MPOWERD is lighting the way in social enterprise. Celebrating 10 years in business they have impacted 4 million lives and diverted 3 million tonnes of carbon through their portable solar powered lights and chargers. In this episode founder John Salzinger with President and CEO Seungah Jeong share with us their journey with MPOWERD and the impact they are having around the globe with over 700 NGO partners.
Empowered brings light and hope through their innovative technologies and dedication to making a positive impact on both people and the planet. Founder John Salzinger and CEO Seungah Jeong share with us the company’s mission to provide access to clean energy and improve the lives of individuals around the world.
One of the key aspects of MPOWERD’s work is their focus on environmental sustainability. The company has been able to avert 3 million tons of CO2, a remarkable achievement for a small team. This demonstrates the significant impact that even a few individuals can have when they are committed to making a difference. By developing and distributing technologies that reduce carbon emissions, MPOWERD is actively contributing to the fight against climate change.
Our conversation also highlights the personal stories and gratitude from individuals who have been positively affected by MPOWERD’s technologies. The speaker mentions receiving letters, photos, and stories from people whose lives have been touched by the company’s products. These personal accounts serve as a testament to the real and tangible impact that MPOWERD is making in communities around the world.
Additionally, we discusses MPOWERD’s work in areas affected by natural disasters. The speakers recount their experiences in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, where they distributed lights to communities still without electricity months after the disaster. They describe how the lights brought comfort and a sense of security to individuals, including a young boy who had lost family members and was afraid of the dark. These stories demonstrate the profound impact that MPOWERD’s products can have on people’s lives, providing them with light, hope, and a sense of normalcy in challenging circumstances.
One of Empowered’s most well-known products is Lucy, an inflatable cylinder with a small solar panel on top. Lucy has become a symbol of hope and empowerment for over 3 billion people worldwide who rely on polluting technologies and fuels for everyday household tasks. By providing clean light and energy, Lucy has transformed the lives of many, enabling them to work, study, and live their lives more comfortably and sustainably.
Empowered’s impact goes beyond just providing clean energy. Through their Give Lucy campaign, they have partnered with over 700 NGOs and nonprofits to distribute Lucy lights to those who need them the most. This collaborative approach ensures that their products reach the communities that can benefit from them the most, creating a ripple effect of positive change.
[00:00] John Salzinger Get up. Everyone falls. We all fall. That’s not the story. That’s not the story. The story is did you get up and how did you get up? If you fell, did you learn from it? Welcome to the Responsibly Different Podcast, sharing stories and insights from people harnessing purchasing power to improve the world. Did you know that over 3 billion people worldwide rely on polluting technologies and fuels for everyday household tasks? MPOWERD is literally lighting the way, creating accessible and sustainable clean light and energy for people around the globe. You’ve likely seen their lights at your favorite outdoor retailer. Their classic lantern is an inflatable cylinder with a small solar panel on top called Lucy. And Lucy is having a big impact around the globe. As a certified B Corp since January of 2014 with a current B impact score of 104, MPOWERD works with over 700 NGOs and nonprofits around the globe to distribute Lucy lights to those who need them most. On today’s show, founder of MPOWERD, John Salzinger, is joined by the current CEO, Seungah Jeong, to share with us their journey of using business
[01:34] Benn Marine as a force for good. To kind of kick us off, share with us your role at MPOWERD and what your favorite MPOWERD product is. Oh, sure. I’m the founder of MPOWERD, Chief Business Development Officer as well. Touched product marketing and sales. And my favorite product, I think, would be our bike light. We have a modular magnetic solar and rechargeable bike light set that we launched during the pandemic because we wanted to, first of all, incentivize people to get out of their houses and also ride to work, commute to work safely, but also in an
[02:17] Seungah Jeong environmentally friendly way, clean up their bike ride. What about for you, Seungah? So I’m the CEO and President at MPOWERD. And my favorite product, hands down, is our color solar string light. So I love that it’s a sleek white case and I can open it and I’ll have 18 feet of string lights, eight different colors, including a color changing mode. And I love it. I just put it outside whenever I’m entertaining. I string it up in my trees or sometimes on the front porch. It’s my go-to light, even if I, let’s say, go to the park for a picnic. It’s instant lighting, instant decor. So I just love the versatility. I always have one in my backpack, my bag, just again, for those impromptu moments. And there’s always this like wow factor with them when I take out the lights and everyone’s
[03:13] John Salzinger like, oh, it’s an instant party. That’s awesome. And while we’re talking a little about lights and doing introductions, I’m curious for folks listening who maybe aren’t as familiar with MPOWERD as a
[03:23] Benn Marine brand, can you introduce Lucy and what the Give Lucy campaign is? Yeah, sure. So interestingly enough, this is our 10-year anniversary. MPOWERD is our company and it’s an acronym for micro powered design. So personal portable products that are solar powered and designed very well. And in a transformative fun fact fashion. Lucy is the sub-brand and it comes from Luce for light. And we have, we’re a B Corp and a benefit corporation, which I think is important because we’ve impacted 4 million lives and averted 3 million tons of CO2 in those 10 years. And so that’s just a little bit about the company and the brand. There are 16 SKUs of portable technologies. There are lights, there are chargers, there are speakers, there are string lights, there are candles, color lights, they’re waterproof, they’re portable. Pretty interesting transformative gear. Not only for outdoor camping, et cetera, but also for emergency preparedness. That’s amazing. That’s so cool. And speaking of all of that impact, I’m curious, John, as a founder, can you share with us a bit about how MPOWERD came to be? So I always go back to before myself and my parents and a really strong upbringing where people and planet were top of mind and that we weren’t on this planet or our home alone. And that in itself sort of gave me a nudge to want to do something a little more. I’ve done a lot of different things, a lot of businesses, but none of them really gave me purpose in life. And the idea that I could not only work and pay my rent, but make the world a better place for the next generation and the planet felt right. And so that was sort of the inception of the idea.
[05:24] Seungah Jeong And Seungah, you joined MPOWERD as CEO and president in 2016. I’m so curious, how did you all find each other and what brought you to the company? So I was MPOWERD’s fourth or fifth CEO. And basically somebody from the board of directors found me and just a little bit about my background. I was actually born into a situation where we didn’t have running water or electricity. And I always, like John, knew that I wanted to have a greater impact in the world. So when MPOWERD found me, I was just enthralled by the fact that you could work in a for-profit consumer-oriented company and still create impact on a meaningful scale. And I’m so proud of all the work that we’ve done together in the last 10 years to really bring this business model to fruition. So our primary markets are all around the world. We distribute in 90 different countries. In some of those countries like the US, Japan, Australia, Germany, just to name a few, our lights are sold in regular traditional retail channels, whereby our consumers might use our lights for the various off-the-grid adventures, hiking, kayaking, fishing, you name it. At the same time, those robust retail sales allow us to tier our margin structure. So when we’re operating in emerging markets, people are able to buy our lights at affordable, localized pricing. And then also, you know, our lights are used in disaster, and emergency relief situations. And it’s all thanks to, you know, our ability to be able to innovate, produce, create, market our products to these two diverse markets. But at the end of the day, we know that people are people. They want products that solve solutions, are well-designed, are fun, are made out of quality materials, where the people working behind the brand love what they’re doing. Everyone from, you know, our factory workers to our employees here in the US, we’re all about people. And then we make these products for people, no matter who they are, where they live, what circumstances, you know, they may be in. And these products help
[08:03] John Salzinger literally illuminate their lives. That’s amazing. I love that so much. And John, you mentioned too about being a B Corp, and that being part of your journey and using business as a force for good. And you all certified super early on. I’m so curious, how did you hear about B Corp certification? Why is it something that is so important and valuable to you all?
[08:23] Benn Marine Yeah, so the idea behind the business was to figure out how to utilize CPG as a vehicle for change, and an engine for change. And our business model is such that we’re able to sell in the developed world, whether it’s DTC, or to retailers or the corporates, at a healthy margin, that therefore enables us to tier pricing and make it affordable for people around the world that require tools, who require the ability to be safe and have their own energy without the harmful effects of kerosene, etc. So the idea behind the country just lends itself to being a B Corp, who’s familiar with it very early on. Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s. So it wasn’t a mystery to me at the time. What was interesting and what makes us a bit more novel is that we do combine sort of the ability and act as a vehicle for change for consumers to just purchase our products, and we can change the world through that purchase. And so we’re a good company, we’re environmentally friendly, but we also have a lot of action in our Give program, which is set up to enable us to sort of galvanize at the drop of a dime. We work with about 700 NGOs in over 10 years from the UN on down, whether it’s a hurricane or a fire, or a capacity building initiative in South Africa, or even the Ukraine. And maybe Sango wants to speak about that because it’s an initiative that, although it’s gone out of the media cycle a little bit, is still ongoing and people are
[10:08] Seungah Jeong suffering. And we have a wonderful program that can act as a vehicle for change for your business. Thank you, John. So yes, Ben, I’d love to share that Empower has teamed up with NUMI Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of NUMI Organic Teas, as well as an amazing NGO called Waves for Water. And so together we are deploying lights, water, and power to 550,000 internally displaced people within the Ukraine. So, you know, these are people who may be hiding out in bunkers or abandoned buildings. And for them, you know, light, water, and power are essential. So Waves for Water is undergoing, you know, the current deployment now. And then we are raising funds collectively for future further deployment in September. The really amazing thing with this partnership is that we understand, hopefully, whenever the war ends, there may still be a time for reconstruction. So, you know, the infrastructure has heavily been damaged and the materials we’re providing in terms of our solar lights and mobile charging devices, as well as the water purification systems, will allow individuals to have their own source of water, power, and electricity for up to 10 years. So we’re really seeing this as an initiative to not only help during this immediate crisis, but also during whatever may incur into during the
[11:42] Benn Marine reconstruction phase. I’ll just add a way people can be involved. You go to empowered.com, mpowerd.com, slash pages, slash Ukraine Relief Give Light, H2O, Ukraine Relief Give Light, H2O. You can also just Google empowered Ukraine Relief. But it’s a really wonderful way for people to be involved in a situation where you feel sort of helpless in watching people’s health.
[12:16] John Salzinger That’s amazing. And I’ll make sure to link to that in the show notes, too, for folks. It’ll be a super quick, easy way for folks to get there. Thank you for that. Yeah, no, my pleasure. Also, I’m curious, too, kind of while we’re on this thread of talking about your partnerships with NGOs and partnering with over 700 of them, as you mentioned earlier, I’m so curious, how do you find those NGOs and select them? And what does that whole process
[12:39] Seungah Jeong look like? That’s a great question. So some of them find us, and we find some of them. The reason why we have these NGO partners is because we know that we can focus on product innovation, manufacturing, but this last mile effort is one that we’re seeking not to replicate, but to really capitalize on through our partners who know best how to actually distribute to the last mile, what programming might be most effective. So it’s a wonderful example of private-public partnerships and also NGO partnerships. So we work across a number of different areas. It could be anything from female entrepreneurship to education to medical clinics to rural development. Our lights serve many different purposes. So many of these NGO partners, John mentioned, the UN, Save the Children, International Medical Corps, all the way down to tiny organizations that work with very localized communities. All of these organizations are doing the actual work. And if we can combine with them so that they’re able to deploy our lights plus mobile charging devices at the same time, it’s sort of a win-win scenario. So again, we kind of mutually find each other based upon the work that we’re doing. And in many of these cases, we found there to be a terrific synergy. Just as a quick example, International Medical Corps has taken our lights a number of times, not only to keep the medical clinics open, but they also found that our lights are a very well-desired incentive for vaccinations. So prior to COVID, they were finding there was a level of distress within certain local communities. But if they gave our lights to the female head of these families, then the vaccination rate improved tremendously. So that’s just one micro example of how, again, our organizations know their communities, know what work would be beneficial, and we’re able to collaborate with them to provide this vehicle for
[14:59] Benn Marine change. Sorry, John, did you want to add to it? Yeah, I was just going to say the passion behind the project as a company is finding deployment partners that fit, whether it’s capacity building or emergency preparedness and response. Our products are unique as a solution because they’re off-grid and they’re solar. And so it’s really autonomous solutions with an abundant source of energy in any situation. And almost every catastrophic calamity, whether it’s made by us as humans or a natural disaster, it’s probably made by us too at the end of the day, they all necessitate this ability to be autonomous, this ability to have self-reliance. The other thing about our tools is whether we’ve gone to an earthquake or a hurricane situation, they’re great for the first responders, they’re great for the people that have been affected, but they’re also long-lasting. And so they’ll be there for as long as the NGO is there or the non-profit is there deploying. But then when they leave, people can use the tools at the next disaster and there’s going to be a next disaster. So this isn’t just for emerging markets. We’re in Brooklyn and New
[16:18] Seungah Jeong York gets hit with hurricanes. And so this is something we used in the past. John, do you mind also sharing an example? So we mentioned some of the larger NGOs, but we also have individuals who
[16:31] Benn Marine partner with us. So you mind talking a little bit about Jaquille’s work? Sure. So Jaquille Jackson runs an organization called Project I.M. He’s an ambassador of ours. He didn’t start out that way. Someone we reached out to and found, he’s from the south side of Chicago. His parents are community organizers. He noticed there was a lot of homeless people in Chicago and he decided he wanted to do something about it. He told his parents, his parents being fantastic, well not as in-parents, decided that they would help him create Project I.M. Tens of thousands of what they call blessing bags, so they’re bags of necessities, including our lights at times, and the deployments and where they’re deployed in the United States and elsewhere, have gone to people without homes. And it’s just an incredible story. I mean, this guy started when he was like, man, 11, 12, he’s like 13 or 14 now. He’s incredible. After that, he became a young wonder, a CNN hero, literally. So it’s just an incredible story. He’s now an official ambassador of MPOWERD. You can find out more about him on our website and absolutely donate to his organization.
[17:47] John Salzinger He’s the hope that we all hope for. That’s amazing. That is so cool. And so it sounds like you develop long lasting relationships with these folks. Is that right? Absolutely. Yeah, we have nine 10-year relationships as long as the company is going around. That’s amazing. For folks listening that are also entrepreneurs looking to do good, do you have any advice for folks in
[18:14] Benn Marine finding and developing those kind of relationships? For me, it’s been very easy. If you have a solution that’s going to solve a problem, NGOs deploy, they’re just deployment partners that are in situations where we’re not. We’re in New York. We’re remote now, so we’re kind of all over the United States. But when you have an opportunity to help an organization that already has the infrastructure, you know how and the wisdom to solve problems, it’s not difficult to reach out to them and offer a solution. And if your solution is honest, works well, and fits into their programming, it’s not a difficult task. That first part, that is the key. Is it actually solving a problem? Is
[19:00] Seungah Jeong it not creating more problems? That’s the key. So it should be a thoughtful solution. I think for any budding entrepreneurs, I’d love to share the fact that it’s really integral to live your values through your company every day, no matter what situation might arise, because those are the points at which you’re building something that’s very genuine and authentic. And sometimes in the short term, you have to make decisions. Certain decisions may not be aligned with your values, what you’re trying to achieve. Longer term, if you make the right decisions, even if it’s difficult, even if you’re in a cash crunch position, or you have a particular partner who’s interested, but maybe their values don’t align, it’s critical because that’s something that we’ve learned at Empower. You build this reputation one person at a time, one retailer at a time, one vendor at a time. And if at any point, you know, code of conduct, ethics, positioning in the marketplace might not be aligned, you really need to reevaluate that relationship and make sure you stand for what you’re saying you stand for. And so I’m covering a broad number of topics very generically by saying this, but underneath it, we know that our consumers know that when we are manufacturing, selling, distributing this product, we’re not taking shortcuts. We’re not, you know, we’re supporting our workers at our factory. We are, you know, trying to be as current as possible with all the latest and best regulations and environmental thought processes. You know, there’s always room for improvement. We continue to strive for it, you know, removing poly bags, changing, you know, removing inks so everything’s recyclable. It is a continual process. And I know for any entrepreneur out there, it can seem daunting at times. Again, when those choices are around money or, you know, your values, thankfully, this environment is growing whereby there are businesses, certification bodies, capacity builders in our space that are supportive of these efforts. And we have to continually come to the table, remember what
[21:30] Benn Marine we’re all about and make the right choices. Yeah, I’ll add one more thing because I should have said this to begin with. You surround yourself with really smart people. You surround yourself with people that work really hard and you work really hard. Nothing happens without hard work. There is no shortcut. Time, effort equals success and preparation as well. So you prepare. Does the NGO fit, is an example to your question. Does the programming fit? Who do I reach out to? Who’s the
[22:02] John Salzinger decision maker? And then persistence until they answer your call. Amazing. I love that and well said. You know, and also speaking of social impact, I know, Seungah, you were recently appointed to co-chair the board of the American Sustainability Business Network. Congrats, by the way. Thank you.
[22:21] Seungah Jeong Can you tell us a little bit about ASBN and what got you excited to be part of that work? Of course. So interestingly, as we’ve been speaking about B Corp’s ASBN and its former iteration and its original iteration as Social Venture Circle, they were the ones who incubated B Lab, which is the certification company behind the certification of B Corp. So this organization is now a merger between American Sustainable Business and Social Venture Network. And we’re really proud because now what we are able to do is have members who are social entrepreneurs, impact investors, capacity builders, and together we’re able to move to Capitol Hill. So policy is the latest focus of ours with this merger into what is today at ASBN. And that allows our voices to really be heard at a level where local, state, and federal policies can be shifted. And we’re doing that through the economic power we have as businesses. So tremendously important. There are so many issues today that may seem like they don’t fit within the business sphere, but in fact, everything from reproductive rights, diversity, equity, and inclusion. We know that there are intersections of Jedi with climate change. There’s so much of it is woven into who we are, the access we have, the importance of all of this, and the workplace as being one sphere where we can demand change
[24:08] John Salzinger on a systematic level through policies, through again, our combined economic powers. That’s amazing. I love that. And are all of the kind of policy efforts that you all are working on on your website, or are there places where folks can go? Like if they were like, oh my gosh,
[24:24] Seungah Jeong that sounds amazing. I want to get plugged in. What should they do? Absolutely. The ASBN website is a perfect place to start understanding some of our policy platforms. And then we have conferences, we have different webinars for engagement. You don’t necessarily have to be a member to join those. But of course, membership comes with benefits of being able to directly let your voice be heard. But we encourage everyone to take a look. You can be an individual, you could be a scholar, you can not even be a business professional and still join. I think it’s imperative again, that we become active and not only in our own work, but also on this larger platform, because there are many whose voices are not heard today. And for us, whether at MPOWERD, ASBN, this is all integral. We’re all here sharing one planet, doing our best to live quality lives. And
[25:30] John Salzinger we need to do our work to ensure that everyone has that same level of access. Absolutely. That’s amazing. I’m excited to dig in and learn more about it. I’ll make sure we get links to that in the show notes as well. Thank you. Let’s talk a little bit more about MPOWERD’s impact. So I know that we’ve kind of touched on some top level stuff, and some of the NGOs you work with. Can you share some
[25:49] Benn Marine highlights of your impact on both people and the planet? Yeah, I mean, I can just speak, I’ll speak environmentally. I’m sure has some stories. We have tons of people that are reached out to us, being thankful for our technologies. We’re a small team, tens of people. I think the ability to avert 3 million tons of CO2 doesn’t even seem feasible for tens of people. But every keystroke really matters in the company. And it’s one thing for those of us who understand climate change to be real, to speak out against it and talk about it and recycle our garbage. It’s another to realize that each of us can have a really great impact, a much larger effect than ourselves. And even just a few people at a small company in Brooklyn can also galvanize a whole ton of support and really just enable people, regular everyday consumers, to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Corporations, we’re a vehicle for change for corporations that donate to our give program. And so I think it’s really important to align your own personal views with what you do every day. It’s not enough to just talk about it. It’s not enough to pontificate or punditry or any of that. It doesn’t really do anything. It’s actionable items with what you do during your day. And just as a consumer, you can buy from companies that are good companies to the planet. You can also choose a career that helps the planet. And so I would suggest working in the way that you see yourself and in the way that you’d like to live
[27:47] Seungah Jeong and potentially the way you’d like your children to live. Sange, any stories? I think in terms of people, on a macro level, we have the statistics of 4 million lives impacted. But on a very deeply personal level, we literally receive letters, photos, stories from people that we’ve touched. And I can’t tell you how powerful each outreach that we receive might be. I have photos actually of our lights in North Korea. And if you talk about a country with very little access to many resources, it’s incredible to see people gathered around one of our lights. And our lights might be helping a medical clinic actually have electricity. It’s just incredible. We’ve also received stories actually about people whose lives we’ve saved. There was a gentleman, he was on a fishing boat by himself and he was having a heart attack actually. But he was having a very difficult time reaching anyone and the coast card couldn’t find him. So he took our lights, which also float and he put them around his boat. And that’s how they found him. They airlifted him to a hospital. He received emergency services in time. And then he wrote us this letter a few months later. So again, on a grand scale, we know we’ve done tremendous work. On an individual scale, these are just some of the stories. And in those opportunities where John and I or any one of our team members has gone on a volunteer trip to see our lights in action, that’s also incredible. John and I went to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. And it was just stunning. Of course, the devastation, but also in these remote little towns where there was still no electricity six or eight months after Hurricane Maria. And we were distributing lights and literally hearing firsthand from this young boy who couldn’t sleep. He had lost his father and his brother and just was terrified of the night. And so every morning his mom told us he would get up, put his Lucy light outside in the sun so that every night he could bring it back inside their home, which was just a demolished part of the garage. And he cuddle with his Lucy light because it made him feel more comfortable. So again, just at this level, it’s astounding to know that this little light that we’ve created in its various iterations can bring so much comfort, help, the ability to do something further, read, work, whatever it may be. So wherever our customers are around the world, we’re delighted to be able to bring this element of light to them. And then again, in terms of some
[31:05] Benn Marine of our mobile charging devices, the ability to communicate, which is priceless. And on our blog has a ton of stories and anywhere from California to Puerto Rico, India, to the Messiah, in Africa, Morocco, you name it. There’s a lot of really interesting heartwarming stories as to what one can do to help people.
[31:29] John Salzinger LESLIE KENDRICK That’s amazing. That’s so cool. And so inspiring as well. These sometimes little things like light that we so frequently take for granted, the true power of it’s really, incredible. Thank you for that. I’m curious, what have been some of the biggest challenges you all have faced as a business and how have you worked through some of those?
[31:48] Benn Marine JOHN LENOX I’ll start because as a startup early on, everything was a challenge. You don’t have money to pay yourself. You have nothing. You have to sort of figure out how are you going to make this product? Everything. You have to figure out how are you going to pay those people that might be smarter than you to work with you? What I’ll say more than just the challenges is if you are going to work in the impact space, a lot of those challenges are a little bit easier. You can get better terms from your factory because of the work you do. You can get vendors to do things for free because of your mission. You can set pricing a little better and retailers would be a little kinder to you because of your mission. It’s because people want to actually do good and if you’re affording that vehicle for positive impact, most people will jump on board and those that don’t, you probably don’t want to work with anyway because they don’t align with your value and your missions. But everything from investment to vendors and across the board, every sort of business challenge you may have, your authenticity, your credibility, it’s all affected positively by your mission. And so yeah, I mean we could do four hours on challenges but those are boring. It’s about taking challenges and turning them into
[33:13] Seungah Jeong opportunities. Agreed. I would also add though that we’re a company and we’re trying to do so many things. We care about people, the environment, so we’re looking under every rock to make sure that everything we do is values aligned but we still have to compete because we’re a business. So we have to compete on the same shelves with companies that may not be taking all of this extra time and diligence to do what we’re doing. We’re re-certifying right now for B Corp status. Every year we actually or every two years we try to beat our last score and so we’ve spent countless hours reviewing every question trying to figure out what else we can do, right? Those are hours that other companies may not be spending. So back to John’s earlier point, we have to work hard but we have to work even harder because there’s a whole layer of meaningful work that imbues our work days that we can’t ignore. That’s part of our opportunity but it is a challenge to be a brand, to be a effective company out there, to compete, to compete on Google AdWords for instance but if we sit back and we remember what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, that challenge does
[34:42] John Salzinger become a little bit easier. I’m curious how have you leaned into, I feel like you all are very tech forward in everything in what you do and with your products. I’m curious how you’ve learned
[34:53] Seungah Jeong into your technology infrastructure to improve kind of overall operations. It’s a great question. So one of the challenges as a small company, you have to decide what resources you’re going to invest in, right? And again, it could have been the case that we said you know what, investing in technology costs a little bit more upfront and we’re not going to do that. But thankfully, starting with John as the founder, you know when I came on board I found that that was not the mentality because there was an understanding that we had to build the foundation in order to scale later. So those early years, it probably was a little bit tougher to invest in technology but around the time that I joined the company, we did move to NetSuite as our ERP system and John and I have talked about this extensively but that was one of the best decisions we could have made. For us, NetSuite as an ERP system was on a larger scale than you know what we could afford during those days and what we thought we might need but our scale has increased tremendously since that time and NetSuite has given us the ability to also be flexible with our growth. We had to, like many other companies, make it through the pandemic and that really shifted quite a lot of what we were doing from you know retailers who had closed their businesses to vendors, manufacturers, you know to just even looking at our supply chain and capacity. So thankfully being on a system like NetSuite allowed us to in real time and across different states and time zones make those decisions that we needed to make. That’s amazing and I’m curious
[36:46] John Salzinger too, especially since we’re up, how did COVID impact you all? I mean it sounds like clearly obviously we all know it impacted retailers and all of that but I imagine your product too would also be really helpful for folks who maybe you know are quarantining and maybe don’t have access to the library or what have you. I don’t know, I’m just curious how that impacted you all.
[37:09] Benn Marine Well I’ll just talk about one feature we did with the campaign. We’ve initially and traditionally done go bags. So if there’s a disaster, fire, earthquake, hurricane, people need to leave and they need their bag ready to go. It’s good to have a loosey light. It’s also good to have a water filter. It’s good to have some freeze-dried food, etc. A few items. I’m sure your local state government has a website to tell you what to bring. But during the pandemic we wanted people to stay home in the beginning by choice but we wanted them to stay put if they could. And part of that was having a stay bag. So that was a campaign that we did and we were able to do and not everyone has the ability but for those who aren’t in the city, I’m in the city, go to your backyard and turn that into a camp and get your kids out there. Do everything you can to ensure that you’re safe and everyone around you is safe, your loved ones are safe. And so we put a whole campaign together around that and the other thing was the bike light was something we used technology to sort of advance, potentially advance people’s choices on their behavior to make things a little safer because as a tech company we believe in science.
[38:28] Seungah Jeong Yes, I think we were able to reach some new consumers because many people discovered or rediscovered the outdoors. So whether a local park, a backyard, etc., we didn’t have very many options during those early days, you know, certainly didn’t want to go indoors. So we found a lot of people rediscovered the outdoors and our product was sort of perfect for that. We also were part of the shift in general as a business to working fully remotely. So as of today we’re still fully remote and supporting those, just supporting our team so that whether it’s their own health, the health of loved ones, whether it’s no longer having to fear commuting, just that quality of life that we’re always striving for, we found that becoming a fully remote office really reduced our overall footprint and elevated the footprint of autonomy, agency, independence for our team and then allowed us to, through our products, continue to reach our consumers wherever they are, however they’re using our products. And that’s what we love about what we do too. There’s this aspect again of like who doesn’t want to be off the grid, you know, doing something fun, having an adventure, whether alone with some friends, family, dog, you name it, right? And this gives you everything. You can be connected via your cell phone if you’d like or you can just have our light, as a useful tool. So we really felt lucky that, again, what we do means a lot to people. And so during the pandemic, of course, we had to shuffle, we had to learn how to do our business differently,
[40:23] John Salzinger but we were still able to reach our consumers, which was very nice. That’s awesome. I’m curious on the flip side of all of that would have been, a flip side of challenges, what’s been most rewarding in your journey with MPOWERD?
[40:37] Benn Marine I mean, for sure, the impact on people’s lives. Again, you know, check out the blog, but it’s just, it’s from A to Z, the ways we’ve impacted people and some of the ways are not as intuitive. It’s not just that, you know, you have a light, it’s what that light enables that person to do. But if they can, you know, work a little longer into later hours in an informal market and make a little more money, if they’re a farmer in a rural area in Southeast Asia, then they need the prices and they don’t have to go all the way into town to get the prices. I mean, it’s just the little things that you don’t really think about when you think about a light. And then just, I mean, for me personally, I’m lucky, I flip a switch and that’s that. And it’s not harming my health with so many people around the world, whether it’s kerosene or firewood or candles burning without proper ventilation. There’s any way that we can sort of prevent that, especially with like, you know, families and kids. I mean, that’s just an enormous impact on people’s health and well-being. And then later on stress and health issues. So I think the absence of these technologies is devastating. And so the fact that we are able to provide them to those that
[42:01] Seungah Jeong use our products is heartwarming and incredibly important and a great equalizer. I would say what’s been the most rewarding is to be part of a movement, I’ll call it. So, you know, earlier, I shared my story. What I left out was that for over two decades, I was in traditional business. I learned a lot. It was very rewarding, but there was no impact side to what I did. Instead, I made a lot of products, primarily in the beauty industry, to help people feel better about themselves. But what was troubling to me was, in fact, you know, people didn’t necessarily need these products and we are marketing to them so that they thought they needed them so they would feel better about themselves. Right. Today, we make products that actually do help people, that people use in whatever form or fashion they want for their own edification, adventure. And it feels really good to be part of this global business community, this movement focused on people, on planet, on great values, on helping you feel good about yourself and enabling you through a resource to be able to do more of what you do already. And I love that shift in the value equation. And one other element of it, I love being in this space, along with John and many of the people on our team, of innovation. So this is another thing that sometimes, you know, the news can be bleak. You don’t know what to do. You don’t know how to engage. And, you know, being an entrepreneur, you know, 100% of our products are covered by one or more patents. That’s incredible to think that you can literally be creating solutions. And so I know that keeps me going in the morning, you know, knowing that we’re creating solutions, we’re creating impact, like, it’s such a rewarding place to be versus saying, what can I do? You know, everything seems overwhelming. So play a part of this movement and the innovation. I’d love, I know John would as well, I’d love to encourage other entrepreneurs, other people to really join us in this particular realm. Let’s innovate together. Let’s create new ways of partnering. Whatever you do well, please join us on this side, the side where we care. And, you know, let’s support each other and do this great
[44:40] John Salzinger work together. I love that. And I think both of you are leaders in this space, for sure, of using business as a for impact and as a force for good. I’m curious, what do you see and what are you hearing from other folks in the space in terms of what some of their biggest challenges are? And
[45:00] Seungah Jeong what advice do you have for them in working through that? I’m happy to go first because I I sit in, I don’t know how to call it, but I’m a woman. And I’m originally not from this country. I could be called a woman of color. And one of the challenges is still access. So, especially when it comes to raising money, to being heard, to being, you know, part of decision making entities, there are various, I don’t know what to call them, classifications. You know, I don’t want to say that because we’re all people, but there are some barriers. And I do hear about them now because they’re there. And so I speak about them. I used to think, oh, I’m just somebody doing this work. I didn’t envision that I stood for other aspects of who I am. But it is important to recognize that there are still obstacles out there. It is in a level playing field. And, you know, thank you for letting me share that. What I would say is, you know, if you are an entrepreneur out there and you’re running into challenges like this, there are people like myself, you know, at ASBN, you know, I broke through a barrier along with my co-chair, who’s from the Native American community. You know, we’re there to say, our voices are just as important. So finding people who have already been down that path, potentially, figuring out, you know, who some of those partners and supporters may be who can help you through those challenges, who recognize that there are some inequities in place, you know, that’s what I would suggest. And I think the more that we speak up and we share that, you know, those inequities do exist, then we’ll be able to help foster more meaningful connections.
[47:04] Benn Marine That makes a lot of sense, of course. Yeah, I would say, you know, a few decades ago, if you were to open up a business, doesn’t matter what it is, you could go to a bank, you could get a loan, you could start a business. Those days are long gone, based on a lot of policy that’s happened at macro economic levels, regulation levels, changes in banking. And unfortunately, one relies now on wealthy individuals early on in their company, angel investors. One relies on venture or private equity after that. And I think that is really challenging for people. It is not an equal playing field. It is who you know. What I would say is do your research on anyone that you’re going to go to to ask for money, make sure that they’re mission aligned, strategically aligned, aligned with you as a person. And that you’re also getting funds that are strategic in the sense that they can provide assistance, actually relationships. So strategic are what people call smart money. Someone who’s actually going to help your business, not just with the money, but they’ll be joining you as a team, and they’ll be a part of your business. They have an interest in growing your business and the capacity to do so. I think that’s, I think, especially now more than ever, with so much of the funds in the world going to 1% of the population, I think it’s really important for the 99% to ensure that they align appropriately with the right people in order to be successful, not just in the short term, tactically, but strategically in the long term. Because if you do it wrong, you can get the rug pulled out from it. You can spend a lot of time and effort and make someone else wealthy, frankly. You have to be very careful and very smart, very astute. But that is a really, maybe it’s not obvious to everyone, but to me, that’s the biggest inequity. And it crosses every social construct imaginable. There are really haves and have nots and more so every year based on policy. And I would lastly just say, one of the things you can do just as a person is vote in your self-interest. Research who you’re voting for and make sure you’re voting for people that are actually creating policy that helps you in
[49:43] John Salzinger whatever economic strategy you’re in. I love that. Thank you, Seungah and John, for those insights. I think that’s amazing and super helpful for folks. I know we’re coming up on time here. Any final
[49:59] Seungah Jeong thoughts or insights that you want to leave folks with or words of wisdom? I think we’re facing record high temperatures all around the world this week. We’re continuing to look forward into a pretty catastrophic season of hurricanes and whatnot. I think I just want to say climate change is real. And we’re offering one solution. We really hope that there are others out there who are listening who will be coming up with more solutions because this really does affect all of us. And it’s affecting us at a more personal level every day. And there’s so much room for us to continue to look into alternative energies and alternative patterns of consumption and whatever we can do collectively in addition to the policy level. But today, if there are things
[51:04] Benn Marine that we can do, it’s essential. I should have gone first because that should end the show right there. I mean, just on a more personal level, I have a five-year-old kid. And this sort of is an interesting anecdote to being an entrepreneur. Now, sometimes he falls down. Who cares? Get up. So the fortitude in realizing that if you want something bad enough, that you’re going to have the inner strength to help yourself, no one’s going to help you. It’s a tough world. There’s a pandemic that just never seems to go away. There’s climate change. There’s war. There’s suffering. There’s famine. I don’t want to be negative. But this is the world we live in. It’s a cutthroat world where most of the money has gone to the top of the economy. What I would say is believe in yourself. Work really hard. If you do feel down or need help, ask for it. There’s plenty of people like somewhere I, who are reachable on LinkedIn, ask for help. But I do think it’s really important to take personal responsibility in our lives. I teach your kids, get up. Everyone
[52:22] John Salzinger falls. We all fall. That’s not the story. That’s not the story. The story is did you get up and how did you get up? If you fell, did you learn from it? I think that’s the way it is in life. Thank you so much for tuning in. Be sure to check the show notes to see links from the topics covered in this episode, as well as some bonus content from MPOWERD. If you enjoy this content, be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a review. It helps more folks like yourself find this content. Till next time, be responsibly different. This episode was produced by Yours Truly, Ben Marine. Music was composed and performed by Kevin Oates. This podcast is brought to you by our parent company, Dirigo Collective. To learn more about Dirigo Collective, visit dirigocollective.com. To explore other episodes and resources from Responsibly Different, visit responsiblydifferent.com.