Was there a moment in your life when you knew you needed to become a social innovator? Tell us about it. What led you to the work you’re doing now?
My family has always been socially engaged. I grew up around social responsibility and I somewhat inherited the motive to continue this as I grew up. My great grandfather was an entrepreneur and that was reflected in my family life. We were encouraged to have an entrepreneurial spirit so as a family, we have always aspired to create something that would have an impact. It’s something we have always been proud of. I became an entrepreneur when I was 22 years old, fresh out of college. Through freelance work in web and content development, I was able to create my own business and start on my road as a social innovator.
I started my company, Thoughtlight, 4 years ago. My goal was to bridge the gap, the lack of technology in organizations. I could see where social enterprises don’t have the bandwidth to spend time training or hire a technologist. I saw the need to leverage technology for social impact. In order for socially responsible organizations to make effective impact and to reach their goals,Thoughtlight could come in and help them do so. After working for a startup, I decided to start a company. At the same time, I ramped up the number of classes I was teaching as a professor. This gave me the opportunity to work on my startup on the side.
Tell us about the community you serve/problem you solving.
Since starting my company 4 years ago, things have changed. What was initially people telling us “I need to learn how to use Facebook” or “please help us use social media” has now become a more sophisticated need on the part of the user. The social media and marketing landscape is ever changing and our clients are now asking us more targeted questions, such as “should we be using paid Facebook?” or “should I be using Google Tag manager in house?” Our clients know that they need more so they are naturally requesting more. Thoughtlight has proudly supported this community with expert solutions.
Is there a gap between social enterprises and for profit companies?
Yes, there’s still a gap. The gap seems to be staying steady, rather than increasing, as nonprofit organizations are able to ask pointed questions about their technology, while the for profit world is going to things like AI and Automation. Seeing that the nonprofit sector is staged where the for profit sector was, I firmly believe that we will see this gap close up a little bit in the coming years.
What’s needed in the social impact sector to leverage technology better?
Part of what is needed is to provide tools that are more affordable or attainable for organizations, who may not be able to to develop them with their budget or current staffing situations. We have solutions for the basics, like tracking donors or managing social media, at all price points. We need that same range of solutions for cutting-edge technologies, such as AI. I do think the tech lifecycle is accelerating, so that technologies that are advanced and thus expensive today will be accessible to a broader range of social impact organizations sooner than ever. There is also a skills gap. We aim to help close that with affordable training.
If you could go back and give yourself three pieces of advice when you started your organization, what would that be?
Hire people sooner and delegate earlier. It’s a challenge for every entrepreneur to learn how to let things go, delegate, and trust your team. I think that the earlier you do it, the more equipped you are to bring on new team members, create good habits and successfully enable everyone who is working for you to be their best, myself included.
Even though if you’re serving the social impact sector, don’t devalue or undercharge for your work! You’re not doing your colleagues and the profession any favors if you are undercutting your prices. You’re not “giving yourself the room to be your best self” so always value your own work and skills.
Make time (even at the busiest times) to connect with the community you’re helping. Personally, I went through a phase where I barely did any networking, I didn’t connect with a lot of people which, in retrospect, is disappointing. As I look at my clients now, the most rewarding works comes through the connections I did build because I made this piece a priority.
How has Impact Hub impacted your business? What energizes you at the Hub?
Impact hub Boston and coworking in general, help the entrepreneur, whether in the social sector, health sector, and beyond. Staying connected has been important to me and being at Impact Hub has helped Thoughtlight with that. I love that we have that unstructured social time to be creative thinkers and to connect with others, rather than just keep our heads down, doing our work. Creative thinking is so important to the entrepreneur and coworking removes that feeling of being on an “island” that so many people in business for themselves experience.
I’ve been a coworking member of Impact Hub ever since the beginning. It is so easy for an entrepreneur to stay 12 hours straight, without a break, to solve interesting problems. While people are doing great work, if you do that day after day, you will eventually burn out and lose that creative edge that has made you successful in the first place.
What I love about Impact Hub coworking is that it puts people together, people from different sectors who may not have connected otherwise. You’re never alone and there’s always people to bounce ideas off of. It’s truly a great space where you’re encouraged to build your business. Impact Hub has provided an environment for community and creativity that is truly special.