling anything out over the next year or so?
We’re rolling something out tomorrow, literally tomorrow, literally tomorrow, which is really exciting. Listen, in my view, climate change is the most pressing issue of our time, and what you’re finding is that corporations are finally pledging to go net-zero on carbon. Two weeks ago, Boston Consulting Group came out and pledged to go net-zero by 2030. A number of companies have come out recently around net-zero carbon. Let me give you an example of how our platform works. In this case, the seller is IBM. IBM sells hybrid cloud services licenses to companies, hybrid cloud services to Boston Consulting Group. Boston Consulting Group’s the buyer, IBM’s the seller.
The way our platform works is that both companies type their name into our platform. We’ve done a deep dive, more than 9,000 companies, proprietary research. We know everything those companies are doing in the area of CSR, sustainability, philanthropy, every nonprofit they fund, every award they’ve won. We have AI machine learning where we’re out searching for information on more than 60,000 websites a day and we’re pulling in information about these companies. Then we pull their ESG ratings, environmental social governance ratings on both the supplier and the buyer from MSCI, Truvalue Labs, and CSRHub because we want to understand their ESG rating from a couple different angles. Then we pull the standards they’re following from GRI, Global Reporting Initiative, SASB around sustainable accounting to deem whether the projects we’re going to surface are financially material to the seller and buyer, or IBM and BCG, in this case. Then we pull some custom Nielsen data on what are your customers care about, what your employees care about.
We take all that information and we go, “Ah, we know where we can be helpful. You both have strong commitments on climate,” and so it starts to surface. Non-profits and social enterprise, it’s not all just non-profits. Social enterprise is in the area of dealing with climate. The top match was Indigo Ag, which is an organization, a company that funds regenerative farming, and this regenerative farming leads to carbon sequestration, or carbon storage. There are certificates involved in that, and so Indigo Ag is the beneficiary, IBM’s the seller, BCG’s the buyer.
We do these two forms of match, measure, and report. That’s what our platform does. The first match, measure, report is we match issue areas, non-profits, social enterprises with suppliers and buyers that have the most amount of material business value. We then take 2% of the transaction, or a percentage of the transaction, and write a grant agreement to the non-profit or social enterprise. We do not write checks to the Washington DC headquarters or Geneva headquarters and say, “Spend it wisely.” We write grant agreements that have specific outcomes, outputs, and impacts that we verify, validate, measure, report. We do all the reporting back to the seller, the buyer and the rating agencies and standard setters. Then we have the next match, measure, and report.
Every issue of a nonprofit and program social enterprise in our platform, we have three-minute videos, sixties, thirties, fifteens, photography, pre-written press releases, newsletters, blog posts, and investor relations stacks. We have the largest social impact nonprofit social enterprise content library in the world, thousands and thousands of pieces of award-winning content. The next match, measurement, and report is that we serve that content to the employees of the suppliers and buyers and basically say, “How does it make you feel that your employer or your corporation has pledged to go net-zero and has strong commitments towards climate?” We register or survey or measure the responses of those employees and report it back. We send that content to local governments, to boards of directors, to suppliers and vendors, and so on. There’s these two forms of match or reports that creates enormous additional business value for both the seller and the buyer.
That’ll be announced tomorrow, this transaction that I just shared with you, where what’s fascinating about this is that the Boston Consulting Group can underwrite their pledge to go net-zero by 2030 just through their sourcing and procurement so they can negotiate the best pricing and the best terms, right? They’re not paying anymore for it and they’re getting the benefits of a giveaway. In this case, the certificates, the carbon storage certificates are being transferred from IBM to BCG as part of the sales incentives, okay, and so it begs the question: Well, wait a minute. If BCG is negotiating best pricing and best terms and getting carbon sequestration or carbon storage certificates and they’re getting all but two match, measure, reports that I described, is that hurting the margin of IBN?
No. Actually, the overall corporate margin of IBM is actually better because where does the money come from to underwrite the social impacts carried out through Givewith? From their client acquisition budgets, mkay, so every major company, as I described earlier, has this massive pool of money around marketing, advertising, PR, corporate communications, events, conferences, the whole list of things that I described, and so what they do is they go to some underperforming client acquisition money and redeploy it to Givewith to actually carry that out, so what ends up happening is the seller isn’t spending any more money on client acquisition dollars, they’re just redeploying the underperforming dollars into higher-performing client acquisition through Givewith, so both sides see better business results and new funding is now being delivered to organizations like Indigo Ag that are storing carbon. That’s, in effect, how it works.
Got it. Very exciting, very exciting.
Switching gears a little bit. We have a lot of new entrepreneurs that are listening and watching and are very inspired by your story. One question that we like to toss at everybody at the end here at the interview is in a short brief way of recapping, what would you tell Paul 10 years ago, knowing what you know now? I think with everything that you’ve done with Givewith and with EcoMedia and CBS, rewinding all the way back, what would you tell yourself in terms of if you were just getting started?
I know this sounds cliche: It’s a marathon, not a sprint, right? Prepare yourself for what will be a long journey, but one that’s really fulfilling and rewarding. It’s sort of like, I guess the other thing that I would say, one of the things that I was the beneficiary of is I just started businesses in things that I loved. If I were going to tell a student, let’s just say a student. You’re a student counselor and you said, let’s say, this is somebody who wanted to perform really well in undergraduate so that they could go to onto a grad program, right, and so their GPA is going to matter a lot, right? If I were talking to a young student, I’d say, “Well, if you’re looking to have your greatest success as an academic, the best grades, and the best time doing it, study what you love, because you’re likely to have better grades and a better time doing that than taking on some subject that really doesn’t appeal to you.” I’d say the same thing to an entrepreneur: What do you love? What would you do for free, if you could? It’s not any different than advising students on what they should be studying in school. I’d say if you’re planning to start a business, make sure you absolutely love it.
I think that’s another thing, too, about being a social entrepreneur. Couple things about that. First of all, that there are people, depending on you, it’s not just you as an entrepreneur or your investors, friends, and family, or whoever is invested in you, but there are beneficiaries who are benefiting from your success. That extra burden, I believe, keeps social entrepreneurs in the game, right? When something’s not working, you go back and you tweak it and you refine it and you iterate it, right, so that those beneficiaries that are counting on you are served, and so that keeps you in the game. I think that when you are serving the lives of people less fortunate, it’s enormously rewarding, so that, too, keeps you in the game. I think being a social entrepreneur assures that when the going gets tough, you’re not going to cut and run. It will get tough. It always is. I mean, let’s face it. It’s not easy out there. Yeah.
For sure, for sure. Well, that’s all the questions I have, but what we like to do is just roll out the red carpet. Where can people learn more about Givewith? Where do you want to have people learn more?
Givewith.com. Come and visit us and reach out. Then also, too, as an entrepreneur, if I can be of service to anyone in your audience, from one entrepreneur to another, I’d like to be a resource because outside of my work, which is Givewith, the thing that I enjoy most is working with the next generation of bright business minds to create the business models, the methods, the processes, the systems for us to live on this planet more sustainably and more equitably. I’m optimistic. I believe in the minds of the next generation of business leaders. We will solve these issues. If I didn’t believe that, I would have sold my first business and gone surfing, but I do believe in the next generation and I’d like to be helpful, I’d like to be a resource because we’re counting on you. Anyway, yeah. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Yeah, definitely. Well, if you guys are listening on Spotify or iTunes or watching on YouTube, definitely check the links in the show notes. Everything Paul just mentioned, I’m going to link to that as well as in social media there, so check that out. Once again, thank you so much for coming on, Paul.
Absolute pleasure. Stay healthy and stay safe. Thanks a lot.