Where We’re Coming From
Words by Cullen and Scott, cofounders of DoneGood
We were flying high over Tupelo, Mississippi with America’s hottest band, and we were all about to die!
Nah that’s not what happened. We just always loved that line.
What really happened is that a long long time ago, when Cullen was in college, he worked for a group called United Students Against Sweatshops. The organization worked to get universities to commit to getting their schools’ clothes from companies willing to guarantee they’d be sweatshop-free. Cullen saw firsthand how purchasing power could create positive change and thought about starting a business that makes it easy for people to find and support companies doing good for the world. He took a job in politics in the meantime. Then the meantime lasted about 12 years…
And a long long time ago when Scott was a young guy, he wanted to do something for a living that helped make the world better. He was passionate about policies that impacted working families and underserved youths. So he got into politics too.
Working in politics, we both moved to D.C. in 2007. Cullen knew a girl Scott was dating so we became friends. Then Scott and the girl broke up… but we kept being friends.
So one day we’re talking. Cullen was complaining that it’s so hard to find clothes that you know were made by a company that treats its workers well. Scott complained that his favorite sandwich shop used plastic containers even for customers dining-in and they didn’t even recycle. We talked about how we didn’t like that our money was supporting things we didn’t believe in.
We don’t think of ourselves as particularly granola or hippy guys. We just wanted it to be easy to find businesses that were cool, made high-quality stuff, were treating workers well and weren’t poisoning the planet. We talked about starting a business that helps make it easy to find those kinds of companies. But for a couple years we just talked about it…
Then in 2014 Scott applied to get his master’s at Harvard, and he got in (“check out the big brain on Brett...!”). He heard about Harvard’s incubator, the iLab. We applied with the idea of a company that helped people find businesses doing good for people and the planet, and we got in!
Scott soon had an epiphany while he was on a run—“DoneGood”. Company name, check.
So then… we just had to figure out how we were gonna accomplish our mission. Well, apps and websites make things easy; that’s where a growing number of people are finding products. Cool… except we aren’t software engineers.
So we looked for a talented engineer who would share our passion for DoneGood’s mission. Scott found Garrett, an MIT guy with app development experience, on LinkedIn and cold called him. Halfway through their first meeting Garrett said, “Aren’t you gonna make me sign an NDA?” (Garrett’s a genius so he got approached by people who want him to join their startups all the time; they always wanted him to sign a non-disclosure agreement). Scott was like nah man we don’t care about all that sh*t. We believe in what we’re doing and if other people want to do it too, the world is better off. Garrett joined the team.
Scott was getting his master’s and Cullen was still working full time in DC as press secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So we were working on DoneGood on nights and weekends. Scott started skipping classes. Cullen started taking DoneGood calls while he was at work…
So in June 2015, it was decision time. Cullen had a good career going, he had JUST been promoted, next job was likely at the White House. Scott graduated, had a shiny new degree, and was getting calls from potential employers. We needed to decide if we wanted to continue down our comfortable paths or take a chance.
We said screw it man, we believe in this thing. So Cullen quit his job and Scott didn’t get one after graduation. Cullen moved to Boston. We got a long-term house-sitting gig to save on rent (thanks Mr. and Mrs. Rose!) and sniffed out free food wherever we could (thanks iLab!). DoneGood was officially born.
We launched a pilot for the DoneGood app, highlighting local brick and mortar businesses making a positive impact in Greater Boston. It was fun. People were excited. We got good press coverage, won startup competitions. We learned a lot from that initial experiment.
We realized though that taking this movement beyond Boston meant keeping track of thousands of businesses and their products and business practices, and that was gonna be a major data management feat.
About then Cullen randomly bumped into a data scientist in the street. Actually a post-doc neuroscientist, but the brain is the world’s most complex data center, so even better. His name was Peter, a.k.a. Doctor Peter Kruskal, a.k.a. Peter Data Guy. Peter and Cullen went to the Boston Local Brew Fest, Cullen got a little drunk. Peter drove them home while Cullen sang along to some Taylor Swift song, but he didn’t know the words so he made up words having to do with Peter Data Guy. After something like that you’re pretty much buddies for life. Peter joined the team.
We plan to release more tools like this next year. All toward the goal of making it as easy as possible for people to find good products made by people we can all feel good about supporting, and helping the people starting businesses with a purpose to succeed.
We’re still figuring all this out as we go, so any suggestions you have are seriously appreciated. If you’ve ever got any feedback for us, please drop us a line.
We definitely still don’t know everything about running a successful tech company.
What we do know is that there are so many inspirational people who are proving that you can build a profitable company and make the world better at the same time.
We know that it feels better supporting them than a typical Big Box Corps, and you almost always get a more unique and higher quality product.
We know that supporting companies doing the right thing helps these companies succeed, and encourages more companies to follow suit.
We know this has the potential to create more change than anything coming out of Washington.
So we’re glad we quit our jobs. And we’re really grateful that, thanks to you, the story continues. Westward the wagons, across the sands ah time until—aw, look at us, we’re ramblin' again…
Hope to hear from you soon!
-Cullen and Scott
p.s. – email us the names of three movies we pulled quotes from in the above story, and you’ll get a reward: firstname.lastname@example.org