Here is a list of a few random things I love and care about:
- Bringing people together
- Visiting New York
- Education, especially in developing countries (doubly-especially for girls in developing countries)
- Chocolate chip cookies
I recently combined those four disparate interests and hosted a Charity Chocolate Chip Cookie Off in NYC. Together, we were able to raise $30,000 for She’s the First, which educates girls in developing countries.
I’m an immigrant. And I’m living the American Dream (albeit in Canada).
Ethnically Kashmiri (where cashmere comes from), I was born in Pakistan. We moved to Saudi Arabia when I was still a toddler, spent a few years in Japan, moved back to Saudi Arabia, and then moved to Houston to finish eighth grade before immigrating to Canada.
I wasted no time in exploring all the opportunities Canada offered me; by 1999 I had started my first online business. I was the classic serial entrepreneur – building something of interest to me, growing it, and then moving onto the next one.
My latest company is Examine.com, the largest database of supplements and nutrition. We’re an educational company that only sells guides. No physical products, no consulting, no coaching. Over 2 million people visit us every month and rely on us for unbiased nutrition information.
Here’s the thing – as I’ve attained more professional success, I’ve had more and more people tell me about how hard I must have worked, how tough I must be, and so forth.
What a load of crock.
I have worked hard. It wasn’t easy. But here’s the truth: I have extended family in both Pakistan and India, and they are smarter, savvier, and more strategic than I am.
Yet, I’m 100x more successful because of the opportunities that Canada has afforded me. All because of opportunity.
Because of how vital opportunity was in my success, I’ve often thought about how I can give back.
When you ask most people about giving, aka charity, they either think of the local soup kitchen, or of gigantic (and wasteful) organization, such as Susan G Komen and breast cancer or Movember and prostate cancer.
And the “local” movement doesn’t just apply to food and retailers; there’s a strong movement of local charities too – charities that target something specific in your local area.
Think the trend of personalization and nichification, just applied to non-profits.
And when it comes to giving, most people see other rich or famous people donating massive sums of money and think that the amount of money they can give is insignificant and won’t help anyone.
These same people often don’t think of these smaller local charities, for whom any amount is a big deal. Any contribution does make a dent!
So taking a step back, I realized I had a few skills:
- I know a lot of entrepreneurs
- I am not shy in asking for what I want
How we get from trash talking to $30,000+
A few years back I was talking to my friends about the best chocolate chip cookie in Toronto. We vehemently disagreed on who was the best when I said that the only way for us to sort it out would be a blind taste test:
About a month later, this happened:
After I posted this picture, other people started commenting on how they could make better cookies.
I said OK… prove it to me.
Over the next 18 months, I had 175+ people send me cookies:
When 2016 neared its end, people started asking me if I would do another chocolate chip cookie off. Deciding to up the ante, I converted the cookie off into a charity event. Charging only $15 (Canadian) per person, we raised $2500:
Other entrepreneurs I know saw it and said that looked like fun and they’d love to be a part of it. And so six months later, I did a sausage food off. I called it a Sausage Showdown, and yes, the jokes wrote themselves.
This time, we raised $10,000 (Canadian):
21 people flew in just to attend this event!
Hanging out with some friends in the US, they noted that they’d love to attend, but flying to Canada was a bit too much. So in early Nov this year, I hosted a chocolate chip cookie off in NYC:
I had 27 people fly in, including a few from Europe. One even flew in from Australia! I limited it to 100 tickets at $250 each.
And best of all, we raised an incredible $30,000+ for She’s the First, which educates girls in developing countries.
It is a journey
Not seeing the entire journey, one may look at the NYC Chocolate Chip Cookie Off and think “oh man, I could never do this.” But the reality is that by taking a step-by-step approach and increasing the scope every time, we were able to scale what was some bantering between friends to something much larger than just me.
There was one essential element in all this: passion.
My passion for education and what She’s the First does parlayed into the energy and enthusiasm I displayed when recruiting bakers and others to attend the event. “I honestly don’t care about the charity; I care that you care.”
His point was that he trusted me that any non-profit I was supporting was one I had vetted myself. And it was self-evident in the passion that I displayed.
And it’s that passion that let me go from $15 to $250 (and I’ll be charging $500 for the next one).
Charity isn’t about donating massive amounts of money. It isn’t about changing thousands of lives at a time. It is about taking your skillset and applying it to help make a positive difference in someone’s life. You simply leverage whatever skills you have, and mash them together into something unique.
Sol Orwell has been an entrepreneur for over 18 years. Tired of people with little experience prattling on about entrepreneurship, he’s been talking about his no-nonsense approach at http://SJO.com.