In business turning a profit is the main objective. Of course it is, I mean raise your hand if you like making money. I know I do. Money makes the world go round and it’s the one topic no one likes to talk about; it’s the big elephant in the room that we all just ignore. Nothing in a company is ever done without considering the return on the investment or the profit margins associated with each project, but there’s one design firm that’s turning this paradigm on its head: verynice. verynice has operated since 2008, historically doing half or more of it’s design work for free. Yes, you read that right, for free. Very nice, indeed.
We recently sat down with verynice founder, Matthew Manos to discuss verynice’s unique philanthropy focused business model as well as the obstacles he has overcome by running a business that does half of it’s work for free.
Q: Tell us about verynice. How Long has this firm been operating? Has the 50% business pro-bono model always been the way the studio has operated?
A: verynice launched in 2008 with a 100% pro-bono commitment. After over a year of experimentation, our 50% pro-bono model came into fruition at the end of 2009. verynice is a global design, business, and innovation consultancy that dedicates over 50% of its efforts toward pro bono design. We have helped build over 300 brands in every sector and industry across the globe, and work with a diverse clientele that range from Fortune 500 companies to small local shops. Some of our clients have included The United Nations, MTV Networks, Human Rights Campaign, Facebook, Amnesty International, and Disney. As of 2014, verynice has also provided over $1,000,000 worth of pro-bono design and consulting services in 6 continents to 200+ organizations thanks to our team of 250+ designers, strategists, and developers located around the world.
Q: How have you made pro-bono work “business as usual” while still being successful as a business?
A: Pro-bono work is “business as usual” at verynice because we do not value giving back as an extracurricular activity that is saved for the weekends or for outside immediate work hours. We have fundamentally re-thought philanthropy to be an integral component of our business. We are successful as a business due to our proprietary approach to giving back known as the “give half” model. This model allows us to split our time between giving and getting, and it relies on an infrastructure we have built that is comprised over over 300 volunteers from around the world that team up with verynice on a per-project basis to help us produce the work for our non-profit clientele. This allows us to have giving back at the core of our business without needing to sacrifice financial resources to get the work done. The model is explained thoroughly throughout the whole book, but especially in this excerpt: http://givehalf.co/model/defining-the-model/
Q:Everyone is wondering — Is verynice profitable?
A: Absolutely. verynice has been profitable since day one, and even as our overhead and permanent staff has grown in the last couple of years (we now have offices in LA and NY), we have maintained a 60% profit margin.
Q: Has this business model helped you carve out a niche for the firm, which contributes to a steady stream of business?
A:Yes. I have written substantially on this topic as it is an interesting anomaly associated with our model.
1. We are internationally recognized as the global leader in small business volunteerism and philanthropy. As a result, we have had the incredible honor of being seen as a pioneer in this field of pro-bono which gives us great credibility in our thought leadership.
2. Pro-bono work has allowed us to expand upon our skills and has improved our work as a result. When you are working for free, there is this wonderful reality that you tend to get a bit more creative freedom, and there is absolutely more room for innovation in regards to crafting out new projects that the client would not have ever thought to ask for.
3. Pro-bono recipients have been faithful referral bases for the studio. Especially with the small organizations we work with, the majority of their staff is actually volunteer. This means they have day jobs elsewhere. Those “day jobs” very frequently become our clients. With large organizations that we work with, they have a board of directors full of amazing executives. Those individuals become our “foot in the door” of some of our largest clientele.
Q: Was there ever a time where you thought, “this just isn’t working?”
A: Yes! I think every entrepreneur/founder has the overwhelming experience of waking up in a sweat over the future of their idea. That definitely happened to me. The reality is that I started this company when I was 19 years old. When it was close to graduation time, I knew that “shit was about to get real” and there was one evening I remember in particular waking up at 4 am terrified in 2011. I wrote a 10 year plan that night. It made me feel better, and our company has surpassed each goal on that list every single year since that night.
Q: Do you think this model is feasible for all design firms or freelancers operating a small business? Why or why not?
A: Definitely. In fact, in the past couple of years, dozens of other creative companies based all around the world have launched a “give half” business. Even more practitioners have begun taking on pro-bono work inspired by our mission and our vision. We play a very active role in the initiative of spreading our business model to as many replicants as possible because if we want to make the impact that we wish to see, we can’t do this alone. It has to be a collective effort. It has to be a movement.
Do you want your work to change the world? Do you want to positively impact humanity? Check out Justin Ahren’s session, Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is, and find out how you can discover opportunities to create impact and transform the world with your art at How Design Live! Register now and save up to $200 on a week of inspiration, innovation, and so much more in Boston, MA May 12 – 16!